Guest Post: Improve Your Score With These Top ACT Reading Strategies


There are a lot of reading strategies out there for the ACT.  The problem is, many of them are not necessarily actionable.  A tip to “read more” or “be confident” is not exactly the most efficient studying strategy for the ACT Reading section when you have 2 months or less for preparation.

Why not?

The ACT reading questions are not like what you’ve seen in a classroom. Often, these questions have been specifically designed to confuse you.  The good news is, the ACT writes questions so that there is one undeniably correct answer.  All you need to learn is how to find it!

Here are 5 proven strategies to help improve your ACT reading score:

1. Read the easiest passages first

The ACT reading topics are divided into 4 types: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.  For those who do not consider themselves the next “renaissance man,” it’s perfectly fine to be better at one type of passage compared to another.  If Natural Science is your bread and butter, tackle this one first.  You’ll be more likely to ride through the rest of the passages with confidence rather than reading and answering the hardest passage first. This is a great strategy to utilize on test day to start off the Reading section on a good foot.

2. Eliminate the wrong answer

The ACT answers are black and white when it comes to what’s correct and what’s incorrect.  Understanding the lack of a gray area on this test is vital when going through the answer choices for each question because this strategy focuses on eliminating the wrong answers first. Meaning you’re left with an answer that’s 100% correct.

Each incorrect ACT question has a detail that makes it clearly wrong. If an answer introduces a new or unrelated concept, it’s wrong.  If the answer is too specific or, reversely too broad, it’s wrong.  Two other words to look out for are extremes like “always” or “never.”  The more you practice finding these incorrect answers, the easier it gets to spot them quickly and easily.

3. Diagnose your main weakness with a practice test

This strategy is all about finding out what your weakness is during real testing conditions and then what your score could be if you had more time to finish.  To find where you struggle, you’ll first need to obtain an official ACT practice test.  You will set the timer for 35 minutes and take the test as if it were test day.  If time is up and you aren’t finished, do not stop working.  Reset your stopwatch and record the time it takes to finish the rest of the questions to the best of your ability.  For these questions answered with additional time, simply add a little tick beside each question that required the additional time.  Now grade your test using the answer key and create two scores:

1.    Timed Score: The score you earned within the 35 minutes
2.    Unlimited Time Score: The score you earned if time were unlimited

How can you use these scores to determine your weaknesses?  Here are a few scenarios to look out for and what they can mean:

•    The two scores are more than 2 points different: This is a sign that you are struggling with managing your time and need to practice reading more passages to finish faster.
•    Your unlimited time score is lower than you’d like: This is also a sign that you need to put more time into reading passages across all the ACT reading subjects.  This is a good moment to identify which types of passages you are struggling with and prioritize practicing on those passages until you feel comfortable.

4. Underline & Summarize

While you are reading the passage, underline any important nouns or sentences you come across. For every paragraph, write a brief summary to help you remember what you read.  This can be as little as 3-4 words, so long as it helps you manage the information once you refer back later. Underlining and summarizing this text helps you to digest the main points and be more prepared to answer the questions that follow.  If you prefer a systematic approach to underlining for comprehension, you can utilize the following system:

•    Main ideas: double underlined
•    Supporting details: single underline
•    Key words: Circle

5. Try to answer the questions before looking at the answers

Like I mentioned earlier, the ACT writes answers to your questions to confuse you or make you second-guess your answer purposely. After reading a question and before looking at the answers, try to figure out what the answer is. This will help you to steer clear from the tempting incorrect answers the ACT will throw at you.

These strategies can all be utilized congruently with one another to help develop a smarter approach to improving your ACT reading score. The most important thing to remember is to do what works for you.

Good luck!

Kristine Thorndyke works at Quesbook, a company dedicated to providing free ACT practice tools and resources to students around the world.

Our private Orange County ACT tutoring will help you improve your score without the stress. Call us today for more information.

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