THE BLOG
11/27/2013 12:28 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

Top Tips for Acing ACT Reading Passages

Since most students are not particularly enthralled by reading arcane material or processing vague concepts, it is no surprise that the ACT Reading section can seem a bit daunting. But here is the simple, reassuring truth: it's not.

It is, instead, one of the most straightforward sections you will encounter among the many standardized tests out there. Success in ACT Reading is possible for anyone who devotes the necessary effort to prepare for it. That effort can assume a number of forms, but it really just boils down to one task: reading. Students who do not read regularly, or who are not accustomed to engaging with and critiquing the claims commonly made in various types of texts, will need help in shaping the skills needed to succeed on the ACT Reading section. Students who do read, and read copiously, will realize that they already ask and answer the types of questions that the ACT poses, by themselves, to themselves, in their own reading.

AP-level material

One of the most efficient and productive ways to increase the total time you spend reading in general is by taking AP classes. AP classes will introduce you to a hurdle you will need to jump at some point -- the college textbook. You will encounter a writing style in your textbooks that may be unlike anything you have seen before. You may come across words like "pragmatic," "assimilate," and "demographic" -- words that you likely understand, but are not used to seeing so regularly. Seeing them regularly now will get you accustomed to the style that is necessary to comprehend in order to ace ACT reading passages. It will prepare you to parse difficult styles of writing and, ultimately, make those passages seem far easier.

Question types

For those individuals who have laid a foundation of strong reading habits, the next and most contextual step toward success, is learning just how predictable ACT Reading questions can be. Questions typically consist of only a few major types. One asks what a word or phrase means based on how it is used in context. Another prompts you to approach a topic from the author's point of view, and to speculate on why the author might have adopted a particular strategy. Another asks you to describe the strategy the author is utilizing, and another (very predictably) requires a summary of the passage as a whole. It's that simple -- no curveballs. Practice frequently and read passages until you understand them, and you'll soon find yourself flirting with perfect scores.

Stop and reflect

Lastly, we return to the first claim made in this post -- that voracious readers are already asking themselves ACT Reading questions as they peruse material. When a student takes the time to analyze a sentence in its context in order to minimize the confusion it may generate, that student comprehends the passage at a level that is rare among the other individuals reading the passage. Most test-takers are lazy and easily distracted, unwilling to take the time or effort necessary to clear up ambiguities. It is these readers that the ACT wants to weed out. If you accustom yourself to reading carefully and reflectively, and remain attentive to the times when your mind wanders and your comprehension lapses, you will emerge in a top percentile of your peers.

Use that dictionary

Finally, as you read in non-test contexts -- at school, at work, for fun -- look up every word you don't know. This tip may seem tedious, but it is well worth it. The longer you adhere to this policy, the farther ahead of your peers you will be in vocabulary and reading comprehension - and the better you will do on the ACT, since a number of questions in the reading section directly relate to simple word comprehension.

Good luck!