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February ACT: Quick Tips for the Tricky Reading Section

This Saturday is the February ACT, so as you are cramming in practice before the Big Day, I thought I’d share some advice on how to approach one of the more challenging sections: ACT Reading.

ACT Reading is notorious for one major obstacle - TIME. You have 35 minutes to solve 40 questions (+ read 4 passages). For many students, the time limit alone is enough to make getting a perfect score near impossible. Have no fear, though! There are some quick methods you can practice RIGHT NOW to see results (if you aren’t, of course, doing these already):

1. Give yourself 3-4 minutes to read the passage prior to looking at or answering questions.

Since the timing is pretty strict, students often choose to review the questions first and hunt for answers in the passage. I recommend AGAINST a question-first approach because it actually ends up wasting more time and reducing your overall accuracy and confidence.

Instead, you should spend approximately 3-4 minutes reading the passage first and then start answering the questions. This time frame should be enough to comfortably read the passage without resorting to skimming or even skipping segments of the text.

If you’re not sure if you can read the passage that quickly without skimming, I recommend simply timing yourself to see how long you take to read a passage. More often than not, you’d be surprised how much information you can attain within 3-4 minutes - the key is that you don’t rush through to get to the questions!

2. Read the passage carefully enough that you minimize re-reading when answering questions.

It’s one thing to give yourself enough time to read the passage, but it’s another to read it well.

Really, your goal should be to read the passage so carefully that you don’t have to look back at it when answering questions. Of course, you probably will need to reference the text, so don’t sweat it if you can’t perfectly comprehend the passage.

A modification of this approach is to read carefully initially and then skim later. Personally, I often spend more time understanding the first few paragraphs, and once I feel confident in the content, I may skim later paragraphs, noting where specific details are mentioned. This means that if I read the first paragraph and don’t quite understand an idea, I will re-read so that I can set myself up for easier reading in later paragraphs.

3. Practice confidence exercises, instinctual selection, and “taking the plunge.”

It is hard to select answers without feeling 100% confident. Fortunately, there is a way to practice improving your confidence: you read the passage within the 3-4 minutes and then you answer all the questions without looking back.

This method will most likely leave you with a few more missed questions than what could have been if you referred back to the passage, but it will also reveal just how much you DO know after reading the passage carefully.

Why does this matter? I’ve noticed that many students like to overthink ACT Reading questions and attempt to add complications where none are needed. Or they won’t trust what their gut tells them and instead go for an answer that they skeptically choose because they think the test likes that answer.

So, practice with a passage to test your instincts and see how well you REALLY DO understand the passage!

4. Slow down for literature; speed up for nonfiction.

35 minutes, 4 passages. The simple math suggests that you spend 8 minutes and 45 seconds on each passage. However, you probably will need to devote more time to the Prose Fiction passage in the beginning and then make up some time in one of the easier nonfiction passages - most likely the Natural Science passage at the end.

Timing yourself with individual passages works well for getting down the pacing, but if possible, I recommend that you practice with full sections so you can better understand how to manage the timing for multiple passages.

Planning on taking the ACT this Saturday? Need a last-minute tutoring session? Our tutors can manage your final push before the test so you can make the most of these critical days. And we can guide your prepping for the next ACT in April! We have many official practice tests and in-house curriculum to help you get that perfect score!


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