About The ACT Reading Test
“Nuts & Bolts” of the ACT Reading Test
The Reading Test has 40 questions that must be answered
in 35 minutes; that time includes reading the four passages.
Each passage is approximately 750 words long. Students
have about 8 - 9 minutes to read each passage and answer the
questions that follow.
The Reading Test evaluates students’ ability to understand
the passages; they do NOT need to be knowledgeable about
the subject area covered in the passage. They do, however,
have to read attentively because the passages contain all the
information needed to answer the questions.
What types of questions are on the Reading Test?
All questions fall into one of two basic categories:
Referring questions ask students to find or use
information that is clearly stated in the passage.
Reasoning questions ask students to take information
that’s either stated or implied in the passage and use it to
answer more complex questions.
Content of the ACT Reading Test
One passage from each of the following categories:
• Prose Fiction
• Social Science
• Humanities
• Natural Science
Number of Items
Prose Fiction
Proportion of
Reading Test
Social Science
Natural Science
What does each Reading category include?
Prose Fiction--intact short stories or excerpts from short
stories or novels
Social Science--anthropology, archaeology, business,
economics, education, geography, history,
political science, psychology, sociology
Humanities--architecture, art, dance, ethics, film,
language, literary criticism, music, philosophy,
radio, television, theater
What does each category include?
Natural Science--anatomy, astronomy, biology, botany,
chemistry, ecology, geology, medicine,
meteorology, microbiology, natural history,
physiology, physics, technology, zoology
What will students be asked to do?
• identify important details
• identify the main point of a paragraph or passage
• make comparisons between characters or ideas
• identify cause-effect relationships
• make generalizations about events or characters
(continued) What will students be asked to do?
• determine the meaning of unfamiliar words from the
context of the passage
• make reasonable inferences about events, ideas, or
• identify an author’s point of view
Instructions for the Reading Test
Students should be very familiar with the directions of any
standardized test prior to taking the test.
Directions: There are four passages in this test. Each
passage is followed by several questions. After reading a
passage, choose the best answer to each question and fill in
the corresponding oval on your answer document. You may
refer to the passages as often as necessary.
Prose Fiction Passages and Questions
The questions on Prose Fiction passages ask about the
kinds of things you pay attention to when you read a short
story or novel--plot, characters, and mood, among other
As you read, you should be aware of the mood or tone
of the passage, the relationship of the characters, and the
emotion implied by what the characters say as well as how
they say it.
Social Science Passages and Questions
Social studies (or social science) passages typically
present information gathered by research. A social studies
passage might be about Japanese history, or political action
committees, or a psychological experiment.
Students will find names, dates and concepts in these
passages, and they should pay close attention to what name
goes with what concept in a discussion of political systems
and keep track of who said what in a passage discussing
different views of a constitutional amendment.
Students should look for cause-effect relationships,
comparisons, and sequence of events.
Humanities Passages and Questions
Humanities passages tend to describe or analyze ideas
or works of art. These passages are typically informative
pieces, although at times the writer’s presence and point of
view are obvious.
A question might ask you to project the writer’s likely
response to a hypothetical argument or situation. In these
passages, the kinds of relationships students will be asked to
infer or identify are those between events, ideas, people,
trends, or modes of thought.
Natural Science Passages and Questions
This kind of passage usually presents a scientific topic and
an explanation of the topic’s significance. It requires a
different sort of analysis than a prose fiction passage does.
For instance, in a natural sciences passage the author is
typically concerned with the relationships between natural
phenomena, not characters.
A Natural Science passage may contain specialized or
technical language. The passage will contain clues to the
According to Sparknotes, on the Reading Test
• Of the 4 subject tests, the Reading Test can be the
most difficult to prepare for.
• This test requires practice in Reading with speed
without sacrificing comprehension.
•You may want to focus on reading science articles
in a newspaper of scientific magazine because many
students have less familiarity with this type of
According to Sparknotes, on the Reading Test
• There is no order of difficulty. However, individual
students may find one type of passage easier than the
other types.
• If after practicing on released tests, you find that you
don’t do so well on a particular type of question such as
cause-effect, don’t waste valuable time on the test
struggling with this type.
• By practicing, learn what your ideal reading speed is for
passages such as are on the test.
According to Sparknotes, on the Reading Test
• Read the passage first, then answer the questions.
Why? Some test prep books advise you to look at the
questions first to find key words and then to read with
passage with an eye to answering the questions. While
this strategy sounds good on paper, it’s really quite
difficult in practice, especially in high-pressure situations
like taking the ACT. Imagine trying to remember what 10
questions ask while reading an unfamiliar passage,
simultaneously trying to get the gist of it, and looking for
possible answers.
According to Sparknotes, on the Reading Test
• Scribble, Doodle, Underline. How do you know what to
• You can use your underlines and notes as a map through the
passage. But don’t spend lots of time marking.
• Underlining the topic sentence of each paragraph (NOT
always the first sentence) will help you keep on top of the
argument’s direction.
According to Sparknotes, on the Reading Test
• When you encounter a sentence or a section that looks
like it will enumerate examples to support a point,
quickly scribble “ex” in the margin to let you know that
this is an example.
• Underlining key phrases that help relate parts of the
passage, such as “subsequently,” “on the other hand,”
and “in contrast” will also help you map your way
through the passage.
According to Sparknotes, on the Prose Fiction passage
there will be the following types of questions:
• Identify specific details and facts
• Draw inferences (usually have “suggest,” “infer,” “imply,”
and “indicate”)
• Understand character (reducing a lot of information about a
character into a simple, digestible statement)
• Point of view (the narrator’s point of view) These are rare
on prose fiction passages.
• Cause-effect cue words include “resulted in,” “led
to,” “caused by” and “because.”
According to Sparknotes, on the Social Science passage
there will be the following types of questions:
• Specific detail
• Inference
• Main idea and argument (some deal with whole
passage and some with sections) The author’s purpose
questions fall under this category also.
• Cause-effect (more likely on nonfiction than prose
• Point of view (how the writer views his or her subject)
The writer’s tone is important here.
• Comparison—mostly on social and natural science
(cue words are “compares” and “analogy.”
According to Sparknotes, on the Humanities passage
there will be the following types of questions:
• Specific detail
• Inference
• Vocabulary (words with multiple meanings, will
include a line number)
• Main idea
• Comparison (sometimes a metaphor)
According to Sparknotes, on the Natural Science passage,
(heavy on scientific facts, argument, cause-effect logic, and
details) there will be the following types of questions:
• Specific detail
• Inference
• Cause-effect
• Comparison
• Main idea
• Vocabulary (rare, but will ask you to identify an unfamiliar
scientific word from its context)
• Point of view (rare, but will most likely ask you to identify
the point of view of the passage’s author).
According to Princeton Review, on the Reading Test
• The questions are not in chronological order.
• There is no particular order of difficulty.
• After practicing, decide on the order in which you will do
the passages.
• When it comes to paragraphs, small and many is better
than big and few.
According to Princeton Review, on the Reading Test
• A short answer is a better choice than a long answer.
• Process of elimination is vital for the Reading section
• Use a letter of the day for any question you don’t answer
or for a passage you don’t do.
• Read the blurb before the passage.
• Preview the question before reading.
According to Princeton Review, on the Reading Test
• Skim and scribble on the passage.
• Don’t answer from memory.
• Underline lead words.
• Put a star next to Line or Paragraph References.
• Always read about 5 – 10 lines around your Line
Reference or Lead word.
According to Princeton Review, on the Reading Test
• Read between the lines to find the author’s point.
• When choosing an answer, avoid extremes, futures, and
• Look for a main theme that has run through several
questions. Correct answers should all agree with each