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ACT Reading Strategies

Earning a perfect 36 on the ACT Reading section will wow admissions counselors and help raise your composite ACT score.

However, getting a perfect score on this section will not be a walk in the park. You will only have 35 minutes to read four passages and answer 40 questions, and the passages- which cover prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural sciences- are not always the easiest to tackle.

To do well on this section of the ACT, you will have to study hard and be well-equipped with strategies for reading the different types of passages and answering the challenging questions that come your way.

Here are a few ACT Reading strategies that will help you improve your chances of acing this part of the test:

Read the passages out of order

There are no rules that say that you have to read the passages in the order in which you see them. While they will always appear in the same order, with prose fiction first followed by social science, humanities, and natural sciences, you can choose to start with the passages that you find easiest.

Doing this will ensure you have enough time for softball passages and easier questions that you will knock out of the ballpark so that if you are pressed for time, you are only guessing on questions about passages that would have given you difficulty anyway.

Read the questions first

Sometimes just reading the questions will help you find answers before you even start to read a passage. Looking at the questions first will also help you know which parts of each passage you need to focus on when reading and which parts you can just skim over.

Substitute answer options for vocabulary in context questions

When you take the test, you will see some words that you don’t know. Don’t spend your time trying to figure out what these words mean if they do not show up in any of the questions. Just gloss over them and move on. 

If you do have to figure out the definition of a word for a vocabulary in context question, but you have no idea what it means, try substituting the available answer options to see which is the best fit. You might find that one answer option is the only one that makes sense, or you might be able to eliminate an option or two that don’t make sense when used as a replacement for the word in question.

Practice regularly

When it comes to reading passages quickly and effectively, practice is key. The more ACT reading practice you complete before test day, the better your endurance will be when it is time for you to take the actual test. 

The last thing you want is to run out of time before you’ve looked at each passage on the test. Find time to practice reading the different types of passages you’ll see on the ACT Reading section on a regular basis.

Identify your weaknesses

Most students find that their main weakness on the ACT Reading test is either managing their time or understanding the content. It’s important for you to pinpoint your specific weakness so that you can address it and feel confident on test day.

Try taking a practice test without the 35 minute time constraint. 

If you score perfectly or near perfectly with unlimited time, then your issue is likely time management. You can help resolve this issue by using strategies to skim passages, using practice reading passages to build your speed and endurance, and finding ways to avoid reading the passages altogether.

If your score is low, even with unlimited time, this means that your issue has to do with the material covered on the test. You can address this weakness by learning the various types of questions you will see on the test, reviewing each and every mistake you make on practice tests, and taking as many practice tests as possible.

When you are aware of your weaknesses, you can start taking steps to improve them.

Practice eliminating three wrong answers

The beauty (and often the challenge) of the ACT is that there are no ambiguous questions with ambiguous answers. For each and every question on the ACT, you can always eliminate three wrong answers that could not possibly be correct.

Get in the practice of figuring out ways to eliminate wrong answers so that you can end up with the correct ones. Every answer that is not correct has something wrong with it. When you get stuck on a question, try to eliminate three wrong answers by figuring out why they are incorrect.

When you review your practice tests, make sure you focus on the questions you get wrong as well as the questions you answer correctly. 

For each question you get wrong, make sure you write down exactly why your answer option could not have been the correct one. For each question you get right, determine why the other solutions were wrong. This will be beneficial review that will help you improve your score.

Keep your eye on the prize

I’m not going to sugarcoat things and tell you that the ACT Reading passages are the most fascinating passages you will ever read. Chances are you will find the passages a bit boring.

While it is okay for you to lack interest in the passages, allowing your disinterest to distract you on test day will be detrimental to your ACT Reading score.

As you prepare to tackle a reading passage, remember the benefits of earning a great score on this section like earning scholarship money, gaining a higher overall ACT score, and receiving admission to a great college or university.

Allow these factors to serve as motivation to treat the passages as if they are the most interesting passages in the world. This will help you keep your mind from wandering when you’re trying to read these passages on test day.

Get help from experts

If you want to earn a perfect score on the ACT Reading section, why not seek help from someone who has already achieved this goal?

When you take an ACT prep course or work with a private ACT tutor through Prep Expert, you will learn from experts who scored in the top 1% on the ACT. This way, you will be able to receive high-quality instruction and helpful strategies that will make a difference when it is time for you to take the ACT Reading section.

Prep Expert tutors and instructors know how to identify your baseline and weaknesses, craft a plan to help you overcome these weaknesses, and teach you tips that will make the ACT Reading section a breeze.

Learn more about how Prep Expert can help you prepare for the ACT Reading section when you visit our website.

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Written by Prep Expert

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