How to Improve ACT Reading Score

Looking to optimize your ACT Reading score? Here are some tips that should boost your score for the Reading section of the ACT.

At first glance, it seems a bit more difficult to review for the ACT Reading portion of the test, compared to the other sections such as those on English or Math, or even for the ACT Science portion.

With the Math section, you only need to remember the pertinent formulas which you can apply to the question. With an English section, it’s about knowing the rules of grammar. But with the Reading section, you actually have to grasp the meaning of the passages you’re reading.

The ACT Science part also has passages, but then you’re also often provided with visual tools like graphs and tables to give you the information you need. You don’t have that with the ACT Reading section.

Still, it is very possible for you to review for the ACT and also manage to boost your ACT Reading score. To help with this goal, here are some tips that have proven successful:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the ACT Reading Test Format

To excel in the ACT reading section, you must understand the test’s structure and how it asks questions. Start by taking the test slowly, understanding its nuances, and then gradually increase your speed. Use real tests for practice to get a feel for the actual exam. Remember, sometimes it’s beneficial to slow down and aim for accuracy before working on speed.

You can do this by taking lots of practice tests. You’ll then notice that ACT Reading is always the 3rd section of the test.

If you’re taking the practice test under realistic conditions, you actually have a 10-minute break before tackling this section. Here are some of the features you have to know:

  • You have 35 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions.
  • There are 4 sections, with a set of questions for each section.
  • Each section will either have 1 long passage, or 2 paired short passages.
  • For the sections that come with paired short passages, some of the questions may involve the 2 passages.
  • The passages focus on the following topics: prose fiction, the humanities, natural sciences, and social studies.

2. Know about the Types of Reading Questions

Reading questions can be grouped into 2 major categories. You have the “referring” questions when the information you need is directly stated in the passages. Then there are the “reasoning” questions when the info need is only implied from the passage statements.

But there are actually several different specific types. You have to recognize the type of Reading questions you encounter, so you’ll have a clear idea of what’s being asked of you to answer the question.

Here are some examples:

  • Questions on the sequence of events. You need to know the order of events, or when an event happened.
  • Vocabulary in context. You have to identify the word meaning through context.
  • Generalizations. You have to generalize conclusions using particular information.
  • Causeeffect. You have to determine what event lead to or caused another event.
  • Comparative. You’ll have to note similarities and differences.
  • Detail questions. You need to find the details and interpret them.
  • Main idea. You should be able to recognize the main point of a paragraph or even the entire passage.

3. Do Lots of Practice Tests Lots of Times

It’s not enough that you tackle individual practice questions for the Reading section. You have to take lots of realistic Reading practice tests so that you really familiarize yourself with the format, the types of questions, and the time limit.

4. Identify the Types of Passages that You Find Easier (Or More Difficult)

You can find out which types of passage topics are easier for you so that you can start with those passages first. After all, in the ACT Reading section you’re not forced to answer the questions in the order they’re presented.

If you find social studies the easiest and the humanities the most difficult, start with social studies and end with the passage on the humanities.

5. Learn to Manage Your Time

When you’re doing your practice tests, it’s a good idea to do them under realistic conditions. That means using a timer, so you can’t just dawdle and take your time for each question. Remember that you have less than a minute for each question, and you still have to take the time to read the passages first.

It’s better to take about 3 minutes at the most to read the passages, and then maybe another 4 to 5 minutes answering the questions for each section. That’s 8 minutes for each section, totaling 32 minutes.

Keep moving, instead of being stuck on difficult passages. The meaning may become clearer as you read on and gather more context clues. Take note of transition words, which reveal any change in direction or ideas.

6. How to Approach the Reading Comprehension Questions?

While it’s tempting to skim the passages to save time, you risk missing out on crucial details that you may need to answer questions correctly. Try to identify the main point quickly, and then determine how each paragraph supports the main idea.

Contrary to what the title suggests, the reading section doesn’t reward you for merely reading every word in the passage. You earn points by answering the questions correctly. Instead of focusing on comprehensively reading the passage, you should aim to manage the passage effectively.

How do you manage a passage effectively?

Start by mapping your passage. This involves summarizing each paragraph, so you know what is where. This mental or written map should include a brief note next to each paragraph summarizing its content and the author’s purpose. This mapping will aid you in navigating the questions much more efficiently.

Highlight Some of the Important Passages

If you identify a crucial statement or sentence that states the main idea, highlight the section so you can find it easily later. You may also want to underline or encircle short summaries (3 to 5 words) for each paragraph.

Just don’t go overboard, or you might end up using too much of your time.

Avoid Rereading

Another useful tip is to avoid rereading. It’s a common mistake to get stuck on a line you don’t understand and repeatedly read it. Don’t waste your valuable time on one or two lines; there might not even be any questions on that sentence. Keep moving!

Find the Answers

A critical mistake many students make is settling for guessing or assuming they need to memorize everything. Unlike school exams, the ACT is open-book. You need to go back to the passage and find the answers. For 98% of the questions, there is a direct line of evidence in the passage that clearly supports the answer choice.

Avoid Extremes

Typically, incorrect answers on the ACT are extreme. Therefore, avoid choosing extreme answer choices.

Half Grain is Not Right

Don’t fall in love with half of an answer choice. Ensure the entire answer is correct, not just part of it.

Reasonable Can Be Right

While reasonable answers can be correct, they don’t have to be. Just because an answer makes sense doesn’t mean it’s what the passage stated. The passage might contain surprising or unexpected information.

Consider Reordering Passages

Lastly, consider reordering your passages to leverage every possible advantage. You might find that a particular order maximizes your personal test performance. It’s all about utilizing every possible strategy to eke out every point you can.

In conclusion, these strategies can help you achieve a perfect score on the ACT reading section. Remember, the key is not just reading but managing the passage, finding precise answers, understanding the test, and leveraging every possible strategy. Happy studying, and I hope your prep goes well!

7. Try to Predict the Answer for Every Question

This step works for all types of Reading questions. Once you have a clear idea of the answer, it’s simply a matter of finding that answer among the possible choices.

8. Simplify the Questions

If the question seems unclear or confusing, try to restate it so it makes more sense. You know you got the restatement right when the answer is among the possible choices.

9.Boost Your Vocabulary

Often, students hit a ceiling on the ACT because their vocabulary is not strong enough. To overcome this, invest time in building your vocabulary. Use flashcards, vocabulary-building books, or note down and look up unfamiliar words from practice passages.


Heed these Top 9 Commandments for the ACT Reading section, and you can really improve your performance for this part.



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