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The Ultimate Prep Guide to ACT Reading: Strategies, Tips, and Practice


This is the best study guide to ACT Reading out there.

No kidding, no exaggerating, and no doubt about it. We've read many ACT prep books, studied ACT, Inc’s resources, and taken the best aspects of each to combine into this magnificent patchwork quilt of a guide. Each question type is covered in detail, organized not by how the questions are asked, but by the essential underlying skills the questions are testing. We cover the best ACT reading tips and strategies and how to get the most out of your ACT Reading practice and prep.

Looking for a comprehensive guide to ACT Reading and how to improve your ACT Reading score? Want to master the important concepts, grapple with practice questions from ACTual (I will probably never stop doing this) ACT Reading tests, and make sure you're taking the most away from questions you miss? This is the ACT study guide that will help you improve your ACT Reading score dramatically by focusing on all those areas (and more!).

I've divided this guide into three sections, based on level of information. We'll start with understanding the ACT Reading section at a high level, move on to the ACT reading test and the different question types therein (divided by the underlying skills that are tested), and end with study plans and how to maximize your study time for score improvement.

I suggest reading all of the articles below in order to start off, then using this guide as a reference page to come back to as you progress in your test prep.

feature image credit: Big trouble by jakerome, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.


High Level Guidance for ACT Reading

Read through the articles listed below to begin your entry into the world of ACT Reading. Learn about how you should approach ACT Reading and the high level strategies that you should always have at your (metaphorical) fingertips.


ACT Reading: The #1 Critical, Fundamental Rule

Were you hoping that there'd just be one simple rule you could follow and drastically improve your ACT Reading score? It is your lucky day (or night, depending on when you're reading this)! If you only read one article about ACT Reading, it should be this one.


What's Actually Tested On The ACT Reading Section?

You'll need to ensure you understand the way the ACT Reading section is organized and the format of the ACT Reading section. Plus, get a good overview of the different types of questions that are asked on ACT Reading.


The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages

The same four types of passages appear on each ACT Reading test. Learn about what these types are and how you can focus in on your weakest passage types with logic and MATH (bonus extra practice)!


How To Answer ACT Reading Questions

The ACT Reading section is challenging for many students because of the intense focus required to answer questions accurately in such a short time frame. Quickly getting to the root of each question is tough, but it's definitely a skill that you can learn with practice. This guide covers the five steps to follow for answering every ACT Reading question.


The Best Way To Approach The Passage On ACT Reading

There’s no one size fits all approach to the ACT Reading passages, but some strategies are better than others. Read this article for descriptions of different ways to read the ACT passages that you can then try out.


Excel On ACT Reading: For Science/Math People

A lot of people don’t realize that getting a high ACT Reading score is just as dependent on your logical reasoning abilities as it is on your “reading” abilities. If you’re more of a “science person" or "math person” this article will help you figure out how to apply the skills you already have to ACT Reading passages


ACT Reading vs. SAT Reading: Which Is Easier?

While the ACT Reading test and the SAT Critical Reading section test similar skills, there are some important differences to keep in mind when considering which test will showcase your abilities best. Will you do better on ACT Reading than on SAT Reading? Find out by examining the differences between the tests.


How To Improve Your ACT Reading Score: 8 Expert Tips

If you're scoring between a 14 and 24 on ACT Reading and want to raise your score, this guide is for you. It describes eight in-depth and actionable tips for improving raising your score to the 26 and above range.


How To Get 36 On ACT Reading: 11 Strategies From A Perfect Scorer

PrepScholar resident perfect scorer (and co-founder) Allen Cheng tells all [about his experiences mastering the ACT] in this article. Check it out for tips for increasing your ACT Reading score, keeping motivated, and studying effectively.



ACT Reading motivation secret: you can't disappoint a small child with an index card.


ACT Reading Skills

These guides break down every single question type in the ACT Reading test. Learn about skills each question type is testing, strategies for developing and honing these skills, walkthroughs of questions, and practice questions of your very own.


Understanding ACT Reading Question Types

Little Picture Questions

Being able to scan through a passage and find the details that are being asked about in a particular question is the most important skill for ACT Reading. If you can't find the relevant information, after all, how can you begin to figure out its meaning or its function?


Big Picture Questions

You'll need to be able to read a large amount of text and distill it down into a main point to answer big picture and main point questions on ACT Reading. It's also a skill you’ll need for college (and beyond), so it's even more important to make sure you know the best strategies for answering these questions.


Vocabulary In Context Questions

Just because ACT Reading doesn’t have any “fill in the blank” or sentence completion questions on it doesn’t mean you won’t be tested on vocabulary by the ACT. You need to get good at figuring out the contextual meaning of words.


Inference Questions

Inference questions can be the most difficult questions to wrap your head around, because it seems as if the ACT is asking you to answer questions based on information not located in the passage. Don’t be fooled! You’ll need to practice inferring meaning from context.


Function And Development Questions

Some ACT Reading questions move beyond merely asking about meaning and, instead, ask about how certain words, phrases, or lines function in the overall structure of the passage. You'll need to be able to figure out not just what the author is saying, but what she/he does to convey that meaning as well as the role certain paragraphs play in the passage as a whole.


Special Guides

Why Are ACT Reading Paired Passages So Hard?

Questions that ask about multiple passages have only been appearing on the ACT Reading section since June 2014. What difference does this make to you and how should this change the way you practice for the ACT Reading section? Read this article to learn more about paired passages on the ACT and what, exactly, makes questions that ask about multiple passages so difficult.


How To Attack Paired Passages On The ACT Reading Test: 4 Key Strategies

Now that you know what paired passages are...what're you gonna do about it? This article goes into more depth on paired passages and strategies you can use to help with those tricky multi-passage questions.


The Vocab You'll Need For ACT Reading

Studying how to answer vocabulary in context questions is obviously the most important part of being able to answer those questions, but what if you just don't have a large (English) vocabulary? The answer is not to read the dictionary page-by-page; instead, focus your studying on these frequently-appearing ACT vocabulary words.


The Super Dictionary by Joel Kramer, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
Think of this article as your very own super dictionary.



ACT Reading Strategies and Tips

We've gone through an overview of ACT Reading and some of the deeper skills you'll need to master to truly conquer this test. What's left? Using the guides below to pull it all together. Hone your skills by creating a structure for your ACT Reading practice and focusing your studying, so that you can do your best on test day.


The Best Way To Practice ACT Reading

Unless you are Hermione Granger and own a time turner, you have a limited amount of time to spend on ACT Reading practice. Make sure that you are using your time wisely by following the strategies contained in this article.


The Best ACT Reading Practice Tests And Questions

There's no point in spending hours and hours on ACT prep if you don't use high quality materials. Find out what the best resources for realistic ACT Reading practice tests and questions are by reading this article.


Stop Running Out Of Time On ACT Reading

Even if you’re great at reading comprehension, ACT Reading can still trip you up because of the short amount of time (35 minutes!) you get to read 5 passages and answer 40 questions. You'll need to plan ahead to avoid falling behind during the test.


4 Top ACT Reading Strategies

We’ve compiled the four strategies that will have the biggest impact on the way you approach the ACT Reading section. Figure out which strategies work best for you and use them early and often.


The Hardest ACT Reading Questions Ever

Over the years of ACT Reading, there have been some truly terrifying questions. So naturally, we’ve gathered them into this article for you to try out (happy early Halloween!). Challenge yourself!


The Top 10 ACT Reading Tips: Use These And Improve Your Score

Need a quick fix to raise your ACT Reading score? Or even several quick fixes? We've sifted through our expert ACT Reading knowledge to come up with these ten tips to boost your ACT Reading score.


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What’s Next?

There’s a lot to read to prepare for the ACT...Reading (which makes sense, I guess). But reading these articles is just the first phase of your test prep: there's work yet to be done. After reading the articles included in this guide, you should...

  • Go forth and hunt down high-quality study materials - make sure to place real ACT tests at the forefront of your studying regimen!

  • Diagnose your ACT Reading problems and review your mistakes. If you don't figure out where you're going wrong, it'll be very difficult to avoid repeating your errors.

  • Stay motivated! Preparing for the ACT can be challenging, and you won't get through it without motivation. Our article on getting a perfect 36 on the ACT has some great tips for this. We also have a list of links to ACT Prep info.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by all this information and are concerned about being able to prep for the ACT Reading test all on your own, it’s worth checking out our ACT test prep platform. Built by Harvard graduates, our program learns your individual strengths and weaknesses through statistical analysis, then uses that information to create a customized prep program for you to help you achieve your best score possible.



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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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