Top 5 ACT Reading Strategies

Use these reading strategies to boost your score

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The ACT Reading test is, to many of you students out there, the most difficult of the three multiple-choice tests on the exam. It contains four passages of approximately 90 lines in length with 10 multiple-choice questions following each passage. Since you only have 35 minutes to read each passage and answer the questions, it's necessary that you use some ACT Reading strategies to boost your score. Otherwise, your scores will land somewhere in the teens, which is not going to help you get a scholarship.

Time Yourself

You will not be able to have your cell phone during the test, so bring a watch that has a silent timer, silent being the key word. Since you'll be answering 40 questions in 35 minutes (and reading the passages that go along with them) you'll need to pace yourself. Some students who take the ACT Reading test have reported only being able to finish two of the four passages because they took too long to read and answer. Keep an eye on that watch!

Read the Easiest Passage First

The four ACT Reading passages will always be arranged in this set order: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science. However, this doesn't mean that you have to read the passages in that order. Choose the passage that's easiest to read first. For instance, if you happen to like stories, then go with Prose Fiction. If you're a little more scientific-minded, then choose Natural Science. You'll have an easier time answering questions about a passage that interests you, and doing something right builds your confidence and sets up you for success in the next passages. Success always equals a higher score!

Underline and Summarize

When you're reading the passages, be sure to quickly underline important nouns and verbs as you read and jot down a brief summary of each paragraph (as in two-three words) in the margin. Underlining important nouns and verbs not only helps you remember what you've read, it also gives you a specific place to refer to when you're answering the questions. Summarizing is key to understanding the passages in their entirety. Plus, it allows you to answer those "What was the main idea of paragraph 1?" types of questions in a flash.

Cover The Answers

If you've gotten the gist of the passage, then rely on your memory a little bit and cover up the answers to the questions when you read them. Why? You may just come up with the right answer to the question and can find the match inside the answer choices. Since ACT writers include tricky answer choices to test your reading comprehension (a.k.a. "distractors"), the wrong answer choices can often trip you up. If you've thought of the correct answer in your head before reading them through, you'll have a higher likelihood of guessing correctly.

Review Reading Basics

You will be tested on whether or not you can find the main idea, understand vocabulary in context, detect the author's purpose, and make an inference. You'll also need to be able to quickly and accurately find details inside the paragraphs, kind of like a word search! So, before you take the ACT Reading test, be sure to review and practice those reading concepts. You'll be glad you did!


Practicing with ACT Reading strategies is key for successful usage. Do not go blind into the test. Practice these reading strategies at home with some practice exams (purchased in a book or online), so you have them firmly under your belt. It's much easier to answer questions when you're not being timed, so master them before you get to the testing center. Good luck!

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Your Citation
Roell, Kelly. "Top 5 ACT Reading Strategies." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Roell, Kelly. (2020, August 26). Top 5 ACT Reading Strategies. Retrieved from Roell, Kelly. "Top 5 ACT Reading Strategies." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).