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
October 27, 2022
ACT Reading Test Format ACT Reading Practice Tests7 ACT Reading TipsFAQs: ACT Reading Test

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/9/22

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 for the ACT Reading section, read on to learn more about the section format and tips to help you ace the section with ease! 

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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. Four main groups characterize passages: 

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: 

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 questions focus 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 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 focuses on your ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and connect ideas. 

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

ACT Reading Practice Tests

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

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

ACT Reading Practice Question

Evaluating ACT Reading passages 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

If you click on 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.

ACT.org has a free ACT Reading exam for you to practice with. ACT Reading practice is crucial to performing well on the test! 

7 ACT Reading Tips

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 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; 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 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 tips can give you the confidence you need to ace the test!

FAQs: ACT Reading Test 

If you still have questions about the ACT Reading test prep, 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 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 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. 

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. 

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. 

Final Thoughts

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

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