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Mastering The ACT Reading Section

This past Saturday thousands of Minnesotan students took the September ACT. Good luck on your results!

Another ACT is barely more than a month away on October 26th. Let's take a few minutes to look at the anatomy of the reading section and lay out some important tips for your prep work.

College Readiness Reading Skills: ACT

There are four types of passages in the reading section and they always come in the same order.

  • The Fiction Passage (Passage 1)

This first passage is usually an excerpt from a novel or part of a short story. Often, it is about interpersonal relationships. Because it is a small piece from something much larger, the fiction passage might not offer obvious information. It is not a factual passage, and the information you will be asked about will be implied rather than directly stated.

  • The Social Studies Passage (Passage 2)

This second passage is usually on history, economics, biography or government. It is a strongly factual passage. Often the information is an excerpt from a national magazine or newspaper.

  • The Humanities Passage (Passage 3)

This is the most variable passage, since it can range from personal nonfiction essays to passages on music, theater, popular culture, dance, etc.

  • The Natural Science Passage (Passage 4)

This passage may have an essay on biology, astronomy, geology, physics, or other natural sciences. It is strongly factual.

Most students find the reading test to be the most difficult to get through in time. Let's look at some tips for your approach

1. Choose your battles

Unless you are a very fast reader, you will probably be pressed for time when you come to the last passage. So choose the hardest one for last. The best way to figure out which is hardest is to use the first 30 seconds to read the first sentence of each passage and make a quick judgment. These 30 seconds are a good investment.

Some students do best by reading the whole passage and then starting the questions. Others might prefer reading some of the passage and then starting the questions, going back and forth after that. What is not recommended is reading all the questions before you even start reading the passage. The questions can be confusing out of context.

2. Make brief notes.

The questions are not in any particular order and can refer to information from any part of the passage. To make it easier to find the information you need, it's good to make quick notes or underline or circle key words in the passage.

3. "Fast Mode"

If you have five minutes or less left to do the last passage, you should change strategy. Go to the questions first. Look for questions with line references, and read that part of the passage to make a quick guess. After you do the line-reference questions, you may be able to make educated guesses on the other questions without reading all of the passage.

One final tip for this entry.... To prep for the reading section try to add a daily reading schedule to your life. Try to spend 20-30 minutes reading each day--it can be anything, a magazine, a journal or novel or even a blog! Just make sure to exercise that skill frequently. You'll get even more benefit if you also take time to think about what you just read after each session and see if you can recall a reading's major points and details.

Good luck with your prep!


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