Test Prep 101: Guide to the ACT Reading Section

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Guide to the ACT.jpgHere’s What Students Need to Know About the ACT Reading Section

By IvyWise Master Tutor

If you’re preparing for the ACT with the goal of raising your score on the ACT Reading section, it’s important to know what’s new and how to approach the passages and questions in this section of the exam.

The test makers of the ACT released a new guidebook for the 2017-2018 year that made official what had been emerging as a new staple in the reading section of the test – dual passage problems. But before we get into the details of the ACT Reading section’s recent updates and what to keep in mind while preparing for the section, let’s take an overview of the reading section more generally.

The Basics

The ACT Reading section consists of four sets of passages and questions, each containing one long or two shorter passages that are designed, as held by the test makers, to be representative of the type and level of the reading required of a college-level freshman. The section has 40 questions and a time limit of 35 minutes. The order of the passage types will remain the same, regardless of the test: a literary fiction passage followed by a humanities (nonfiction narrative) passage, followed by a social sciences and natural sciences passage.

The reading questions do not test for any knowledge beyond the scope of the passages, whether they are facts related to the passage or to the dictionary definitions of vocabulary words. The questions are designed to test for the complementary and supportive skills that readers use in understanding, processing, and paraphrasing written text across a range of subject areas.


The latest guidebook released by the makers of the ACT confirms what has been the recent emergence of the dual-passage question type, one that students can now expect to see on any upcoming ACT test. I’ve included of what the dual passage sections look like below.

ACT Reading 1.png

ACT Reading 2.png

The ACT and the SAT tests have long imitated the other’s innovations, and the dual passage question type is one such example. The dual passage type requires that a student be especially diligent in their approach to the reading section and move methodically from part to part, passage to passage. The dual passage can place added pressure on the most challenging dimension of the reading section, which is time management; it’ll be important for students to prepare for the reading section with the dual passage in mind.

The dual passage questions will ultimately test for the same inference and reasoning skills as the other passages: a student’s ability to infer the main idea or main function of a passage; locate and paraphrase significant details; understand the order of events; make comparisons of character or opinions within the passage; identify cause-effect relationships; determine the meaning of a word in the context in which it is used; draw generalizations; infer the author or narrator’s tone.

Science Passages

One of the most overlooked aspects in preparing for the ACT Reading section are the social science and natural science passage types. Students often times simply have not seen as many nonfiction articles or passage from the social or natural sciences in school as literary fiction or nonfiction, and this comparative lack of exposure can cause some particular difficulty.

Therefore it’s key that students read widely in the range of science writing tested on the ACT, genres which can include Anthropology, Economics, History, Sociology, Psychology, Astronomy, Botany, Ecology, Medicine, and Zoology. Reading texts in these relevant science genres with ACT style questions in mind is an essential part of any student’s preparation.

Students preparing for the ACT should take time to fully understand each of the test’s sections, content, and what they will need to do in order to improve upon their current scores. At IvyWise, our team of expert tutors works to fully evaluate students’ skills and points of weakness in order to develop a test prep plan that will help them reach their academic and score goals.

For more information on our tutoring and test prep services, contact us today.

Want to make sure you’re on track with your test prep? Download our free Tutoring and Test Prep Checklist below!

Related Topics


Get the IvyWise Newsletter

 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code