What Could You Do With A Higher Score on the ACT Reading Test?
This article is the ultimate guide to the ACT Reading Test, written by a professional ACT prep tutor with a perfect score on the ACT.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be more confident and in-control of this challenging test. And, your ACT Reading score will be primed to shoot up by 5, 7, or even 10 points (wouldn’t that be awesome?)
But, before we get into all the great advice, tactics, and strategy that I’ve cooked up for you, let me ask you this simple question:
How would your life become better with a higher score on the ACT Reading test?
Would your family be proud of you, and excited for your great results? Would you be proud of yourself for your success?
Could a better education snowball into more opportunities, more financial success, and more professional respect? Would you get a step closer to your biggest goals in life?
The answer to all of these questions (and more) is a resounding YES!
A higher ACT Reading score has the potential to change your life for the better. This may just be one test, but it’s one heck of an important test. One way or another, the consequences of your ACT score will reverberate for the rest of your life through your educational and career opportunities.
No one studies for the ACT Reading test because they want to. We study for the ACT test because we will personally benefit from the long-term results: a better life, with more options, more freedom, and more exciting successes to look forward to.
It brings me happiness to see my students succeed and grow into the lives they dream of. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my tips on the ACT Reading test, and why I’ve written this mammoth guide to getting a higher score on it.
Ready to change your ACT score - and your life - for the better? Me too 🙂 Let’s get right into it with a personal introduction to the ACT Reading test….
What Is the ACT Reading Test?
So, what is the ACT Reading test, exactly? And why do you have to take it?
Well, the ACT Test is used for college and scholarship admissions - as you probably already know.
It’s no surprise that colleges want to test the Reading skills of their incoming freshmen. After all, a college education usually involves quite a bit of reading! And the colleges don’t want to flunk-out their Freshmen for poor reading skills.
So, you’ll be tested on reading comprehension, reading speed, and vocabulary - plus your ability to answer complex questions under a time limit.
The entire ACT Reading test is 4 reading passages and 40 questions in 35 minutes. The passages range from Prose Fiction to Natural Science, and the level of difficulty is appropriately challenging for most Juniors and Seniors in High School.
Compare the SAT and ACT Reading Tests.
Before you decide 100% that you’re going to take the ACT Reading test, you should also learn about your other option - the SAT Reading test.
The SAT Test, like the ACT Test, is a college-admissions exam designed for high school students. These two tests are about 80% similar, 20% different.
But, the Reading sections of these two tests have some noticeable differences.
The ACT Reading is easier, and more “surface.” But, you have to finish much more quickly. The SAT Reading is more complex, and you have to read more deeply. But you have a more generous time limit per question.
Weaker readers will probably prefer the ACT Reading test, while strong readers often prefer the SAT Reading test.
I’ve written more about the differences between the SAT Test and the ACT Test, as well as a guide on how to make the choice between the ACT Test and SAT Test. Check those articles out too!
Get the Best ACT Reading Prep Books.
If you want to ace the ACT Reading test, you’ll need the best ACT prep books to study and practice with.
When it comes to ACT Test Prep, everything starts with the Official ACT Study Guide. Make sure you have a personal copy (or two). This book contains a collection of full-length practice ACT tests.
My other favorite book is Erica Meltzer’s The Complete Guide to ACT Reading, which you can order from Amazon. Ms. Meltzer is a highly respected SAT and ACT Prep Tutor who specializes in the verbal sections of both tests.
Of all the ACT Reading prep books I’ve found, these two are by far the best. Order your copies today and start working through them one day at a time.
Find a Great ACT Prep Tutor.
These days, many serious students find themselves an ACT Prep Tutor to maximize their scores on the ACT Test and boost their chances for college.
A great ACT tutor will help you figure out your weak spots, and give you strategies and techniques to improve them. Also, your tutor should provide practice materials, practice
I highly recommend that you work with a professional ACT Prep Tutor if you can fit it into your family’s budget and schedule.
Also, you have to respect the fact that even if you don’t hire an ACT Prep Tutor, a lot of your competition will have a tutor pushing them to ever-higher ACT scores. So, if you study for the ACT Test on your own, you have to stay responsible and disciplined about your work ethic.
Know Time Limits and Proper Pacing on the ACT Reading Test.
As I mentioned earlier, the ACT Reading Test has a short time limit. You’ll need to move extremely quickly if you want to finish every question on time.
You also won’t have much time to answer the questions - you only get about 50 seconds per question, on average. You will spend most of that time on elimination of bad answer choices and skimming for supporting evidence in the reading assignment.
If you don’t have time to finish every question - GUESS! The ACT Reading Test does NOT penalize you for wrong answers. So, you’ve got nothing to lose by guessing.
Speed and pacing are one of the biggest challenges of ACT Reading. If the breakneck, high-speed pace of the ACT Reading Test makes you miserable, try the SAT Test! The SAT Reading won’t be any easier, but you will have more time to think about your answers.
Be Aware of the Types of Passages on the ACT Reading Section.
The first thing to know about the ACT Reading passages is this: there will always be a variety of topics that you have to read about.
The order of the reading passages is preset for every ACT test:
- Prose Fiction
- Social Science
- Natural Science
One of these four ACT Reading passages will also be a “dual-passage” reading assignment that includes two shorter reading assignments plus “compare and contrast” questions.
As you can see, there’s something to enjoy for everyone. And, there’s something to hate for everyone.
See, it’s natural to prefer certain types of reading assignments. Personally, I like the Prose Fiction and Natural Science… and I usually hate the Social Science reading. Nothing personal, it’s just how I am!
I recommend doing your favorite passages first, and doing the harder ones afterwards. This builds your momentum and gets you in the right mindset to tackle the harder readings.
Develop Strong Skimming Skills for the ACT Reading Test.
As I’ve mentioned before, the key skill for ACT Reading is skimming. Skimming is the art of ignoring details and rapidly putting together the big picture of a reading passage.
To skim is to give yourself permission not to worry about every last little detail… not to slow down and get caught up in the confusion of each individual sentence.
Skimming is looking at the paragraphs and their meanings, rather than the individual sentences. If you understand the big picture, you can put the details together later.
The other thing is - you never know exactly what details the ACT questions will be about. So, it’s counter-productive to try to get every detail on the first read-through, because you don’t know what details will be important!
Remember that on the ACT Reading test, we only get points for correct answers. We don’t get any points for “understanding.” Sure, understanding is important, but my point is: don’t try to understand every detail too deeply. You could give a Ph.D. dissertation on the ACT Reading assignment - but it wouldn’t get you a higher ACT Reading score.
By the way, the easiest way to get good at skimming is to read something new every day! We’ll cover some tips for free-reading later in the article.
Tips for Taking Notes on the ACT Reading Test.
Now, we just covered the importance of skimming and getting through the ACT Reading passage quickly, because we don’t get any points for “understanding” the assignment - just for answering questions.
But, at the same time, we can’t afford to misunderstand the reading assignment. And, we can’t afford to spend a bunch of time reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading.
In other words, your reading must be quick – but you must also be accurate, and you must remember what you’ve read (for a few minutes).
The perfect strategy is to take written notes on the reading passage while you’re skimming through it for the first time.
These notes should be simple, fast, and direct. Jot down one key-note per paragraph of reading.
Taking notes should only take a few seconds. It’s not a big, major project… so don’t treat it like one.
The point is to stay focused, to stay accurate, and to remember what you read - the first time.
Every student who tries this starts to see the benefits: less re-reading, better comprehension, and higher scores.
You might worry that note-taking takes extra time. Trust me, it won’t hurt you. My experience has proven to me that students get their time back during the questions phase, because you understand and remember more from the reading.
Plus, your answers will be consistently more accurate, which means higher scores.
This technique only works if you’re practiced it before test day. But, if you develop your note-taking skills and use them, your ACT Reading score will go up - I promise.
Perfect-Score Tactic: “Pre-Answering” on the ACT Reading Test.
This concept is quite simple, but incredibly effective: You can answer the questions without using the multiple-choice options.
In fact, starting with the answer choices the ACT gives you is downright dangerous. Do you realize how much time and effort the ACT test-makers put into making “fake-out” answer choices to the ACT Reading questions? Three out of four answer choices aren’t just “wrong” - they’re carefully constructed lies that will suck your time and attention.
No - you need to use a completely different strategy than just “looking at the answer choices” - and I call this strategy “PRE-ANSWERING.”
It’s super-simple. Before you look at the multiple-choice answers, you create your own response to the ACT Reading question. Then you write it down. WRITE YOUR ANSWER DOWN - don’t just hold it in your head! Our head is for thinking, not for storage. Paper (notes) are for “storage space.”
Now you have your own answer choice to the ACT Reading question - an answer free from the lies and misleading deceptions that are “baked in” to every incorrect ACT Reading answer choice.
Pre-answering gets results quickly. You’ll gain clarity, accuracy, and more points on the ACT Reading test - all for a small sacrifice of extra time during your “pre-answer” phase.
And, you end up saving time because you don’t spend so long digging through the answer choices.
Trust me, the “pre-answer” technique has revolutionized the scores and confidence of hundreds of ACT prep students that I’ve tutored. I know it works, and I also use it myself. Even after all these years, pre-answering continues to get me perfect scores on the ACT Reading test.
One word of warning: you must practice this technique extensively before using it on the real ACT test. Otherwise, it will feel clumsy and unfamiliar… slowing you down and preventing it from being the killer ACT Reading strategy that you need.
Develop Your Elimination Skills for the ACT Reading Test.
Now that we’ve covered how to read and how to pre-answer, we can move on to the final stage: eliminating answer choices and finding your final answer.
First thing - elimination is your friend on the ACT Reading. You should almost never pick your final answer before you’ve eliminated at least 2 other choices.
Easier ACT Reading questions may not require as much time spent on elimination. If the right answer jumps out at you, and you feel confident that you have the right supporting evidence, then it may not be worth your time to eliminate every other possible answer.
But, the harder an ACT Reading question is, the more it helps to use elimination. Although it may slow you down a bit, you’ll still get a higher score.
Keep in mind that the harder ACT Reading questions are designed to take more time. You’re supposed to use careful elimination to answer the hardest questions. So don’t worry about the time it’s taking… just focus on being accurate.
With practice you’ll get much faster at eliminating answers, and you’ll start to recognize certain patterns of the ACT Reading Test that can be exploited to your benefit.
Now you know my main strategies for the ACT Reading test, so let’s move on to some very common mistakes that ruin students’ ACT Reading scores…
Common Mistakes Students Make on the ACT Reading Test.
In my opinion, the ACT Reading test is not that hard. In fact, we usually are our own worst enemies on the ACT Reading!
What are some of the common ways that students self-sabotage their own ACT Reading scores?
Misreading the question or answer choices: This mistake is tied to the previous one. Students tend to focus most of their reading efforts on the passage itself, and not enough effort on the questions and answer choices. The questions are often more confusing than the reading passage! Read the questions and answer choices very, very carefully.
Not finding direct support in the text: You guessed it, this mistake is also tied to a fear of “running out of time.” On the ACT Reading section, every question has clear, direct support in the text. If you can’t find direct support for your final answer, it’s very possible that you’re making a mistake.
Getting lazy, losing focus, or cutting corners: Sad to say, many students just get tired, lazy, or bored halfway through the ACT Reading test… then they start skipping steps and strategies. Listen, I know it’s hard to stay focused throughout an entire ACT Reading test, but we really don’t have another option. You cannot allow yourself to slack off just because you’re tired. That’s when all the careless errors will strike.
Like I said, we can be our own worst enemies! Don’t let these common but avoidable mistakes steal your ACT Reading score.
Prep With Full-Length Practice ACT Tests.
Now that you know how to beat the ACT Reading test, it’s time to put in the practice hours and elbow grease.
On the day of the real ACT, you’ll probably feel exhausted, stressed, and tired. Practice ACT tests aren’t just to help develop your skills; they are also to develop your testing mentality and your endurance.
The ACT Reading section is the third section of the ACT Test, so on the real test day, you’ll be pretty tired before you even start.
Build Your Free Reading and Vocabulary for the ACT Reading Test.
Now, stop me if this sounds crazy. It might just be me, but I notice that the students who spend the most time reading also get the highest scores on the ACT Reading test.
Students who read for fun are faster, more confident readers - and this shows in their higher ACT Reading scores.
Be like these high-scoring students: devote some extra time (outside of school) to personal free-reading and vocabulary-building.
The key is to find personal books that are enjoyable and challenging. Then set a reading routine that you can stick to (I’ve always liked reading at breakfast and again right before I fall asleep).
I know that high school seems to destroy the fun of personal reading. You’re assigned so many boring and difficult books that you probably don’t like to read all that much. It’s normal, and most of my ACT prep students feel the same way.
Personal reading also helps develop and expand your vocabulary, which also helps your ACT Reading score. When you want to know what’s happening to your favorite character, you’ll be sure to look up the meaning of vocab words like “distraught” right away - and you’ll remember the definitions more easily, since they are attached to specific memories.
You should also create handmade vocab flashcards as you go - and periodically review them. Once a week is a good schedule.
Also consider taking an AP English class in high school to get even more exposure to challenging and exciting reading!
Check out our recommended reading lists for teens and high school students, then head over to Amazon.com or your local bookstore and pick up a stack of fun and challenging books to read!
Don’t Forget the Other Sections of the ACT Test.
Although it’s important to prep for the ACT Reading test, you also can’t afford to forget the other sections of the ACT Test: English, Math, Science, and Essay.
Here are some of our best free reference articles to help you with the other sections of the ACT test:
- How to Get a Higher Score on the ACT Test
- How to Get a Perfect Score on the ACT English Test
- Top ACT Math Tips From a Pro ACT Tutor
- ACT Science Tips
- Top 9 ACT Essay Tips (From An Experienced ACT Tutor)
Each section presents its own type of challenges, so don’t let yourself get overwhelmed studying them all at once. Pick one or two sections to study at a time. It’s usually best to focus on your weakest scores and sections first.
ACT Reading Tips: Conclusion and Review
Well, I promised you the ULTIMATE Guide to the ACT Reading Test, and hopefully I’ve delivered 😉
We’ve gone over what the ACT Reading test is, and how it differs from the SAT Reading test.
I shared my two favorite books for ACT Reading prep, and the importance of finding a great ACT Prep tutor.
Then we covered the time limit and the types of reading passages you’ll be given, before moving on to my key strategies for perfect scores on the ACT Reading test:
I then shared the five most common mistakes that I see students make on the ACT Reading test.
Finally we covered some important but common-sense advice: Practice hard, read a lot, build your vocabulary - and don’t forget to prep for the other sections of the ACT test.
It’s been fun to gather all my ideas about ACT Reading into one article!
If you have any questions or feedback, please share in the comments section below the article 🙂
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