How to Stay Focused on Long Reading Passages

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a long reading passage on a standardized test, only to realize you haven’t internalized a single word? You look at the clock to find that six minutes have passed and then the panic sets in. No matter how many times you read the passage, you just cannot seem to grasp it.

This is a common problem among many test-takers; after all, standardized tests are meant to challenge you. Staying focused during standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT can be challenging, but comprehending these long reading passages is key. Here are a few tips on how to stay focused during the much-dreaded long reading passages on standardized tests.

[RELATED: ACT Reading Tips]


One way to stay focused is to prepare for the exam by taking practice tests. The more practice you have under your belt, the more likely you will recognize how short of a time period you actually have to complete the standardized test you are taking. There is nothing like a bit of nerves to keep you on track and remind you that time is ticking.


Another way to remain alert during the entire length of a reading passage is to write notes along the way. Obviously, you do not have time to summarize every detail you read, but a note here and there will aid you in understanding the text overall. This method takes practice, so be sure to implement it into your strategy before the actual day of the test.

Figure out the type of notes that are most helpful for you to have once you finish the passage. Perhaps making a note when you find an interesting sentence is a good way to jog your memory. Or you could try noting the moment you encounter a new character or intriguing quote. However you choose to apply this method, stick with it. It likely won’t benefit you to change your process midway through your exam. If you find yourself daydreaming, return to the last note you took and begin reading from that point—it sure beats having to start all over again from the beginning of the entire passage!

Ask questions in your head

If you feel note-taking absorbs too much of your time, consider asking yourself some checkpoint questions while reading the passage.

These questions you ask yourself should be personalized, but here are a few examples to work from:

  • What is the main point of this paragraph?

  • What are the most important details here?

  • Is this important or is it just additional background information?

  • Who is speaking at this moment?

  • Was this an example of a particular literary device?

  • Can I summarize this paragraph in one sentence or less?

  • Why is this section included in the passage?

Asking questions forces you to engage with the text, not just glaze over it. If you find that you are struggling to answer even the most basic questions about a section of text, it is probably safe to say that you should go back and reread. Balancing time and reading can be a challenge, but just remind yourself that you must understand the text in order to truly succeed on the test.

[RELATED: How to Interpret a Reading Assignment]

Mouth the words

While reading out loud would be a stellar strategy to use during a standardized test, it would be quite distracting to your fellow test-takers. However, one strategy you can implement while going through a long reading passage is to mouth the words as you read them. Yes, you may look a bit strange, but does it really matter? Moving your lips as you read is going to help you slow down (a reasonable amount) and concentrate on every single word. By doing this, you will hopefully be able to stay focused and follow a good reading pace for the entire passage.

Finding the best strategy for you is a matter of practice. Once you figure out the tactic that works for you, use it consistently.