ACT Reading Tips

The Reading section on the ACT can certainly seem daunting – there are long passages to comprehend, as well as complex questions to answer. Often, the selections will be about a subject or topic you are unfamiliar with, which can be frustrating. However, the ACT does not test your knowledge of content, but instead your skills in identifying point of view, the meaning of specific words, and the main ideas of the passage, among other things. You may want to take a few ACT practice tests to help you prepare and also check out this great information on how the ACT is scored. Here are several tips for increasing your score on the Reading portion. 

1.    Skim first

As you will surely reread the passage in order to answer the questions, skim the selection first, devoting only a few minutes to it. As you practice for the ACT, you will develop a general sense for what the questions ask - main idea, theme, tone, etc. It is generally more useful to read the passage quickly before looking at the questions, rather than the reverse. Try using a prep book to help with your reviews.

2.    Summarize

Reading selections is, for many, the dullest part of sitting for the ACT. It is a significant contrast to the active work of the English, Mathematics, Science, and even the Writing sections. To remain alert, write a short summary after reading the passage. Attempt to distill each paragraph into a sentence. Do this as quickly as possible, and do not worry about grammar or sentence structure. Consider the main idea being proposed or criticized, or the particular example offered by the author. Your summary will be useful in addressing questions, particularly those that ask about the main idea or structure of the selection. Here are some great ACT reading test prep tips.

3.    Mark up the text

Another way to remain active is to underline, circle, and even cross out key terms, phrases, and sections as you read. While the summary is a map for the selection, these notations are guides to important portions of the text. Even if you are not able to mark up the entire passage, ensure you identify and underline the topic sentence – the main idea of the selection – so you understand what the author is advocating or criticizing.

4.    Rephrase sentences

Certain questions will require you to define a particular word within the passage or to choose an appropriate synonym. Try this technique: cross out the word, and then rely upon the context of the sentence to insert a term of your own. Then, compare the answer choices with your solution. Choose the closest match. Often, the ACT will include synonyms of the term that do not suit the context. By providing your own word, you can avoid being duped.

5.    Do not frequently move from piece to piece

Unlike other sections of the ACT, the Reading portion does not order its questions by difficulty. Instead, each passage possesses easy, medium, and hard questions. Since answering the problems requires memory of the passage, and perhaps revisiting it, try to avoid moving from one text to another without finishing all questions. Otherwise, you may waste too much time by continually and unnecessarily returning to passages. If you find yourself struggling in your ACT prep you may want to consider an ACT Reading tutor.