The ACT Reading Test: What You Need to Know

The ACT Reading Test: What You Need to Know

The ACT Reading test is one component of the ACT suite of exams. Its purpose is to assess your reading comprehension. As a high school student headed out into the world, the ACT determines your readiness for college or career by measuring your skills in English, Math, Science, and yes, Reading.

What Will You Read?

Reading passages are representative of the level of reading you are likely to encounter in your first year of post-secondary education. You do not need to have prior knowledge about any of the topics covered in the passages—the questions assess your reading comprehension, not your subject knowledge.

The Reading portion of the test has four sections. Three sections have a longer prose passage with multiple questions about each, and one section has two shorter prose passages that have questions that may ask you to compare the two texts. The four categories of reading you are likely to encounter on the test include:

  • Humanities: passages from personal essays or memoirs or passages that cover literature, philosophy, or the arts

  • Natural Science: nonfiction texts on the topic of science, including biology, geology, and physics

  • Social Science: nonfiction passages about sociology, education, or psychology

  • Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative: fictional passage or parts of literary memoirs

What Will You Have to Do?

In the Reading section, you will be asked to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. Hold on a minute—that’s less than a minute per question! How is that possible to conquer? Well, it seems a little bit easier when you understand that each reading passage has multiple questions attached to it. So, yes, there are more questions than minutes, but the good news is that carefully reading each passage will allow you to answer multiple questions. You don’t have to read a new passage for every question, which saves a lot of time. The questions are in multiple-choice format and may ask you to gain meaning from several texts by identifying what is explicitly stated and “reading between the lines” to determine implicit (implied) meanings of parts of the text.

The questions assess your skills in three areas:

  • Key Ideas and Details: (55%–60% of the test) In this area, you will be asked to closely read a text to determine central ideas and themes, summarize information and ideas accurately, and draw logical inferences and conclusions between ideas presented in the text or between multiple texts.

  • Craft and Structure: (25%–30% of the test) These questions ask you to determine the meaning of words or phrases as they are used in the text (there are no isolated vocabulary questions); analyze an author’s word choice, structure, and purpose; and interpret the effectiveness of an author’s choices on the text.

  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: (13%–18% of the test) For these questions, you will need to be able to: identify and understand an author’s claims, differentiate between fact and opinion, employ evidence to make connections between multiple texts, and analyze the author’s arguments.

How Is It Scored?

Your performance on the ACT Reading test is reflected in several ways on your score report. First, you will receive an overall score (between 1 and 36) in Reading, as well as in English, Math, Science, and Writing (if you took the optional Writing test). Your Reading score will also contribute to your overall ELA (English Language Arts) score, as will your scores in English and Writing (if the Writing test is taken). The overall test results will also include a comparison of your performance on each test section compared to other recent test-takers in the nation and in your state.

There will also be details about how you performed in different reading areas. In the Reading test scores alone, you’ll get a percentage score for Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. There will also be a percentage score labeled Understanding of Complex Texts. This number estimates your predicted success (according to your ACT scores) at understanding college-level reading material, especially when a course requires extensive reading.

You can get even more information about your readiness for college-level work that requires reading by noting where your scores fall in terms of the marked “Readiness Ranges” on the score report.

Why Does It Matter?

The ACT Reading test matters because it is an indicator of your strength as a critical reader. Beyond simply being able to identify topic, can you critically analyze a text to determine validity of argument, determine when an author is using a fact as opposed to an opinion, and really take your reading to the “next level”? Your ability to do these things is a direct indicator of your preparedness for college or career. If you’re headed to college, your ACT scores may affect in which classes you are eligible to enroll because some colleges require a “cut-off score” to register for certain courses. For all of these reasons, low ACT scores may indicate that you should retake the test after further review and preparation to boost the scores that potential colleges see in your application.

If you don’t have a lot of confidence in your reading skills, spend some time practicing these types of questions. Online sources, including Union Test Prep, have practice tests you can take to get you accustomed to time limits and the level of analysis the questions require. When you take the test, be sure to pace yourself so you don’t run out of time. A safe rule of thumb is to spend about 2 minutes reading each passage and then 35-40 seconds considering and answering each question. If you work faster, great! Spend the extra time reviewing your work or go back to questions that gave you trouble and slowed you down. Be sure to read each passage carefully, including any accompanying visual aids (charts, graphs, etc.), and don’t be afraid to go back to the text to look for the answers to the questions. You can do this!

ACT Reading Test

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