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6 ACT Reading Strategies to Get Your Best Score

Your ACT score has a large impact on your chances of admission to your top schools, and there’s no doubt that mastering the test can be tricky. Even if you’re great at English, the Reading Test can be difficult to conquer. If you want to get that coveted 36, take a look at our top ACT reading strategies for success.


A Quick Breakdown of the ACT Reading Section 


The ACT Reading Test is comprised of 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. That means you’ll have slightly under a minute to answer each question (52.5 seconds). However, because this is the reading section, remember that you’ll spend a good part of that time actually reading the passages.


The reading section is divided into four types of passages: prose/literary narrative, social science, humanities, and natural science. The types of passages will always appear in that order. Each category comprises 25% of the test, and passages are around 800 words each.


Prose fiction/literary narrative:

act sample reading passage

Source: ACT


Social science

act sample reading passage

Source: ACT



act sample reading passage

Source: ACT


Natural science

act sample reading question

Source: ACT

ACT Reading Strategies to Get Your Best Score


1. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the test.


Accompanying each passage, you’ll find questions that fall under different categories:


Key Ideas and Details (55–60%)

act reading sample question

Source: ACT


This is fairly straightforward — you’ll be asked to understand and be able to accurately summarize the many themes and ideas, drawing conclusions accordingly.


Craft and Structure (25–30%)

act reading sample question

Source: ACT


Here, you’ll be asked to assess different aspects of why the author made the choices they did. This might include inferring the meanings of words and phrases in context, analyzing the perspective and point of view, and more.


Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13–18%)

act reading sample question

Source: ACT


This type of question asks you to comprehend what the author is saying and draw conclusions based on the evidence provided.


Familiarizing yourself with the different types of questions you’ll encounter will help you understand what the question is really asking, and help you identify which types of questions you need to practice most.


2. Read the questions before the passages.


There’s some debate about this strategy since different people work at different paces and according to a range of styles. However, it can be a good idea to read the questions prior to reading the passage because you’ll be able to look for specific details to answer those questions. That said, reading the questions first can also overwhelm people, and be an inefficient use of time if you can’t remember what you’re looking for. 


If you do decide to use this strategy, try using these steps: after you’ve read the questions, go through the passage and mark it up jotting down notes based on the questions you’ve already read. Underline key evidence as it relates to the questions at hand. Then, go back and respond to the questions.


3. Don’t slow down because you don’t understand something.


It’s essential to keep the momentum going. If something trips you up in the passage — a word you don’t know, or information that’s confusing — mark the area to come back to later. Often, you’ll be able to figure it out in context. 


4. Read. A lot.


This is more of a general life strategy, but it will certainly serve you well on the ACT. Read books, articles, newspapers, and magazines frequently. Cover a range of topics, such as current events, literature, history, and social sciences. While you read, annotate the materials (if possible), such as jotting down major themes and stylistic choices. This will help you get into the mindset you’ll need and build your reading comprehension skills for the ACT.


5. Guess (but don’t guess blindly).


Since there’s no penalty for guessing on the ACT, you should never leave an answer blank. However, it’s usually feasible to make an educated guess. There will almost always be details that clue you into the fact that certain answers are just plain wrong, such as statements that are factually inaccurate, so you can eliminate them immediately. If you have absolutely no idea, or if you run out of time, simply pick a “letter of the day” and consistently bubble in that letter for questions where you can’t eliminate a single answer.


6. Practice.


Take as many practice tests as possible. After you score your practice tests, go back and review your incorrect responses. Determine why you made the mistakes you did. Perhaps you read the passage too quickly and missed certain details, or maybe you fell for a trick. Focus on these types of questions in the future so you don’t keep repeating your errors. It’s a good idea to mark questions that you’re not confident about as you go, so you can see a general pattern emerge.


Want to know how your ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.