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Your Week-Before-the-ACT Game Plan (Part 3 of 4: Reading)

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This is the 3rd part in our 4-part series on finalizing your game plan the week before the ACT. It’s time to put a game plan in place for the Reading Test.

The Setup

There is no mystery here: you’ll have 35 minutes to answer 40 items. The 40 questions will be evenly divided over 4 passages. Each passage is fairly lengthy – almost 750 words (a little shorter than this blog post). Oh yeah, don’t forget that one of the passages will likely have two separate texts. That’s a relatively new twist. The first 6 or 7 items on the “double text” passage will ask you about the passages separately. The last few will ask you to evaluate relationships between the passages. If you want to give a double text passage a try, click here.

Start with the Questions or the Passage?

Some students insist on reading the questions before they head to the text. Some of these students even go so far as scavenging through the passage looking for answers rather than reading it. Students who use this approach often have difficulty perceiving big picture concepts like main idea or author’s purpose, and we know those questions will be asked. Students who have taken several ACT Reading tests should have a pretty good idea of the types of questions they ask already (more on this shortly). Other than knowing which details are targeted in the questions, there isn’t much to gain by reading the questions first. I suggest starting with the passage, reading slowly enough to remember details and at the same time looking to piece together the big picture.

Even students who read the passage often read it so hurriedly they miss key information. Either the average student reads almost twice as quickly as I do (in my experience, they usually get to the questions in about 2 minutes and it takes me about 4), or they aren’t reading carefully enough. Speeding through the passage in order to start the questions ends up costing students time because they find themselves having to reread a large portion of the passage to find answers. I find if I take my time reading the passage, making sure I understand the text, then I can run through the questions quickly enough to stay on pace.

The Passages Change; The Questions Stay the Same

As I mentioned earlier, we know what questions they are going to ask. Sounds rather bold, right? It’s not, really. Reading comprehension means essentially the same thing whether you’re reading an ACT passage or the sports page or Moby Dick. Skilled readers are able to visualize and remember details while staying sensitive to a passage’s purpose and tone. The ACT’s questions are going to test how well you remember those details and how well you comprehend purpose and tone, too.

So, here’s what you can expect from each set of 10 items. There will be several questions based on what is explicitly stated in the text. Usually these answers can be found in a particular sentence or two within the passage. We call these Level 1 items. Level 2 items will ask you to read between the lines to figure out what the author meant. These answers will usually be found in a specific area of the text. You may have to reread a few sentences. And the most difficult items will test your understanding of the passage on a larger scale:  Why is the purpose of the 3rd paragraph? What is the main idea of the passage? We call these Level 3 items. These are precisely the types of questions that may give you trouble if you choose the scavenger hunt approach.

 A Game Plan

My game plan for attacking the ACT Reading is something like this:

Though the passages seem lengthy, this is one of the ACT’s shorter sections. There are only 40 items, and it will be over in 35 minutes. That’s good, because it won’t leave me mentally drained. Stay calm and confident. Keep a steady, moderate pace. Read the passages carefully, underlining details that seem important. Details will help me answer Level 1 and Level 2 questions. At the same time, prepare for Level 3 items by observing the structure of the passage and noting the writer’s perspective and purpose. On average, I have a little less than 9 minutes per section. From previous practice, I know I can comfortably read through most passages in about 4 minutes, leaving me about 5 minutes for the questions.

If your approach is radically different than mine, now is probably not the time to change it up. Write out your own game plan, one that matches what you have already practiced. At the end of the day, you want to be confident your approach gives you the best opportunity to make your best score.

Recent Posts:

Your Week-Before-the-ACT Game Plan (Part 2 of 4: Math)

Your Week-Before-the-ACT Game Plan (Part 1 of 4: English)