#1 Skill Needed to Score Well on the ACT May Be Reading Comprehension
Often, I hear from parents of students who have recently received ACT scores between 13 and 17. They are concerned that the low ACT score is going to limit their student’s college options and don’t know what skills to begin addressing.
Standardized tests don’t always accurately reflect what a student really knows or his capabilities, and sometimes students just have an off day on the day of the test.
However, more often than not, low ACT scores are symptomatic of one prevailing problem: poor reading comprehension. A student who has weak reasoning and math skills may score poorly on the math and science tests. A student who doesn’t understand the basics of grammar and punctuation will likely score poorly in English. But the student who doesn’t read well will be penalized on all four subject tests. As strange as it may sound, many times low ACT scores can be traced back to a student’s ability to read and comprehend.
(All of the released ACT items below are from 2015-2016 Preparing-for-the-ACT Guide and are the property of ACT Inc., not 36 University.)
The English Test and Reading Comprehension
Examine the two items below. By my count, they are representative of 24 of the 75 English items from the 2015-2016 Guide, and they require strong reading comprehension skills! As you can see, a struggling reader will struggle with the English test.
(If you missed our recent post The Juggling Act Required by the ACT, click here.)
The Math Test and Reading Comprehension
Maybe it’s not surprising that the English test requires strong reading skills, but the math test is text-heavy also. In fact, 39 of the 60 items from the 2015-2016 Preparing-for-the-ACT Guide required students to read at least 3 lines of text. Not all math items are like the three shown below, but many of them are.
The Reading Test and Reading Comprehension
Of course, the reading test is all about reading comprehension, and it’s one-fourth of an ACT score! Sure, a fair number of the 40 items ask students to interpret meaning from what is explicitly stated in the text. However, a fair number also ask students to reason implicitly to determine inferences, main idea, compare and contrast, etc. It comes as no surprise that strong reading skills are required to score well on the reading test.
The Science Test and Reading Comprehension
To understand the importance of reading skills on the science test, you must first understand the test’s format. The science test consists of six or seven separate scenarios. One of those scenarios is comprised of only text, usually four or five paragraph’s worth. It is like a mini version of a reading scenario. All of the other scenarios require a significant amount of reading, too. In the 2015-2016 Preparing-for-the-ACT Guide, the other five passages accounted for another 19 paragraphs, almost 4 paragraphs per scenario.
To give you an idea of a typical ACT science passage, we have provided a sample passage from the same ACT publication we’ve used for this entire post:
As you can see, reading comprehension skills are needed on every section of the ACT. Scores in the 13 – 17 range are often a result of insufficient reading skills and not from a lack of content knowledge.
What Can I Do?
Be intentional! In your casual reading—through a news article, or your favorite blog, or that new novel—stop occasionally and ask yourself some very specific questions:
“What was the main idea of that paragraph?” (Try to summarize in 5 words or less.)
“Were the paragraph’s sentences presented in a logical sequence?”
“What was the main idea of the passage?”
“Were the paragraphs within the passage placed in a logical sequence?”
Intentionally evaluating and critiquing your reading material will make you a better reader and writer – and an improved ACT score will be a by-product of your new skills!
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