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
August 28, 2023
9 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/2/23

ACT Reading measures your ability to understand written content. Read on to learn how to prepare for ACT Reading! 

ACT Reading is one of the shortest sections in the test (besides the ACT Science test), but it doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. To ensure you're prepared, read on to learn more about the test format and ACT Reading section tricks to help you do your best! 

ACT Reading Test Format 

The ACT Reading section 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, accompanied by 10 questions each. Four main groups characterize passages: 

  • Literary Narrative 
  • Social Studies 
  • Humanities 
  • Natural Science

There are also different question types you should be aware of. 

Question Types

Five scores are reported based on your 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: 

  • Understand central ideas and themes 
  • Summarize information and ideas 
  • Understand relationships (including sequential, comparative, and cause-effect) to infer and draw logical conclusions 

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

Craft and Structure (25-30% of Questions)

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

  • Analyze the author’s choices of words or phrases and the text’s structure 
  • Understand the author’s POV/perspective 
  • Examine the POV/perspective of characters or individuals referenced in the text 

These questions are about analyzing why the author made particular choices and understanding points of view. 

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

This reporting area measures your ability to: 

  • Recognize the differences between facts and opinions 
  • Identify connections between related topics in different texts 
  • Evaluate how authors construct their arguments 
  • Evaluate evidence from multiple sources 

This category focuses on your ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and connect ideas. 

Understanding the exam format and question types is imperative to know what’s required of you. Remember, most question types focus on central themes and ideas!

ACT Reading Practice Tests

Infographic outlining the benefits of ACT reading practice tests

Practice tests are an excellent way to help you elevate your ACT Reading prep strategy. Here’s how practice tests can help you make the most of your ACT preparation: 

  • Get comfortable with test content: ACT Reading practice tests help you become more comfortable with the content and increase your speed and accuracy over time. 
  • Simulate test day conditions: By timing yourself, turning off your phone, and practicing in a quiet environment, you can get as close to test day conditions as possible. This type of ACT Reading practice can make test day feel more comfortable: you’ve been practicing for this! 
  • Setting your target score from your initial score: Completing a practice test before studying determines your initial score. This score helps you identify a reasonable target score to strive for. 
  • Benefit from the “testing effect:” The testing effect means that taking practice tests is a “retrieval practice:” meaning “you are actively recalling information, which leads to improved ability to recall later on (on the exam!).” 

Let’s look at practice test questions you may stumble upon as you study. 

Sample ACT Reading Questions

Evaluating ACT Reading passages is an excellent study tool to help you get used to the types of questions you’ll see. Read this ACT passage here to help you better understand the questions below: 

Sample ACT Reading Question

If you click the above link and read this passage, the correct answer is C. The person telling this story is never identified, even though they know a lot of information about the main character.

Sample ACT Reading question

The answer is H. The author states in the first paragraph that “Abshu's goal was to expand the horizons of the children he worked with.” You can find evidence to support this answer in lines two to five and 12. 

ACT Reading Example Question

The answer is H. Pay attention when questions ask about specific lines and don’t look for information outside them. Information about what Abshu remembered is referenced in the fifth paragraph, not the fourth. has free ACT Reading exams for you to practice with. ACT Reading practice is crucial to performing well on the test! 

7 ACT Reading Tips

Tips for the ACT reading test

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

Brush Up On Your Skimming Skills 

Skimming is a time-saving necessity in the ACT Reading section; hanging on to every word on your first read-through can eat up time. A good rule of thumb 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; it can help build your confidence! 

Don’t Search Outside Line References 

This may be one of the most crucial ACT Reading section tips. 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 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 in all ACT sections, it can be especially helpful in ACT Reading. Cross out answers 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. 

These ACT Reading section tips can give you the confidence you need to ace the test!

FAQs: ACT Reading Test 

If you still have questions about preparing for ACT Reading, 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 POVs in texts.

2. Is ACT Reading Hard? 

The answer depends on your reading comprehension level and skill in interacting with texts. On average, you have less than one minute to answer each question: 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 20.9. However, if you consider anything above the 75th percentile good, you’ll want to score a 25 or higher: it depends on your goals. 

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

You have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions. 

5. What Types of Questions Are on ACT Reading? 

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. 

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. 

7. How Many Questions Are on the ACT Reading Test? 

There are always 40 questions in the Reading section. 

8. How Many Passages Are in the ACT Reading Test? 

There are four passages in the ACT Reading section. 

Final Thoughts

While reading through passages takes time, the tips in this guide can help you navigate this section efficiently. To prepare for the test, ensure you do enough ACT Reading practice to help you get more comfortable with the content. With enough ACT Reading prep, you can confidently ace the test!

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

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