How to Prepare for the ACT Reading Test

Picture of a young high school student sitting at their desk prepping for the ACT Reading test
June 9, 2022
7 Simple ACT Reading Tips Take an ACT Reading Practice TestACT Reading Test Format FAQs: ACT Reading Test

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/9/22

The ACT Reading test measures your ability to understand written content and reason logically by testing your reading comprehension skills. Read on to learn how to prepare for the ACT Reading test! 

The ACT Reading test is one of the shortest sections in the test (besides the ACT Science test), but it does not mean it should be taken lightly. To ensure you're prepared for the ACT Reading test, read on to learn more about the section format, ACT Reading practice tests, and tips to help you ace the section with ease! 

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7 ACT Reading Tips

While ACT Reading practice tests and sifting through guides are practical first steps in your ACT prep, there are some tips you can use for more speed and accuracy on test day. 

Brush Up On Your Skimming Skills 

Skimming is a time-saving necessity on the ACT; hanging on every word on your first read-through can eat up time. A good rule of thumb for skimming is to spend more time on the first and last sentences of paragraphs to get a broad idea of the text’s message. 

Because there are so many questions for each passage, we typically recommend you skim the passage first before looking at the questions. 

Order Your Passages 

Whether you love social science or literary narratives, you can begin with whatever passage you want. No rule says you must complete them in order. Start with whichever passage you consider most straightforward at first glance; it can help build your confidence! 

Don’t Search Outside Line References 

If the question asks you to evaluate information from lines 22-26, don’t search for content in 21 or 27: you’ll have enough information from those five lines to find your answer. 

Try to Predict Your Answers

There's a good chance you'll know some answers after your first skim through. After your first read-through, you can look at the questions and try to "predict" the answer before looking at your options: it may be correct if your prediction matches one of the options. 

Be Wary of Some Answers 

The ACT Reading section can get a little tricky. Ambiguous answers can confuse students, as can options that are too broad, too narrow, or use the same words as the passage, even if it's wrong. Be careful with answers that include "always, never, best, worst," or any other "extreme" words. They can sometimes be there to trip you up. 

Using the Process of Elimination

While you can use the process of elimination throughout all sections of the ACT, it can be especially helpful in ACT Reading. Cross out answers that you know can't be correct: your chances of getting the correct answer can immediately increase from 25% to 50%. 

Check Out the Pre-Passage Description 

Many students skip the pre-passage descriptions, but a glance can give you more context about the author, when the text was written, and any other background knowledge that can give you more insight into the author's point of view. 

You don't have to hang off every word, but it can be helpful in some cases.

Take an ACT Reading Practice Test

ACT Reading practice tests are an excellent way to help you prepare for the ACT. Here’s how ACT Reading practice tests can make the most out of your ACT preparation: 

ACT Practice tests are an excellent study tool to help you get used to the types of questions you’ll see (including this point of view question here, for example). 

Screenshot of a multiple-choice ACT Reading test practice question
Source: ACT.org

ACT.org has a free ACT Reading Test for you to practice with; it can be handy for identifying your initial score. 

ACT Reading Test Format 

The ACT Reading Test requires you to answer 40 multiple-choice questions within 35 minutes. You’ll be presented with four passages: three long and one broken up into two shorter passages. Four main groups characterize passages: 

Question Types

Five scores are reported based on your ACT Reading performance: an overall section score, three reporting scores (covered below), and an “Understanding Complex Texts indicator.” 

Key Ideas and Details (52-60% of Questions) 

This reporting area reflects your ability to: 

These questions measure your proficiency in determining "big picture" ideas and the ability to differentiate key information from text. 

Craft and Structure (25-30% of Questions)

Craft and structure focuses on the more technical aspects of the writing you evaluate, including word and phrasing choices. This metric measures your ability to:

Overall, these questions are all about analyzing why the author made particular choices and understanding perspectives and points of view. 

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13-23% of Questions) 

This reporting area measures your ability to: 

Overall, this category is about your ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and connect ideas. 

Understanding the Reading testexam format and question types is imperative to preparing for the ACT Reading test and knowing what’s required of you. Remember, most question types focus on central themes and ideas! 

FAQs: ACT Reading Test 

If you still have questions about the ACT Reading test, check out these FAQs! 

1. How Do I Practice for the ACT Reading Test? 

To practice, you can take ACT practice tests, engage with college-level texts, and evaluate the main idea and author's POVs of what you read. 

2. Is ACT Reading Hard? 

The answer depends on your level of reading comprehension and skill in interacting with texts. You have less than one minute to answer each question on average: many people may consider that difficult. 

3. What Is a Good ACT Reading Score? 

The answer is subjective and depends on what your definition of a “good” ACT score is. The average ACT reading score is 21.1. However, if you consider anything above the 75th percentile as good, you’ll want to score a 26 or higher: it depends on your goals. 

4. How Long Do You Have to Complete the ACT Reading Test? 

You have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions in the ACT Reading test. 

5. What Types of Questions Are on the ACT Reading Test? 

You'll see questions about main themes, word choice and text structure, author POV, interactions with other texts, and more. The ACT recently added one visual element per test that will have you evaluate a graph, figure, or table related to the text. These questions are reported in the Integration and Knowledge category. 

6. Are ACT Reading Questions in Order? 

The ACT Reading Questions may or may not be in chronological order. You may have to flip back and forth between different sections of the passage. 

Final Thoughts

While reading through passages can take time on the ACT Reading test, the tips in this guide can help you navigate this section quicker. To prepare for the test, ensure you complete some ACT Reading practice tests to help you get more comfortable with the content. 

With enough preparation, you can confidently ace the ACT Reading test.

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