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ACT Reading Tips

Teacher/Instructor Devorah Goldblatt
Devorah Goldblatt

Summa cum laude
Perfect scorer on the SAT & the ACT

Devorah is the founder of Advantage Point Test Prep and the author of the book “Boost Your Score” The Unofficial Guide to the Real ACT.

Really kind of gross but I used to date a guy who was a competitive eater, really a turn off that's why he's an ex but he taught me something really relevant for ACT reading. For eating competitions, I don't know if you know this but you actually have do a lot of preparation before hand. You think they just go in there, they eat an ton really quickly. But they don't they do a lot of prep, a lot of practice in eating a lot in really short periods of times and they do this for months before the actual competition. ACT reading is exactly like this, it's almost a physical ordeal. You've got four really long boring passages, ten questions on each one in 35 minutes, that's crazy. So it's really, really important to practice and practice and practice reading this long boring passages with this really short amounts of time. In this episode we're going to delve into it so you feel comfortable tackling ACT reading on test day. First we're going to talk about how to best prepare for the reading section and then next we're going to talk about some great overall pacing strategies for the reading.
How to prepare for the reading section. First tip; read, read, read, it sounds kind of silly but it works. I have had students who improved their score by a ton just because they made a commitment to read a little bit every day for about a month before the test. Think about it, I mean this a test that's testing reading comprehension, so if you practice on just some really boring, long stuff that you wouldn't normally read and you do that every night for about a month, your reading comp will get a lot better. You can read anything really as long as it's boring and long, Economist really good, Tottery Barn catalogue not so much. So get used to reading and make sure to read a lot. Next, make sure you watch the other episodes about the reading strategies. We have some really, really good episodes about how to read the passage, exactly what to look for and then how to answer the questions, you know what question types there are and some really, really good strategies for how to get right answer and how to eliminate the wrong answer choices. Last, make sure to take practice tests, let me tell you why a couple of reasons. First of all, taking all these practice tests will help you get really used to timing and we talked earlier about how it's kind of a physical ordeal and you have to get used to these really long passages, a lot of questions in a really short period of time. Take practice tests even if you're just taking them for the reading section and actually on the ACT website there's some really, really good stuff just for reading. Next the other reason to take a practice test is to get used to what you're comfortable with, after a while you'll get a sense of what passages make you feel the most comfortable and which question types you feel the best about and that's great for pacing. So let's get on to our next topic pacing strategies.
Here's some great pacing strategies for the reading. First, never read the passages in order, surprising probably and that's why we talked about the practice test. After you take enough practice tests, you'll get a sense of which passage feels good to you, maybe you love that prowess passage that comes first. I have a lot of students that actually prefer the last passage, the natural science one at the end. So in that case, do that one first. Mix them up, do the one that you feel the most comfortable with first and this is a really powerful strategy 'cause you're going to do that first when you're fresh, when you feel good about it, then there is a better chance you're going to tackle the questions and feel good about those and your whole accuracy rate will improve. Leave the one that you hate, that passage that just gets you every time, leave it for a last 'cause by then you're really cranky, you may run out of time. Run out of time on that passage that you're not crazy about anyway and where the question types will probably be more difficult for you.
Next and this is kind of a sneaky strategy but, if you're aiming for a score of around a 23 you might actually to want to experiment with automatically guessing an entire passage. So you want to go over it, some of your practice test results and take a look at your passages and see if there is a passage where let's say you only got two or three or maybe four correct out of the ten questions, that's about what you would get by guessing. Two or three correct is statistically what you would get just guessing on ten question without even reading in the passage. So you might want think about leaving an entire passage blank not even worrying about it and then just automatically guessing on those questions and then think about how much more time you have. You have all that time that you would have spent, really agonizing over that passage, really picking it apart, you're like thinking about the questions and you're going to shift all of that time over to the three passages you feel better about anyway. And so you're accuracy rate on those questions will improve tremendously and that helps a lot of students' scores.
Last strategy here, always read the passage before you look at the questions. I have a lot of students who ask me "You know I heard maybe I should look at the questions first, I heard that's a great strategy and then I'll know what to look for in the passage," terrible idea trust me the human mind does not work this way. You know it's really hard you're reading ten questions and then you're thinking, "What did they just tell me?" You got to remember what was said in all ten questions as you read a 750 word passage and then go back to the questions and you're going to still want to go check the passage to make sure you've got it, big time waster, never do this. So you're going to want to just read the passage first and in the later episode we'll talk about exactly what to look for and how to mark it up and then after you've done the passage you'll head to the questions.
So that's it for some overall strategies for how to tackle the ACT reading, just to recap. We talked about how best prepare for the reading section, things like doing a lot of reading before hand and reading quality stuff like the Economist, good magazine, we also talked about things like taking lots of practice tests before hand to get yourself ready. We also talked about pacing strategies, things like not doing the passages in order, things like thinking about maybe leaving a passage out entirely and just guessing on it and we also talked about always reading the passage first before you head on to the questions. Now make sure you watch our other episodes because then we'll really delve in and we have some very specific strategies for how to tackle the passages themselves, what to look for, what to mark up and then how to tackle the questions types including eliminating wrong answer choices.