How to read an ACT Reading passage?

Tutela ACT Reading passage

The Reading Section on the ACT  creates trouble for students. In fact, the section can affect the overall score of any ACT aspirant, shattering the dream of getting a 34+. Given the time management issues and general loathing of reading, ACT Reading is, definitely, the most dreadful section according to students.

While some students have a natural flare for reading, others struggle. However, one should understand that comprehension skills can be developed easily. All it requires is a bit of hard work and letting go of the aversion to reading “boring” passages.

Reading sections are more about mental makeup and practice than about tricks or tips. There are no special tricks for getting a perfect score in the reading section. The only trick is – CRAZY PRACTICE !!

Let us understand the structure of ACT Reading sections and what exactly needs to be done for getting a decent score.

Disclaimer: The pointers below might sound vague and hypothetical, but trust us, it is the ONLY way forward.

How To Deal With ACT  Reading? Common myths and doubts

” I cannot finish the section on time.”  The ACT Reading section consists of 40 questions, which are to be attempted within 35 minutes. Sounds impossible? Well! It isn’t. REMEMBER: There is a reason why the section is designed for 35 minutes only. It is logical to deduce that the ACT Reading section CAN BE done within 35 minutes. The motive of is to give good scores to students and not ensure that the student struggles and ends up losing points.

” I am better with Science passages. Can I change the order of the passages? Well! ACT Reading doesn’t require any prior-subject knowledge- Humanities, Social Science, Natural Science, or Prose Fiction. All the passage types are of the same difficulty level. If you are avoiding any passage type (usually Humanities) just because you find them boring and difficult, you will never be able to score well in it. Hence, if you are uncomfortable reading a particular passage type,  you need to read it more actively and concentrate on the questions instead.  Changing the order of the passages is not at all recommended as it is not universal that a Science or a Prose Fiction passage WILL ALWAYS be difficult. REMEMBER: If you are finding a passage difficult while reading- the language used is not simple, the main idea is unclear, too many details etc-  the questions will be pretty-straightforward. This logic is legit and can be verified.  Just do not attempt the section with any preconceived notions.

” Should I read the questions first and then read the passage?” To all those students who are thinking of adopting this technique, ask yourself-” Is this really an effective way to comprehend texts? Does it work while you take your school exams? Trust me, it doesn’t. It just leaves you confused and consumes a lot of time, which already is a problem in the reading section. REMEMBER: If you get a basic understanding of the passage, you will be more comfortable answering the questions. Going in the reverse order can fetch you a maximum score of 31/40, but not more than that. Hence, ensure that you aim to understand the basic idea of the passage first and then go to questions.

“How much time should I give to every passage? “ You should ideally take 8 minutes for one passage: 3 minutes to skim read the passage and 5 minutes to answer the questions.  Going with 8 minutes per passage gives you a buffer of 3 minutes ( 8*4= 32 minutes; 35-32 = 3 minutes)

“How should I practise taking reading passages ?” You should practise on paper first and then online. Your aim should be to develop an understanding of the ACT reading passages: the type of language used, the structure of the passage, the various question types, etc. While taking a few reading sections on paper, you should set a timer for 8 minutes(3+5 minutes) and strive to complete the passage within that time. It might be difficult in the beginning but you will surely get a hang of it, eventually.

“What should I focus on while reading a reading passage?”  Other than the main idea, there are other elements that should be taken note of while reading the passage. The various elements in a reading passage that should be taken note of are as follows: Transitions words( words like but, however, As a result, For example, while, Indeed, In fact, etc. ), interesting punctuations (colons, double quotes, dashes, exclamation marks, parenthesis etc.), any exaggerated/extreme language indicating words(usual adverbs like extremely, most, all, every, etc.), any shift in idea (Scientists initially believed x, but eventually believed y ), any names of characters, places, timelines, places, etc., you should know who the narrator is as that is a direct question in prose fiction passages.

“How should I deal with paired passages?” To recall: paired passages contain two passages(A and B)  by two different authors usually having perspectives about a common topic. Furthermore, there are 3-4 questions exclusively for each of passages A and B and 3- 4 questions asking about the relationship between the two passages. Coming to how one should attempt a paired passage(which is usually the humanities, social science, or natural science passage), you should first read passage A and answer questions pertaining to Passage A, and repeat the drill with passage B. It is obvious that while reading the two passages, you WILL gain the main idea of the two passages. If not, here is what you need to know about the relationship between the 2 passages: the point of agreement, disagreement, view/reaction of an author w.r.t the idea of the other author. Also, the introductory and conclusion paragraph of each passage is important. Read them thoroughly.

“Should I read everything?” Reading everything is each but understanding everything in a limited time frame is a challenge. Hence, in the designated 3 minutes of your initial read, you should SKIM read. Skim reading – selective reading. Skim reading is reading to understand the main/ underlying idea. You definitely need not understand the details mentioned. Rather you should focus on understanding the main idea and what the details are trying to tell us. You should make mental notes so that you can MAP the passage. Find a track in the passage. Main idea = Topic(noun)+ So what about the topic is the author trying to tell me? Once you understand this funda, reading is simpler.

REMEMBER: ACT Reading is the third section of the ACT. Mental fatigue can affect your performance. You should take enough full-length practice tests so that you are not zoned out while attempting the reading section.

Lastly, the ACT reading section is more about word hunting. You just need to develop the skill that requires you to read between the lines. The correct answer is limited to the given passage and is just written in recycled language. If you can support an option with the text given in the question, it is correct. Else, you should eliminate it. Try to adopt the above-mentioned methods, and you will surely observe a score improvement.

For one-on-one assistance with ACT reading or ACT in general, contact Tutela:  Tutela’s Assistance Student Form