ACT Reading Passage Types

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
In this video we are going to talk about the ACT reading passage types, the four passage types that you're going to encounter on the test, and also what specifically you should be paying attention to on each passage type, because ACT has it's favorite questions for each passage. And so if you know in advance what you should be prepared for while you're reading, you're gonna be better prepared for those questions they are going to ask you about.

Okay, so first of all, let's just do a refresher on the passages you're going to encounter Counter, so we have four passages on the ACT reading test, and they are generally in this order. Fiction comes first, so you're going to see an excerpt from a short story or a novel, it's prose fiction so that is good because that means no poetry. Well, maybe not good, but know that you're not gonna encounter any poetry, it's all going to be short stories, novels, that type of thing.

The next passage you're going to encounter is the Social Science passage. And this can be from anything in the social sciences. Just to give you some examples, it could be about archaeology, history, political science, economics, psychology, education, geography, things like that. Then you're going to see a Humanities passage and this is more in the realms of art and literature, maybe it's about dance, maybe it's a personal essay or memoir, maybe it's about television or radio, maybe it's about philosophy.

Finally you're going to see a Natural Science passage. This is about the sciences, it could be about biology, chemistry, meteorology, medicine, zoology, that type of stuff, we'll talk about the order in which you can think about doing the passages a little bit later in the video, but this is the passage, this is the order in which the passages appear on the test. Okay, so let's talk about that first one the fiction passage.

Here's what you need to pay attention to. First of all the story line. The ACT is going to ask you if you know what the story is. What's the narrative? What's the chain of events here? This is a little bit more difficult but the easy to use also going to ask you about character both, how is character revealed, and the relationships of the characters.

So what I mean by this character being revealed is, how do you learn about who these characters are? Both facts about them, but also their motivations, their personalities. A lot of times this is through dialogue, so pay attention to the dialogue. If a character is saying something like, I hate my little sister, well, that says something about their character reveals something about their character in their relationship.

So make sure you're keeping track of that. Also keep track of the passage's mood or tone. A lot of times you're gonna encounter a tone or a mood question on the fiction passage. So is it humorous? Is it serious?

Is it dark? Is it foreboding? Figure out what it is, and don't forget that it might be humorous. A lot of times students aren't prepared to deal with humor on a test. They think it's a very serious situation. So make sure you're picking up on anything that's lighthearted.

A lot of times that old joke would go right over students heads on such a serious test. And as I mentioned before dialogue, it's so important. How does dialogue reveal character. This is something the ACT specifically says that they will ask you questions on. So be prepared for it.

Now some students are not a fan of fiction, that's okay. I'm very much a fan of fiction, but some students are not, so they choose to leave this passage for last. A lot of times they find it to be the most ambiguous. The other ones are pretty straightforward. That when we have fiction they were talking about metaphors.

Maybe there's a lot of figurative language going on and they find it difficult. Totally fine to leave it for last. However, I find that the fiction passages run the gambit from really easy to understand to really abstract, so a hint is to read the first paragraph to make this decision for yourself. You might find that it seems pretty straightforward and easy, or you might find that you have no idea whats going on and you want to go ahead and leave it for last, when you can see how much time you have to devote to it.

All right, so next up we have the Social Science passage, here's what you should be paying attention to. What name goes with which concept, so if it's discussing a particular theory on economics and who introduced that theory, make sure you keep track of that because you gonna encounter these names in the questions, and it's good for you to at least have an idea of where somebody was talking about something in the passage that you know where to go look for it.

Also, very important, keep tract of cause-effect, Relationships. If something causes something else or if you find a transition key word that indicates that, make sure you mark it in the passage. I can almost guarantee there is going to be a question on that as well too, as well as on two things that are being compared. So make sure that you know anything that's being compared to something else, so again maybe it's one economics theory being compared against another economics theory.

Make sure you know how they are similar and how they are different. And finally sequence of events. This is a big thing on the non-fiction passage, including the social sciences. What happens first, what comes later. The chain of events, all right. So let's talk about the humanities passage.

Sometimes, humanities passages are going to seem a lot like fiction, if they are a memoir, if they are told from a first person prospective. This can sometimes happen. The difference is that at least the author is writing facts, or they're talking about their lives as if they're facts, so that's the difference here. You might encounter a humanities passage that you feel kind of looks like fiction to you, so just be prepared for that.

What you do want to pay attention to is author's point of view on all of these passages. So what do they think about it? The humanities passages, often, although not always, where you're gonna find more biased In terms of the author's perspective. Maybe they're critiquing something.

Maybe they are applauding something. So make sure you pay attention to that. What do they think about their topic? You also want to pay attention to relationships between events, ideas, people, trends or modes of thought. There's always going to be different events, or people, or ideas discussed.

Make sure you keep track of them, and how they relate. And if it's a memoir, as I mentioned, pay particular attention to the author's feelings and perspective because it ends up being that questions, when we're dealing with a memoir, or a first person narrative. They end up being a little bit more like those fiction questions. So pay really attention to feelings and perspective.

Now, finally, the natural science passage. What should you pay attention to? Well, lots about the relationships. You'll notice I talk about this again and again. Relationships, what are the relationships between things? And particularly cause and effect relationships.

You should always be paying to this in all the non-fiction passages, if you find that anything is a trigger or results in something else. Comparisons. Once again, and sequence of events. So you can see the pattern here, what you want to be focusing on, relationships, comparisons, sequence of events. And I'm telling you this, and I'm reiterating it, because the ACT just has its favorite question types and asks you about that all the time.

So you're not gonna be able to memorize or understand everything from the passage, but if you're actively reading and you know what to focus on a little bit more, that's stuff is gonna jump out at you as something that there's probably going to be a question on. And finally, this is really important for the science, you'll often see that there's specific scientific laws, or rules, or theories, or definitions being given, and you can bet there's going to be a question on that as well, so pay attention.

Now, order of passages. As I was alluding to before, some students prefer to read non-fiction rather than fiction, or maybe its the case that they prefer to read about science rather than humanities. A lot of students will go through these easy reading tests in order, and that's perfectly fine for them.

Some find that they have a strong preference for one passage type over another. So if this sounds like you, remember that you can do the passages in any order. There's only four, so you can make that decision. Start with your strengths, start with what you like to read about to build your confidence, and then move on to the passages that you perhaps don't like quite as much.

Okay, so that's our overview of the passage types. Check out our other videos on the question types and specific strategies to be dealing with all of these passages.

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Introduction to the Reading Test