ACT® Reading Prep: Practice Tips for Reading

How to Practice for the ACT Reading Test Section

Prepping for the ACT Reading test doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Sylvan has come up with strategies to make this section less scary! Learn more about what to expect from the ACT Reading section, then check out Sylvan’s ACT Reading tips below!

All questions on the ACT Reading test are multiple-choice and structured around 4 types of reading passages, followed by 10 questions. The topics include:

  • Prose fiction/literary narrative (short stories, narratives, essay)
  • Social sciences (history, politics, sociology, psychology)
  • Humanities (arts, theater, literature, music)
  • Natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy)

There are 40 multiple-choice questions, and you’ll have 35 minutes to answer them. These questions will test you on:

  • Determining main idea
  • Locating and interpret details
  • Understanding sequence of events
  • Making comparisons
  • Comprehending cause-effect relationships
  • Determining meaning of words in context
  • Drawing generalizations
  • Analyzing author’s or narrator’s voice

3 ACT Reading Tips to Help You Practice

Tip 1: Create a Table of Contents

Mark up the passage as you read so you can quickly find the answers to specific questions. You’ll want to do these 6 things:

  1. Underline the main ideas of a passage.
  2. Underline statements that tell the author’s option.
  3. Circle names, dates, titles, etc.
  4. Circle “shifters” that highlight a change.
  5. Label or underline relationships between characters and the narrator.
  6. At the end of each passage, state the main idea in three or four words.
Find My Local Sylvan
We'd love to talk with you about how we can help your child reach his or her individual goals!

For example:

ACT Table of Contents Example

Tip 2: Look for Paraphrases

The majority of the reading questions are detail questions. These questions refer to a specific part of the passage. The most effective technique for this type of question is to go back to the passage and find the answer.

But what if none of the answer choices contains a word-for-word repetition of the passage text? You need to spot the paraphrase! The correct answer to a detail question will most often rephrase or condense information from the passage.

Practice this strategy. Look for the paraphrase that is closest in meaning to the given paragraph.

Use this tip to answer the ACT Reading practice problem.

Practice Question: John kept trying to imagine what that trip had been like for his father as a young boy. He tried to imagine his loneliness, dismay, and probably suspicion of his fellow passengers, whose cursory and not-too-sincere concern hid their anxiety about ending up responsible for him.

A. John thought about a train trip he took when he was a little boy and it made him very sad.
B. John tried to understand how his father felt as a young boy making a train trip all alone with people who probably didn’t really care about him.
C. John thought the people on the train didn’t really care about him and it made him feel anxious and responsible.
D. John tried to understand the people on the train who didn’t care about him and he was very concerned.

Answer: B

Tip 3: See the Big Picture!

The questions on both the English and Reading sections are based on passages. So, read two sentences before and two sentences after the sentence in question.

Be sure your answer choice makes sense within the context of the paragraph and the passage as a whole. Some questions will ask you to examine the entire passage. Be sure you understand the author’s message and purpose when answering these questions.

Find My Local Sylvan
We'd love to talk with you about how we can help your child reach his or her individual goals!