10 ACT Reading Strategies to Get A High Score
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10 ACT Reading Strategies to Get A High Score

10 ACT Reading Strategies to Get A High Score

The ACT reading section can be pretty tough for students who are not the biggest fan of reading in general. The passages are long, boring, and dense, and you might find yourself struggling to stay awake while taking a reading practice test, but if you want to get a high score on the ACT and get to your dream school, it's important that you do well on this portion of the ACT. (Just like any other section!)

ACT reading can also feel like a massive race against the clock because of the fact that there are only 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, on top of reading all of those dense passages.

So, how can you improve your reading score on the ACT? The answer lies in having really good ACT reading strategies

The truth is, the ACT is very predictable, and with Park Tutoring’s tips for ACT reading, you can be well on your way to acing this section of the ACT too, even if you’re not the biggest fan of reading!

Know the Content of the Exam

Like any other section of the ACT, its important to know what to study for while taking your ACT practice reading test, and what to expect on the actual exam. The ACT reading section can be summarized as follows:

  • There are 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes! Budget your time accordingly because you have to get through the passages as well.
  • It’s scored on a scale of 1-36 like all the other sections on the exam
  • There are four types of passages: Prose Fiction / Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science
  • At least one of the passages will be a dual passage which has two shorter passages and will ask you to compare the two

Don’t Fall for the Test Maker’s Traps!

  • The ACT Reading section is intentionally designed to be challenging. After all, it is intended to gauge your college readiness, and the test-makers want to create an experience that tests your skills and abilities while also being forced to think critically about the material. Therefore, there’s a lot of tricks and traps they use to slow you down and put you in an uncomfortable situation. In order to succeed on ACT Reading, it's important to adopt a strategic approach that enables you to anticipate and avoid these traps. By being aware of the ways in which the ACT seeks to trip you up, you'll be more equipped to answer questions with accuracy and efficiency.
  • One common trap is being lulled into a false sense of security and confidence, but actually wasting your time on a supposedly simple passage. For example, the literary narrative passage is always the first passage on ACT Reading, and many students assume that this passage will be a breeze because it's focused on fiction, characters, and dialogue. However, after starting the exam, you’ll notice  the questions associated with this passage are extremely detail-oriented and time-consuming, forcing you to sift through the text for specific information.
  • Unfortunately, many students fall into the trap of starting with this passage, and as a result, end up wasting a large amount of time. It's not by accident that the test-makers structure the ACT Reading section this way - they want you to waste a good chunk of your time on this first passage so that you'll have less time to answer the other passages.

Therefore, it's really important that you approach ACT Reading with a keen eye for strategy and a well-thought-out plan for how to tackle each passage. Once you figure out how to avoid these common traps, you’ll be well on your way to getting high scores.

Target Simple Questions and Passages First

  • As with any other section of the ACT, each question is worth the same number of points and there's no penalty for guessing. With this in mind, it's best to prioritize the passages and questions that are easiest for you.

  • So, what makes a passage or question "easy" on the ACT Reading section? There’s no simple answer and it varies from student to student. Generally speaking, an "easy" passage is one that piques your interest in some way. When you're genuinely engaged with the subject matter, even in tiny amounts, you're more likely to stay focused and answer questions accurately.

  • An "easy" question on ACT Reading is one that can be answered by simply rereading a line or exploring a single detail in the passage. These questions require less overall comprehension of the passage as a whole, which can make them quicker and easier to answer.

  • On the other hand, difficult ACT Reading passages tend to be dense, technical, and/or detail-oriented. Many students find that the Prose Fiction / Literary Narrative passage on ACT Reading is particularly time-consuming, even if it is interesting. Similarly, tough ACT Reading questions are typically big-picture questions that require a deeper knowledge of the passage. For this reason, it's often best to save these questions for last, or even guess on them if necessary.

Know the Question Types You’ll be Tested On

As with all the other sections, the ACT English exam has three distinct categories of questions which are:

  • Key Ideas and Details
  • Craft and Structure
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

These categories are rather broad, and it might be difficult to understand what they actually mean. 

Here are a few specifics on what you can expect on the exam:

  • Drawing inferences from textual evidence
  • Identifying the function or purpose of words, sentences, paragraphs, or the passage
  • Determining the main idea of the passage or individual paragraphs
  • Noting details and keywords from the questions
  • Analyzing the narrative point of view or authorial perspective
  • Understanding vocabulary words in context
  • Identifying literary devices such as metaphor, personification, and allusion
  • Conducting character analysis

Annotate while you read

  • One of the biggest challenges when tackling the ACT Reading section is managing your time. Longer, denser passages can be especially daunting. To work through them more efficiently, it's important to read strategically.
  • So, what does strategic reading look like exactly? The key is to prioritize the main ideas as you read. A lot of the questions will concern these, so you don't want to get lost in the details and elaborations. Take notes as you go, underlining the central ideas, keywords from the questions, and author opinions.
  • By doing this, you create a "passage guide" that can lead you more easily and quickly to the answers when it's time to tackle the questions. Additionally, these annotations will help you develop a baseline understanding of the passage as a whole, which is crucial for answering big-picture questions.

Use the Passage to Your Advantage!

  • The ACT is actually an open book exam if you think about it. The passages are provided for you to reference throughout the entirety of the exam, and you can always make reference to it. 
  • Remember, all answer choices are grounded in the text somehow, and by using strategic reading as well as some common sense, you can easily figure out where to answer most questions!
  • Even large context based questions can be answered simply by reading the passage, so it's important to start getting in the habit of seeing how small details contribute to larger meaning.

Remember Traps? Memorize Common Types

  • When taking the ACT Reading section, there are several answer traps you should be on the lookout for. One of the most common traps is extreme answers, which use words like "never" or "always." Be cautious of answer choices that make absolute statements like these, as they are often incorrect.
  • Another trap to avoid is vague answer choices. These options may be too general or broad and fail to address the specific details or information asked in the question. To avoid this, choose answers that directly address the information asked and are clearly stated.
  • You should also avoid answers that go too far. While some answer choices may sound correct, they can go too far and make an inference or logical leap that is not supported by the passage. Stay grounded in the information presented in the passage and choose answers that are supported by the evidence.
  • Finally, watch out for answers that scramble details from the passage. While these answers may appear correct at first glance, they are often slightly off and do not fully address the information asked in the question. Always double-check the details in the passage and make sure the answer you choose accurately reflects the information presented. 

Don’t Read the Answer Choices First!

  • While it may be tempting to look at the answer choices then read the passage, you really shouldn’t do this! This increases your likelihood of falling for traps designed to catch your eye because you’re not looking at the answer choices in detail. 
  • Instead, you should read the question first, but not the answer choices. Then, with the question in mind, go ahead and read through the passage in order to figure out what textual evidence you have, and how it can be used to answer the questions.

Dual Passage? Divide and Conquer

  • It's important to keep in mind that one of the 4 passages in the ACT Reading section is a dual passage. This means you'll need to read two smaller passages and answer questions about both of them.
  • A helpful strategy is to divide and conquer. Instead of trying to read through both passages before answering any questions, tackle one passage at a time, paying close attention to details and themes.
  • Once you've completed the first passage, move on to the second one and answer its questions. Then, tackle the questions that concern both passages, and make sure you can point to exactly where in each passage you're getting your answers from.
  • This approach can save you time and help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by trying to comprehend both passages at the same time. It allows you to focus on each passage more thoroughly and answer the questions more accurately.

Consistent Practice

  • Reading is tough, we get it, but you need to practice in order to get better at it. Whether it be through studying passages or practicing how to annotate correctly, the ACT Reading exam can be cracked by thorough practice. 
  • It's a good idea for you to practice with timed exercises to get used to the pace of the ACT Reading section. You can do this by attempting one Reading passage in 8.5 minutes. This can help you get a feel for how much time you have to work with and develop a sense of pacing to make the most of your time on test day. By making it a regular practice, you can build your confidence and improve your reading speed and accuracy.

So there are our top 10 strategies to score well on the ACT Reading Exam! If you want a more in depth explanation of ACT scoring, click here. Otherwise, check out some other ACT related posts! If you want more personalized guidance and recommendations, feel free to sign up for Park Tutoring’s Intensive ACT course and get started on improving your score today!


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