The ACT Reading test is the bane of many ACT test prep students’ existences, but it needn’t be! In this article, I’ll offer some observations about the nature of the ACT Reading test and some advice for students looking for a perfect 36.

How Important Is the ACT Reading Test?

The ACT Reading test is very important, particularly if you’re aiming to go to school in the humanities or social sciences. Reading and thinking critically about reading is required in pretty much every academic discipline–even math textbooks have theorems to contemplate! Furthermore, if you’re looking to go to Ivies like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, you should know that 25% of all students at those schools got a perfect score of 36 on ACT Reading. Yeah.

What Makes the ACT Reading Test Difficult?

The ACT Reading test is difficult for ACT prep students for a few reasons. First, the time limit of 35 minutes makes it very difficult for most students to finish, let alone answer every question correctly. “Wait,” incredulous first-time ACT prep students ask me, “I’m supposed to read 4 passages and answer 40 questions on those passages in 35 minutes?” Absolutely. I’ll be honest: if you’re a slow reader, it’s pretty much impossible to get a 36. Much of the work toward getting a perfect 36 in ACT reading occurs in your developmental years. If you weren’t reading a lot in elementary school and junior high, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a perfect 36. Most people don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. However, if you’re scoring around 30, then it’s realistic to push yourself toward a perfect 36.

The second thing that makes the ACT Reading test difficult for students in ACT prep lessons is the fact that the test is trying very hard to trick you. Ambiguous language like “The author would most likely agree” and “In context, this word most nearly means” make the questions seem subjective or opinion-based. They’re not. A machine grades this test, so there’s only one answer, and that answer is as verifiable and quantifiable as the answer to a math problem. You need to learn how to locate evidence that makes the correct answer one hundred percent correct.

Know Your Weaknesses

Ask yourself to rank your ACT Reading test weaknesses in order of priority. Is it time management, vocabulary, or passage strategy that’s most difficult for you? If it’s time management, you need to do dozens of drills and work passages in different ways–skimming and then answering questions, reading questions first and then skimming to answer questions, working entirely backward from the questions. If it’s vocabulary, you need to write down every unfamiliar word in the red book and learn its definition by heart. You also need to read fiction and articles in the social and natural sciences and the humanities and keep a vocabulary journal. If it’s passage strategy, you need to closely read and analyze EVERY question and EVERY answer in the red book. Give yourself unlimited time to truly understand EVERY WORD of each passage, but most importantly, EVERY WORD of each question and answer.

Answer the Question in Your Own Words

This strategy is tried-and-true. Before you let the fancy academic language of the answer choices lead you astray, answer the question to the best of your ability in your own words and match up your answer to one of the answer choices.

Eliminate Wrong Answers

If ONE WORD in the answer choice is wrong, the entire choice is wrong. Pay attention to verbs. Is sentence 5 “descriptive details,” “a critique,” “a refutation,” or “a suggestion”? The ACT answer choices are designed to sound similar enough to make you want to guess. You need to figure out the DIFFERENCE between the choices, and that means understanding the NUANCE of each choice and the words that comprise it.

Bottom line: You Have to REALLY Want a Perfect 36

Tutors aren’t miracle-workers. YOU are the person taking the test, and if you don’t take the tutoring and coaching you’ve received and take your education into your own hands, you’ll never get that perfect score on the ACT Reading! However, if you’re motivated to understand and own up to your weaknesses and drill them into oblivion, you just might have a fighting chance. YOU CAN DO IT!

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