Tips for the ACT Reading Test

by Kristen May

The ACT reading test is part of the ACT, which is a college entrance test accepted by all four-year colleges in the United States. The ACT consists of four separate timed sections: English, mathematics, reading and science. Students receive a score from 1 to 36 in each of the four tests, and these scores are averaged to make the overall score.

Understand the Format

The ACT reading test consists of four passages, each of which is followed by 10 multiple-choice questions that assess your understanding of what was stated or implied by the passage. There is always one passage in each of four categories: prose fiction, social science, humanities and natural science. You have a total of 35 minutes for the test, which is an average of 9 minutes for each passage. This includes time to read the passage and answer all 10 questions. You can use your time however you want and move between sections as much as you want. There is no scoring penalty for answering a question incorrectly, so never leave an answer blank. Before taking the test, you should know the directions so you can start work immediately when the time begins.

Take Practice Tests

Take at least one timed practice ACT reading test before the actual test day. You can find a practice test on the ACT website (see Resources). ACT preparation books also contain practice tests. Give yourself 35 minutes, just like on the regular test, but note how long you spend on each section of the practice test. When you are done, check your answers and write down how many questions you got correct for each section. Based on your performance, put the types of passages in order from the easiest to the hardest. Start with the easiest type of passage on the day of the test and move to the most difficult passage.

Be Strategic

When you are reading each passage on the ACT reading test, be mindful of the types of questions you are likely to be asked. You are allowed to write in the test booklet, so mark significant elements that will help you find answers later. For example, look for the main idea of the passage, the characters or subjects, the flow of the argument or sequence of events, and the details that support the main idea. When answering the questions, read the question and all four answer choices before selecting the best answer. If you are not sure, choose your best guess before moving on and circle the question so you can come back to it later if you have time.