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Strategies for Taking the Reading Test

I won't have much to teach you regarding the reading test because the key factors for your success are mastering a few strategies and practice, practice and more practice.  However, some of you may be missing out on some very good reading practice.  How many of you actually read the chapters in your history and science classes rather than let your teachers give you fill in the blank notes and worksheets and tell you what the chapter said?  Read the chapters What an excellent way to get weekly practice to improve your reading test scores! Plus, they don't spoon-feed you the information in college.  Often, they lecture over what is not in the book.  It's up to you to bring reading skills with you so you can glean the most from long, multi-chapter reading assignments.
For three Reading tests, I only categorized the questions because they aren't skills-based questions.  They just test your comprehension of the facts, your abilitly to read between the lines (to infer), to understand word meanings (to interpret), and to understand character or author attitudes.  Take a look at these numbers:

ACT Reading Tests Question Types Breakdown
Test Factual Inferred Interpretive Attitude

21 14 5 0
Two 21 16 1 1
Three 24 11 4 1

To be honest, I may have mis-categorized some attitude questions since they are just a type of inferred question asking you to reach a conclusion not specifically stated.  However, it's the same skill with a different name.

Okay, how does this help?  If you recognize that a question is the inferred type, you won't waste time looking for a spelled out answer.  You'll know you have to reach a conclusion based on what's there.

Commonly Found Words and Phrases on the ACT Reading Tests
Factual Questions The main point is...
The main purpose is...
The main argument is...
Best decribed by...
The evidence states...
Best summarizes...
Inferred Questions
You infer when you reach a logical conclusion based on what's been said/written.
It is reasonable to infer that...
Most likely means...
It can be reasonably inferred that...
The author implies
A reasonable conclusion
Most likely agree with...
Interpretive Questions These ask about the meanings of words in the context of the passage
Attitude Questions The author thinks/feels....
The author's attitude...

On the test...

1.  Pace yourself.  You have 35 minutes to read four passage and answer 40 questions.  Oddly, this test isn't much different from the science test since both really measure your ability to read and understand what's there and what's implied.  Consequently, you're getting practice for two tests.  Yes, it's a two-fer.  The more we practice, the easier you'll realize how much you can get done in 35 minutes and how to pace your test-taking.

2.  Skip wisely. No, I don't mean school.  If you find a tough question that's taking too much time, skip it until you finish that passage and then go back.  If you wait to come back to it after you've read other passages or completed the test, you won't necessarily remember what you read, making answering it impossible or too time consuming.

3.  Find the best strategy for you. Some people like to read the questions first, hoping that as they read the passage, they will discover the answer.  Some read first, answer the easy questions next, and tackle the tough questions last.  What works for you works best.

4.  Keep the passage as a whole in mind.  Many questions begin with "According to the passage..." or "It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that..." and this needs to be based on what's in the passage, not what you know or feel about the topic.

5.  Always read all the lettered options; don't stop when you find a good one.  Keep looking and find the best possible answer.  If you have taken a lot of multiple choice questions like the EOC tests, then you are a master at using the process of elimination. Rule out the bad answers and pick the best answer from the rest.

6.  Be aware of the four kinds of distractors:  deceptive answers, switches, extremes, and sounds nice.
  1. Deceptive answers take words from the reading passage and use them in a way that does not present the passage's ideas. It's a good way to write multiple choice tests.  They think you will see the familiar words and choose that answer without giving it further thought.
  2. Switches take the truth and switch it around using a few added words so subtly that you won't notice it unless you're looking for it.
  3. Extremes use answers that have absolute terms like always, never, totally, completely, etc.  Typically, when you throw in absolute terms, the statement is wrong, but not always. 
  4. The sounds nice options don't necessarily address the reading passage in a real way, but they sound so nice you want to pick them.
7. Watch for transitions.  Writers use these to signal the connections between ideas.  It's pretty obvious that the transition on the other hand is about to show the other side or contrasting argument to a point already made.  That's why good writers use transitions:  they let the reader in on what's coming next.

8.  Underline important terms and phrases as you read the passage.  You can't use your answer sheet for notes, but you can write in the test booklet itself.  As you read, underline the important points (and transitions) you go. 

Another Set of Pointers from McGraw –Hill’s Top 50 Skills for a Top Score 

by Brian Leaf (2010).  This excellent resource, containing much more information than presented here, is purchaseable on

More information from Focus on the ACT by Dr. Chippendale

For prose fiction passages, expect...