Want to quickly improve your ACT Reading score? The keys to the ACT Reading test are strategy and pacing. You’ll need to have a plan for HOW you will read each passage, tackle the questions, and finish in the allotted time; otherwise, it’ll be hard to achieve your desired section and composite ACT score. For example, you’ll want to focus on the author’s point of view, mark up the passage as you go, and spend no more than 3 minutes per passage on an initial read (9 minutes on a passage and its questions).
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Ready for some more specific tips for ACT Reading success? Let’s get to it.
1. Find the author’s point of view as you read
Do you find yourself getting lost in the details, or reading too quickly and missing some of the important information? For the ACT Reading Test, you’ve got to strike a balance between reading for the author’s point of view and for the function of each paragraph, while also noting the location of important details in case you need to come back later. How do you do all of this at the same time?
2. Make sure you underline anything that seems significant to you
Look for words and phrases that reveal the author’s opinion, or give the main idea of each paragraph. The test booklet is basically one large piece of scratch paper, so it doesn’t matter if you write all over it. In fact, it’s better if you do! Underline, circle, write 3-5 word summaries of each paragraph…whatever works for you. Just don’t get so carried away with the note taking that you run out of time…
3. Time yourself as you practice
If you are spending more than 3 minutes reading and marking passages, you are risking not being able to finish all of the questions on test day. As you become more and more confident with your accuracy, try to get as precise as possible with the timing of your note taking.
4. Do at least ten ACT Reading practice tests
Full-length practice tests are available in ACT practice books at local bookstores, at your local library, and are even downloadable online. Find a quiet place where you can take the practice ACT, and clear off the table or desk. Try and eliminate any distractions and do the best you can to mimic your test-day environment. Keep a clock or timer in front of you so you can periodically check and see how you are doing. You may want to set the timer to go off every 9-10 minutes. Don’t rush, but make sure you can move confidently from one passage to the next and answer ALL questions in the time allotted.
5. For Vocabulary in Context questions, go back to the passage
A commonly used vocab word often takes on a secondary definition within ACT passages. Do not assume that the common meaning is the correct answer; there may be several meanings you do not know. Go back to the passage and see how the word is being used in context.
6. Always pre-phrase an answer
Before you look at the answer choices, use the passage to predict your own answer. Then match your prediction to the answer choices. This will save you time. Don’t get stuck weighing answer choices. Cross out all answer choices that don’t match your prediction, pick the best available answer, and move on!
7. Dumb down complicated questions
If you read a question and it is confusing or unclear to you, rephrase it in simpler terms. Think of it as though you were going to explain the question to a small child. What is it really asking?
8. After 9 minutes, move on to the next passage
The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions (10 questions in each passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 passages, so pacing yourself is essential.
9. Do the passages in any order
You will always see 4 passages and you must always answer all 40 questions (even if you just guess – the ACT does not penalize you for wrong answers!) But that doesn’t mean you have to approach the passages in the order in which they are presented on the test. As you practice, you will start to realize which passages are easier and which are more challenging for you. For example, if Prose Fiction is your strong point but Natural Science passages make you nervous, it may make sense for you to do the Prose Fiction passage first and save the Natural Science passage for last. Just make sure you’re bubbling in the write question number on your answer sheet…
10. Bubble your answer carefully
If you do decide to skip around, make sure you are still bubbling your answers into the corresponding numbers on the answer grid. You don’t want to lose points because you bubbled incorrectly!
In need of more tips? Check out the video below!
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About Rita Neumann
Rita creates fun, inspiring, and educational resources that introduce students to Magoosh and help them prep for their exams. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.
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