Test Prep

3 Common ACT Reading Traps

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The writers of the ACT want to trick you. It sounds bad, but it’s true! Their goal is not exclusively to test your knowledge of a certain subject — they also want to see how well you comprehend a question. To go along with that, they’ll do what they can to set certain trap questions and answers to lure you away from what’s correct.

A very common place for these traps is on the ACT Reading section. How do you avoid them? Learn to spot them! If you don’t, they can easily keep you from hitting your target ACT score. Following is a list of three common traps I’ve put together to make it easier for you to spot them on the page.


It’s Straight from the Passage — It Must Be Right!

One of the first traps you’ll see comes in the form of words and phrases being lifted directly from the reading passages — sometimes full sentences will be plopped down as an answer choice. The test makers know that the more familiar something looks, the more likely you are to choose it.

Be cautious, then, when choosing an answer just because it sounds familiar or matches what you read in the passage. Quite often, the information will be true based on the passage, but it won’t answer the question being asked. Read the questions and answers carefully, and always be wary when an answer seems too good to be true.

Beware of Outside Information

Similar to the first trap, you might see answer choices that contain familiar information, but which aren't from the passage! You’re going to be reading a lot on the ACT, and it can be easy to get details and facts confused from section to section. You don’t want to be bamboozled at all, but you definitely don’t want to be tricked by external information. Make sure you can find the proof for your answer directly in the passage.

Does the Passage REALLY Say That?

Another trap to avoid is choosing an answer that is very close to the meaning of the passage but doesn’t actually mean what the passage says. One common way the ACT does this is by using absolute terms or an extreme word. Words like “always” or “never” can alter the entire meaning of the answer! Be suspicious of extreme wording in answer choices – if the passage doesn’t go that far, then that answer choice is a trap!

While an answer might otherwise be correct, it can often be ruined by a single word. The test makers hope you’ll be in such a hurry to choose an answer that you’ll overlook the one word that disqualifies your selection.

For example, an answer might read: Eliza always reads nonfiction books in her grandmother’s study.

The passage may very well have stated something about the study belonging to Eliza’s grandmother. It may also have stated that Eliza reads nonfiction books there. But did it say she only reads nonfiction books? Or did it say she prefers to read -- or sometimes reads -- nonfiction books? In these cases, a later answer might be more appropriate: Eliza often reads nonfiction books in her grandmother’s study.

What the Reading test on the ACT boils down to is remembering that the answers are right there and waiting for you in the passage itself. When in doubt, refer back to it. You can also use guides like our Cracking the ACT to get more in-depth details on each of the sections of the test and how to tackle them with confidence.

Unless you’re down to the wire on time (and with proper ACT prep and pacing, you shouldn’t have that issue) there’s no reason you’d have to guess on most of this section. If you’re going to spend time on a question, you don’t want to be going with what sounds right when you can look back and find what is right.

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