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ACT Reading tips

Dr. Marshall’s Tips for the Reading portion of the ACT

General tips

 The most general answer is usually correct.

  • If you see the same word in the passage and in one of the answers, it is probably incorrect. They know you are scanning for keywords, and will put them in the wrong answers, while rewording the correct answers. This is especially true if the question begins “It is reasonable to infer…”.
  •  On the other hand, if the questions starts “The author states…” or “The passage indicates…” the answer may be word-for-word from the passage.
  •  The answer is often in the topic sentence. If you are looking in the middle of a paragraph on a line number question or for some other reason and you get confused, look at the topic sentence of that paragraph for clarification and context. You will be amazed at how well this works.
  •  Read the question, figure out where the answer is, and answer it in your own words before looking at their answers.

 

Tips by section

The reading is only 35 minutes for 4 sections and 40 questions. This means that you should complete the section using an average of 8:45/passage. Most people cannot read all four passages and answer all 40 questions in time, so here are some tips for saving time.

I. Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative

This is always a story. It usually revolves around a character who interacts with a new person or a relative and learns something from the experience, or someone reflecting on something from his/her past.

1. Go to the questions first, find the line number questions, and mark them in the text. This way you will know where some of the questions are.

2. Read the entire passage as quickly as you can. Answer the line number questions as you go.

3. Save the NOT or EXCEPT questions for last.

 

II. Social Science

This is usually about history or government, or some other social science topic. (Note: This method works for IV. Natural Science as well).

1. Read the Intro paragraph to get an overview of the essay.

2. Read each topic sentence (first sentence of the paragraph).

3. Answer the line number questions first.

4. Answer the rest of the questions, saving NOT and EXCEPT for last.

 

III. Humanities

 This is often an essay about art or some cultural topic. Sometimes it is a story, like the prose fiction section.

If it is an essay, do what you did for the Social Science section.

If it is a story, do what you did for the Prose Fiction section.

This can also be a section with two passages, Passage A and Passage B. The ACT divides the questions up and labels them as for Passage A, for Passage B, and for both passages. In this case, read Passage A (or read the Intro and topic sentences of Passage A) and answer the questions for Passage A.

The ACT divides the questions up and labels them as

for Passage A

for Passage B,

and

for both passages.

In this case, read Passage A (or read the Intro and topic sentences of Passage A) and answer the questions for Passage A.

 

Then read Passage B and do the same. Finally, answer the “both” questions.

IV: Natural Science

This is about, well, natural science. Astronomy, biology, animals, etc.

Do the same thing you did for the Social Science (II).