Structure of the ACT Reading Section

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  • 0:01 Act Reading Structure
  • 0:51 Reading Passages
  • 3:21 Reading Questions
  • 4:43 Scoring
  • 5:52 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.

Learn how the ACT Reading test is set up, what the questions are like, and how the scoring works, so you can approach it without fear and tackle the passages confidently.

ACT Reading Structure

The ACT Reading test tests your critical reading skills with a total of 40 multiple-choice questions: four passages with 10 questions each. The format of the test is pretty straightforward. But that doesn't make it easy, even if you're a real bookworm!

ACT Reading isn't really like reading you typically do for school or for fun, so it's good to know what you'll see on the test and how it all translates into the most important part: your score. In this lesson, you'll get an overview of the passages and questions, how your answers are graded and what it all means to you.

Reading Passages

On the test, you'll see four passages, one in each of the following subject areas:

Literary narrative or prose fiction:
Prose fiction means a short story or an excerpt from a longer work. Literary narrative includes everything under prose fiction, but it could also be a passage from a memoir or a personal essay. On the test, you'll get one or the other but not both.

Natural sciences:
This will cover a subject area like biology, ecology, geology or something similar. Think of a passage from National Geographic, and you'll come pretty close.

Social studies:
This will be political or social science - think history, politics, economics or psychology. The passage will read like something you'd find in a magazine like The Economist or Time.

Humanities:
This will be on a topic like art history, music or TV criticism or philosophy. Think of the New York Review of Books, an in-depth movie review or the arts section of a major newspaper.

Each passage will be labeled with the subject area, so you'll know straight away what you're dealing with. No one passage type is designed to be any harder than any other type. But some students do find that for them personally, certain passage types are predictably harder or easier. That's fine, and it's really helpful to identify which passages are your particular bugbears. On the real test, just skip past those and save them for last, so you get all the easy points first. This maximizes your score by raising the number of questions you have time to answer. If you have time, you can work on the really tough passage after you've already knocked out all the others.

Reading Questions

Now for the questions you'll see about these passages. Each passage will be followed by 10 multiple-choice questions with four answers each. The questions will ask you about what's stated or implied in the passage. You won't need to have any outside knowledge of the topic to score well. In fact, you shouldn't bring in any outside information. Sometimes the questions are designed to trap you into wrong answers if you try to use anything but the information in the passage. Don't try to outsmart the test; just use the information they give you.

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