Introduction to the ACT Reading Test

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
Welcome to this introduction to the ACT Reading Test from your friends at Magoosh. Now this lesson is designed to give you a basic overview of the ACT reading test or section if you're just walking into it. So we'll talk about, what are the passages, how many questions are you gonna see? And what can you do to most effectively study and prepare for it?

So let's go ahead and get started. Let's look at a basic overview first of what the task looks like. So you have 35 minutes to do 40 questions. And you'll see four passages. One will be a fiction passage. One will be a social science passage.

One will be a humanities passage. And one will be a natural science passage. And you're going to see 10 questions for each of these passages. So that basically breaks down to one fiction passage, and three non-fiction passages. Social science, humanities, and natural science are all non-fiction.

So timing wise, this means that because you have 35 minutes to do four passages, you have about eight to nine minutes per passage if you evenly paced yourself throughout the test. So what do you need to study? Well, first of all, you need to read a lot. Now if you were cramming last minute maybe you're not gonna have a lot of time to be building your reading skills, but you can start whenever you're starting in your study process.

You can read both fiction and non-fiction. Make sure you're reading constantly, read magazine articles, newspaper articles. Read what you're reading in school. The more you read, the better off you will be on the test. Now as you are going through your test prep though, what you can really do to help yourself is not passively read all the stuff that you are reading in school or outside of school.

You should practice active reading as you read, so what does that mean? Well, focus on determining the main idea of the entire piece as well as individual paragraphs whenever you're reading. Don't just limit this to your ACT study when you're working on the ACT reading passage. Read a newspaper article and pause after each paragraph.

Summarize what's the main idea there, what's going on and then summarize the main idea of the entire piece. This requires a little bit of extra work. You can't be lazy, but I'll help you out so much. That will translate right over to the test. The other thing you should be doing when you are reading, is figure out relationships, whether the relationships between people, between events.

So be asking questions back against the text that you're reading. And also, try to figure out the sequence of events, and very important, the author's tone and purpose. How do they feel about their topic, and why are they telling you this information? And the reason why you should be doing this in all your reading as you are working towards prepping for the ACT, is because the ACT is going to test you on all of these things.

It's going to ask you about main idea, it's gonna ask you about relationships, events, tone and purpose. So if you practice doing this when you're reading material outside of your ACT prep, it's all going to translate over and will be good stuff to help you do better on the ACT. Now here is the icing on the cake for those of you who are just taking the ACT and not the SAT.

You don't really have to study vocabulary for the ACT unless it's a real weakness of yours, if you feel that you are not understanding the passages that you're reading because of the vocabulary, then maybe you need to do a little bit of vocabulary study, but the ACT does not test vocabulary the way that the SAT does. It is not going to be testing you on really hard words so that's the good news, which means that if you were prepping just for the ACT anyway, you can really focus on developing your reading comprehension and that's what this test is all about.

All right, so let's talk a little bit more about how you can best prepare for the ACT test in addition to practicing that purposeful active reading. Well, you really need to practice timed reading passages. A lot of times, I have students that think their fine, they do an ACT reading passage and they get all the answers right, and they think they have it in the bag. And they don't realize it took them 30 minutes to do it.

So, if you have unlimited amounts of time, you can generally do pretty well on the ACT reading test because the answers are for the most part, right in the passage. You just need to be able to find them. But you don't have unlimited time on the test, you have like I was saying earlier eight to nine minutes per passage.

So make sure you're practicing, once you get the hang of it, under time conditions. And make sure that you can effectively answer the questions in a time period, or at least make quick good decisions about which questions you should be answering first and which ones you just wanna take your best guess on. And now, you can also practice purposeful annotation when you are working on your ACT reading prep.

And what I mean by this is very minimal underlining to help you pay attention. Just that very act of looking for what to underline helps you focus on the text and you won't run into that situation of feeling like you read the entire thing. But you don't remember a word of it because your mind was multitasking and wandering. So make sure you're underlining and also jot down the main idea at the end of the passage.

We are going to have other lesson videos and all the question types, but I cannot emphasize how important it is that you know the main idea before you go into the ACT reading questions. Because the questions, again and again, are going to ask you about directly the main idea or maybe a question on, why does the author include this detail? And guess what?

The answer is probably gonna have something to do with the main idea. So, before you go to any questions, know what that is in your head, and you're gonna be in much better shape. And finally, practice writing in your own answers before looking at the answer choices. We're going to talk about this more in our basic strategies video and also in our other videos as we work through sample questions.

But this is really crucial because the test is really good at writing really tempting wrong answers. And so before you even see those temptations, you wanna have as best of an idea in your head as possible as to what the correct answer is. And this is gonna help you. It's gonna be your guide when you go to those answer choices.

So that's it. That's our overview. Check out other lessons. We're gonna break down all these components and a lot more specifics.

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Introduction to the Reading Test