The ACT Reading Test

act reading strategies

Sound ACT reading strategies are essential for achieving a high score.

The ACT Reading test consists of 40 questions which examine your reading comprehension. You have 35-minutes to complete this section, and it is generally recommended you spend no more than 2-3 minutes reading each passage, and about 25 seconds answering each question. ACT reading questions ask you to derive meaning from texts by both examining what is implicitly stated and by reasoning to determine implicit meanings. You will use these skills in order to do the following things, for example:

  • Use referring and reasoning skills to determine main ideas
  • Locate and interpret significant ideas
  • Understand sequences of events
  • Make comparisons
  • Comprehend cause-and-effect relationships
  • Determine the meaning of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements
  • Draw generalizations
  • Analyze the authors voice and method
You will want ACT reading strategies for all four of the passages of college-freshman difficulty level texts. Next to each passage is the title of the passage, the author, and sometimes a brief note is included so students can better understand the meaning of the passage.
There are two separate scores which are reported for the Reading section, which add up to the 40 total questions. The first is a sub-score for the Social Studies/Sciences reading skills, and the second sub-score is in the Arts/Literature reading skills.

ACT Reading Strategies

  • Pace yourself. There are 40 questions, and 35 minutes to complete them. Try to spend about 2-3 minutes reading each passage, and that will leave at least 35 seconds to answer each question. It’s always a good idea to plan to have extra time at the end of the test in order to go back and review your work and return to the more difficult questions.
  • Read carefully. Try not to skim, you are given enough time to read the passage in its entirety. While reading, try and make connections between different ideas in the text. Feel free to make notes on important ideas in the passage either on the test booklet or on scratch paper.
  • Refer back to the passage when answering questions. Since some questions are taken directly from the text, it is very important to refer to the passage before you answer any question. Other questions will require you to draw conclusions and determine implicit meanings from the text.

The Four Main Areas Covered

  1. Social Studies (25%). These questions are based in the content areas of anthropology, archaeology, biography, business, economics, education, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology.
  2. Natural Sciences (25%). These questions are based in the content area of anatomy, meteorology, microbiology, natural history, physiology, physics, technology, zoology, biology, botany, chemistry, ecology, geology, and medicine.
  3. Prose Fiction (25%). These question are based on short stories or excerpts from short stories or novels.
  4. Humanities (25%). These questions are based on passages from memoirs and personal essays and in the content areas of architecture, art, dance, ethics, film, language, literary criticism, music, philosophy, radio, television, and theater. 

SAT Writing and Language Practice Questions