4 Tips for Scoring Higher on the ACT Reading Test

By Ene-Kaja Chippendale

I prep students for the ACT reading test. Students who are not prepared often feel intimidated. I hear it feels awful. I see it hinders performance that leads to lower scores.  This does not have to be your experience. If you want to face the ACT with greater confidence and gain a competitive edge, try the strategies we teach at Focus on Learning.  Empower yourself and build your confidence in preparing for the ACT reading test.

Buy Time

The first step is to grasp the notion of pacing. Did you know that reading a college level article or excerpt from a book in about 8 minutes is a pace that is nearly impossible for most students to keep?  How can you buy yourself more time?


Look at the type of reading passages on the ACT test. Consider the fact that you are presented with a wide variety of  college-level reading (Prose Fiction, Social Sciences, Humanities and Natural Science.)  Many students get a jump on the Reading section by this simple tip: number the passages in the order of brevity. The passages all have similar word counts, but the questions vary dramatically from one passage to the next.  Which passage has the shortest questions?  Which passage is a familiar or interesting topic?  If you love science and nonfiction in general, always leave the prose fiction text till last.  NEVER automatically read the passages in sequential order.


There are ten questions you have to answer after every passage. Each one needs a surgical approach. Always read the questions before you read the passage, and be sure to underline key words, including special terms and names.  If a question gives you a specific line reference, mark the number of the question in the margin by the referenced lines.


Remember that you are only reading each passage to answer ten questions.  You do not have to read the entire passage.  For expository passages (II, III, IV), read the first paragraph and the first and last sentences of the remaining paragraphs.  That will lead you to the correct answer. The prose passage may require more reading, which is why it is a good choice to leave it last.  And remember–the key to success on the reading test is reading every question very carefully so you know what it is asking. Eliminate those answer choices that have nothing to do with the question, and cross them off.  Circle all correct answers in the test booklet, so you do not go astray.

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