Test Prep

Strategies for the ACT Reading Test

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The Reading Test on the ACT consists of 40 questions divided between four different passages, each of which ranges from 800-850 words in length. The passages always appear in the same order: Prose Fiction (sometimes called Literary Narrative), Social Science, Humanities and Natural Science.

Each passage will be followed by 10 questions. You only have 35 minutes to read all the passages and answer all the questions, so it’s essential to have a plan!


How to Approach ACT Reading Questions

1. Put the passages in order. Work from the passage you find easiest to the one you find most difficult. You will be able to work passages with short paragraphs, short answer choices and line references more quickly. As you practice and prep, identify a consistent order that works for you.

2. Read the blurb at the top of your first passage. It may only consist of title, author and copyright information, but occasionally the blurb will define an unfamiliar term or identify a character.

3. Map the questions. Take 30 seconds to underline lead words that will be easy to find in the passage, like proper nouns and line references.

4. Read the passage. Take no more than two to three minutes. Underline the lead words.

5. Put the questions in order. Questions do not appear in a chronological order that follows the passage. Work questions with line references first — line references are like a map pointing to the correct answer. For questions without line references, look for lead words.

6. Work the first question. Find the line reference or lead word in the paragraph and read a window of five to 10 lines around it. If you can clearly identify the answer in the passage, look for its match in the answer choices. Cross off any answer choice that references anything that is not mentioned in your “window.” If you still have two answer choices left, look for an answer that includes keywords that appear in your window.

7. Repeat step six!

Keep in mind that referral questions directly reference a word or line in the passage. Reasoning questions require you to infer the answer. Look for questions that use “infer,” “means,” “suggests” or “implies;" questions that ask what the author or subject would agree or disagree with; or questions with long answers. These questions should come later in your ordering for Step Five (above), as they will be easier to answer after you’ve developed a greater understanding of the passage with referral questions.