How to Improve Your ACT Reading Score | 12 Strategies

Boost your ACT reading score
April 25, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Are you looking to improve your reading comprehension in preparation for the ACT? Your concerns have been answered. Here, we will cover how to improve your ACT reading score.

If you need to improve your reading score, this guide will help. Here, you will learn methods and techniques for reaching your target score before taking the real ACT. With these ACT reading tips, you’ll be able to score an impressive number. 

About the ACT Reading Test

The ACT Reading Test consists of 40 questions, and you have 35 minutes to complete it. It has four sections, each one containing either one long prose passage or two shorter ones. 

The topics of each passage vary between social studies, natural sciences, prose fiction, and the humanities. 

The types of questions asked can differ, and you must learn how to answer them appropriately within the time frame. The four reading sections in the ACT Reading Test each have ten questions, each one having four answers to choose from. There are two types of ACT Reading questions: referring questions and reasoning questions.

Referring questions ask you about information that is directly stated in the passages, and reasoning questions ask you to conclude from information implied in the passages. The best possible score you can get on the Reading Test is 40 since there are 40 multiple-choice questions. Your raw score is equal to how many questions you got right on the test.

12 Tips on How to Improve Your ACT Reading Score

Tips to improve your ACT reading score

There are some effective tips and strategies for the reading section of the ACT to consider while studying for the reading component of the ACT and taking the test. Here is a list of the most common and helpful test-taking suggestions and tips for the reading section of the ACT.

1. Start With the Easiest Passage to You 

Our first tip for improving ACT reading scores is a tried and true solution for test takers. As stated earlier, the Reading Test is 35 minutes long. The themes of all the passages are always in the same order: 

Prose, Social Studies, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. You can answer the passage that you feel most confident about first before continuing with the rest.

2. The ACT is an Open-Book Test; Use It to Your Advantage

Since the ACT is open-book, there is no required reading preparation for any of the passages. The easiest thing about the ACT Reading Test is that all the information is given to you. You just need to use your comprehension skills to answer them correctly.

3. Use the ‘Short Note’ Method for ACT Reading Comprehension

When you read each passage, it helps to write short notes or underline words or phrases that you think would help you answer the questions. Focus on the topic and purpose of the passage and keep track of any differing opinions stated. 

This way, you can locate helpful hints. Try predicting an answer before looking at the choices so you already have a proper framework of what you will write down.

4. Read the Passage Thoroughly

It’s time-consuming and frustrating to look for an answer for ten different questions, while constantly going back to the passage you’re on to figure out the themes and ideas of it. Don’t skim. Use your time wisely and read the passage in full to grasp the overall idea before answering the questions.

5. Use the Line References 

You don’t have to use your memory while completing the ACT Reading Test. You can refer to the line references for each passage. Line references are little numbers you write on the right side of the passage to cite an important line in the text. 

These line references help accentuate the main ideas and supporting evidence. They also help with context, and you can also read the lines before them to help answer. For example, if a question talks about line 18, you refer to lines 12-17.

6. Eliminate Incorrect Answer Choices

Use order of elimination when looking for the correct answer. First, cross off any answers that you know are incorrect using your knowledge. Then, try to eliminate any answers using logic and common sense based on the choice of words used in the answers. 

Remember, the ACT Reading Test isn’t meant to trick you; it is meant to assess different areas of your reading comprehension.

7. Find the Author’s Point of View 

Try not to get lost in the details of the passage or read too quickly and miss the important information. In this test, you have to look for the author’s perspective and the function of each paragraph and remember the location of the details in case you need to refer to them later.

8. For Vocabulary in Context Questions, Refer Back to Passage

A word that is commonly used in modern-day language may take on a different definition within the ACT Reading passages. Do not assume that the common meaning of a word in the passage is correct; one word can have several meanings you do not know. 

For example, when you hear ‘murder,’ you think of an attempt to take someone’s life. However, a murder can also mean a pack of crows. Refer back to the passage to see what context the word is being used in. 

9. Predict Your Answers

Check the passage, read all the questions, and then predict your answer before looking at the answer choices. Once you’ve made your prediction, match it to the most appropriate or closest answer choice. Not only is this time-saving, but it could also prevent you from weighing each answer individually, and you can move on. 

10. Simplify Complicated Questions

If there is a question that seems confusing or unclear, try to rephrase it to make it simpler. Here’s a suggestion: how would you explain the question to a small child? What is the question asking?

11. Underline Important Points

When critically reading, actively identify words and phrases revealing the author's viewpoint or main ideas in each paragraph. Write freely on the test booklet—underline, circle, and create concise three to five-word summaries. This approach enhances understanding and serves as a helpful reference. Strike a balance between thorough notes and efficient time management.

12. Carefully Bubble Your Answer

When skipping around on the test, be careful in bubbling your answers into the correct spaces on the answer grid. Accuracy is crucial to avoid point deductions, so ensure your responses match the corresponding numbers. Paying attention to this detail is as important as answering the questions themselves.

Ready to tackle the ACT? Take our Readiness Quiz to gauge where you stand. It'll help pinpoint your strengths and areas needing improvement across key subjects like English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing. Whether it's your first go or a retake, this quiz guides your study focus for a stronger performance on test day.

ACT Reading Score Scale

The Reading score scale measures your score by the structure and depth of your answer. The percentages below tell us the weight of each category of the Reading Test.

Key Ideas and Details (55–60%)

This category requires you to read the passages closely to determine the central themes and summarize the information accurately. This category also assesses your understanding of the relationships between evidence and ideas. It will require you to draw logical conclusions, including understanding sequential, comparative, and cause-effect relationships.

Craft and Structure (25-30%)

The questions in this category ask you to determine word and phrase meanings. You must analyze the text structure of the author’s word choice and understand their purpose and perspective. You should also interpret the conclusions and differentiate between various perspectives and sources of information.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13-18%):

You are required to understand the author’s claims, separate fact from opinion, and use evidence to make connections between the texts related to the topic. Some questions will have you analyze how the author constructs their arguments and evaluate the reasoning along with evidence from various sources.

Your ACT score is graded by counting the number of questions on each section that you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing or getting it wrong. Then, your raw score is converted into ‘scale scores.’ Score scales refer to a raw score that has been converted into a consistent and standardized ACT scoring scale. 

Raw Scaled Raw Scaled Raw Scaled Raw Scaled
40 36 29 26 18 18 7 10
39 35 28 25 17 17 6 10
38 34 27 24 16 16 5 8
37 33 26 23 15 16 4 7
36 32 25 23 14 15 3 6
35 32 24 22 13 14 2 5
34 31 23 21 12 14 1 3
33 30 22 21 11 13 0 1
32 29 21 20 10 12 - -
31 28 20 19 9 12 - -
30 27 19 19 8 11 - -

All scores are converted the same, regardless of the year or school. You will have a composite score that consists of your scores from all sections of the ACT. The lowest score is 1, the highest is 36. 

All your scores are averaged and rounded to the nearest whole number. Your ACT score will be reported and aligned with the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards, as well as other standards that target college and career preparation.

FAQs for the ACT Reading Section

Here are some common FAQS regarding the ACT reading section that can help you study for it more effectively.

1. What Are Some Resources to Help Me Improve My Reading Score?

There are many online resources for you to take that are tailored to the ACT Reading Test, whether they are video modules, courses, or prep books. There are also tutors available online. You can always refer to your school for tutoring or places that offer these services.

2. Should I Pace Myself During the ACT Reading Section?

It would be easier for you to do it, yes. By practicing your answering speed and working on time management when studying, you will be able to give yourself time to answer the questions accordingly and read the passage completely. 

3. Can I Use a Dictionary for the ACT Reading Section?

No. Dictionaries, textbooks, and other materials are not allowed. The ACT testing centers have a strict policy of what to and what not to bring.

4. What Are Some Important Concepts to Know in the Reading Section?

The best way to address this is to know what to look for in answering the reading section. You do not need to have in-depth knowledge of each topic, but you do need to look for:

  • Main ideas in each passage
  • Significant details included in the passage
  • Sequences of events
  • Comparisons
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Meanings of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements
  • Generalizations about the passage

5. Can I Request Extra Time for The ACT Reading Section?

The ACT accommodates extra test time for students with physical disabilities, medical conditions, hearing or visual impairment, ADHD, psychiatric conditions, or learning disabilities. You can apply for extra time by filling out a form to send to the ACT testing center you will be attending.

6. How Do You Address the Questions in the ACT Reading Section?

The reading section measures your ability to read the passages closely and give logical explanations in your answers. It’s meant to assess how well you’re able to integrate information from multiple sources and how well you address certain points in reading materials across a range of subjects.

7. What Is A Good ACT Reading Score?

A good ACT score is generally considered to be between 25 to 29. You’ll have to score between 31 to 36 in order to be within the top 10% of ACT Reading test-takers.

8. How Can I Increase My ACT Score by 6 Points?

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to increasing your ACT score. If you want to increase your score, we recommend studying at least three months in advance of your test. You can also hire an experienced ACT tutor to help you prepare for the test and boost your score. 

9. How Many People Get 36 on ACT Reading?

Only the top 10% of ACT test takers score within the 31-36 range. Less than one percent score a perfect 36.

Final Thoughts

These ACT reading strategies are sure to help you on your way to your dream score! The ACT reading section measures your ability to process and relay information that is given to you. With appropriate studying methods and time management, you can improve your score greatly to enhance your chances of passing.

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