The Reading Test is the third section on the ACT. This test consists of four different sections, each of which will present either one long passage or two short passages. You will have 35 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. This will allow you 8 minutes and 45 seconds per section, which you will need to budget between reading the passage and answering the questions.
There are four types of passages on the ACT Reading Test: Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction, Social Studies, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. The first passage, categorized as Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction, will be an excerpt from a novel, short story, or memoir. The Social Studies passage will discuss a topic related to the social sciences, such as history, anthropology, economics, geography, politics, or sociology. The Humanities passage may be about topics including music, art, and film, and may be excerpted from a personal essay(s). Lastly, the Natural Sciences passage will be about a scientific topic such as biology, geology, physics, or chemistry. The category of the passage will be explicitly stated before the passage begins. While the passages should all have the same difficulty, some students may feel more comfortable with certain types of passages than others. For example, if a certain student finds Natural Sciences uninteresting, when they come across that passage they can be prepared that they may need to work harder to maintain focus.
The ACT categorizes their reading questions into three subsections:
We will break these subsections down even further to focus on the specific skills necessary to be successful on the ACT Reading Section.
Let’s go through an example passage using the strategies above.
In the example passage above, key words that appear in the questions are circled, and their respective question numbers are written next to them. The summary of each paragraph is meant to represent how the reader should check in with themselves after each paragraph, to ensure that they understand what they just read. Now we can go on to the questions.
28. The author describes Henderson’s “Blues in C# Minor” as:
Before looking at the answer choices, let’s go to the passage and see if we can come up with our own answer. Going to the end of paragraph 7, where we circled the key words “Blue’s in C# Minor,” we can see it is described as “odd, haunting, and ultimately relaxing.” Looking at the answer choices:
a) Innovative, indulgent, and colorful
b) Fast-moving, memorable, and eerie
c) Artful, sublime, and unexpectedly upbeat
d) Odd, haunting, and relaxing
We can see that the information we found in the passage matches answer choice D.
Let’s look at one more question.
29. According to the author, what is unique about the June 1940 rendition of the song “A Ghost of a Chance?”
We circled the key phrase “A Ghost of a Chance” at the beginning of the final paragraph. The author states that it is the sole recording in Berry’s career that featured him from start to finish. Now let’s look at the answer choices.
a) It’s the only recorded piece that features Berry from beginning to end.
b) Berry plays an alto saxophone instead of his usual tenor saxophone.
c) It was the only public performance Berry gave in 1940.
d) Berry showcases his unrivaled ability to play a solo that blends into the background.
Based on the information provided by the author, the answer is A.
Slower readers may feel overwhelmed with a timed reading test, and may be especially worried about running out of time reading the passages. While it is important to read through the passage in its entirety, it is not essential to remember every detail upon first reading. It is much more important to have a general understanding of the passage. If you find yourself getting bogged down in the vocabulary, don’t be afraid to skim the passage to establish a basic idea of what it is about.
Readers will often make assumptions, or inferences, while reading a passage. While some questions will require you to make inferences, your inferences should always be based on evidence that can be found in the passage. Make sure you are able to find proof for each of your answers in the passage.
“Vocabulary in Context” questions may ask you the meaning of a word found in the passage. In order to have the best understanding of the word or phrase in context, don’t just read the sentence that it is in, but rather read for a couple sentences before and after the given word. Often these surrounding sentences will give clues about the meaning of the given word.