ACT Reading: Strategy

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  • 0:03 ACT Reading
  • 0:52 Passage Strategy
  • 3:38 Question Strategy: Timing
  • 6:08 Question Strategy: Accuracy
  • 6:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Watch this video to get some tips and tricks for a high score on the ACT reading test, including time-saving ways to approach the passages and strategies for managing the questions.

ACT Reading

The ACT Reading test sounds pretty straightforward at first. Just read some passages, answer some questions on them, and bam - you're done. You've done it a million times before; you can do it again; no problem. But then again, if it really were that easy, this lesson wouldn't exist, would it?

It's true that the concept of the ACT Reading test is simple, but the test has enough little quirks that it pays to study strategy. In this lesson, you'll get an overview of some tips and hints for cracking the passages and the questions to help you save time, answer accurately, and get the highest score you can.

Passage Strategy

A high score on the ACT Reading test starts with the way you approach the passages. There are four passages on the test, each with 10 questions. The four passage types are:

  1. Literary narrative: a story, memoir, or personal essay, or prose fiction: a short story or excerpt from a longer story. On the test, you'll only get one or the other; you won't get both.
  2. Natural Sciences: a passage about 'hard' sciences, like biology, ecology, geology, or something similar.
  3. Social Studies: a passage about political or social science - think history, politics, economics, or psychology.
  4. Humanities: a passage on a topic like art history, music or TV criticism, or philosophy.

Each passage will be labeled with the subject area, so you'll know right away what you're dealing with. The passage types are all intended to be the same difficulty level, but many students have a favorite type that they routinely do best on, or one that they really struggle with, or both. Take note of that; it'll help you in the long run!

Here are some hints for managing the passages effectively and saving time on the reading so you can get straight to what counts: the questions.

  • Do your favorite passage first. On the ACT, you always start with dessert and save your broccoli for the end. Whichever passage type you personally find easiest, flip straight to that one and do it first; then move on to your next favorite and so on. The goal is to race through as many questions as possible, so it helps you to front load the easy ones.

  • Don't agonize over the passages. Remember that you don't get any points for reading passages. You only get points for answering questions. You only want to read enough to start answering the questions - a quick skim will do it. On the other hand, don't skip the passages completely, either: you'll work more quickly in the long run if you get at least a basic idea of the topic first.

Question Strategy: Timing

And now for the really important part: the questions. This is where you should spend the majority of your time because answering questions correctly is how you earn points.

The questions on the ACT Reading test are all multiple choice with four answers each. Each of the four passages has 10 questions for a total of 40 questions in 35 minutes. You earn an equal number of points for every question. Each correct answer earns 1 point. A skipped or incorrect question doesn't earn any points, but it also doesn't lose you anything - you just get zero either way.

One of the biggest challenges on this test is timing - 40 questions in 35 minutes doesn't leave you much wiggle room. Ideally, you'd want to answer every question for every passage, and some students are fast enough to make that happen. But in case you're not such a speed demon, here are some tips:

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