3 Effective ACT Reading Tips to boost your ACT Reading Score in 2023

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graphic describes students using ACT reading tips and strategies to score 36 on the act reading practice

What is the best approach to the ACT Reading Section?

You may be wondering how to improve your ACT Reading score. Doing a lot of ACT Reading practice will help you to get familiar with the ACT Reading portion and improve your reading time. When working on the ACT Reading test, try to apply the following strategies and tips to see how significantly you can boost your ACT Reading score!

Read on to learn about 3 main strategies to approach the ACT Reading Section. These ACT Reading Tips include Passage Mapping, Passage Skimming, and Paired Passage Approach.

Passage Mapping

This strategy focuses on reading to outline the ACT Reading passage. Students are recommended to actively break passages down by main idea/purpose and supporting details.

Step 1: Selective Reading

  • Read and identify the main idea/purpose of the passage
  • To identify the main idea, look in or near the first paragraph (it is usually also repeated in the last paragraph)
  • Mark and/or underline the main idea and any important details

Step 2: Outline the Paragraphs

  • Read the topic sentence of each paragraph and skim the paragraph for important details
  • You should do this for all paragraphs and don’t be shy about marking up the passage.

Step 3: Take Time With Final Paragraph

  • Be on the lookout for repetition or confirmation of the main idea
  • This information is usually paraphrased from an earlier section of the passage

Step 4: Use Your Annotations to Answer Questions

  • Marking up the passage should allow you to answer many broader types of questions without rereading the passage. 
  • For questions that require specific details, you should use your annotations to minimize rereading. Your annotations should serve as a guide or map of the passage. This will help you spot textual support for the correct answer.

When to use this strategy?

Passage Mapping is recommended for students who struggle with focus and/or retaining information from text.

Actively marking and mapping the main idea/purpose of a passage should also save students time.

can I apply this strategy to all ACT passages?

Passage Mapping is not appropriate for all passage types.

It is also NOT recommended for fictional prose. These passages do not have a clear, consistent structure

When to not use this strategy?

Passage Mapping is NOT recommended for students with test anxiety.

This approach to the Reading section prioritizes speed and executive elimination of less important information.

This can result in some students rereading more. When going through your ACT Reading practice test, consider slowing down or trying out a second approach.  

Passage Skimming

This approach focuses on increasing the speed of the passage reading by encouraging students to skim for general understanding. Students then apply the extra time to reference text to answer questions.

Step 1: Skim the entire passage

  • Underline important information. Main ideas and supporting details should be marked for later revisit if needed.
  • The quicker you get through the passage the more time you will have to dedicate to answering the questions.
  • Be sure to mark up the passage in a way that effectively helps you navigate the passage for information.

Step 2: Answer the questions

  • As opposed to Passage Mapping, Passage Skimming will require you to reference back and forth between questions and passage more often. 
  • You should use time saved on reading the passage to refer back to the text to eliminate wrong answers. Your marks should help you navigate the passage.

When to use this Approach?

Passage Skimming is recommended for students who are active test-takers who can comfortably mark up the passage.

Students who struggle with focus can also benefit from this method. Students who are English language learners could also benefit from this method.

For these students, oftentimes careful reading would not necessarily result in any added benefit

When to not use this approach?

Passage Skimming is NOT recommended for students who are slow readers or are reluctant to mark up passages.

It can be confusing to hop back and forth between questions and passages.

If you find this disorientating, this method is not for you.  

Paired Passages Approach

Paired passages are often a challenge for high school students, particularly those who focus on speed. To increase your ACT Reading score, the first step is to identify the relationship between the passages. It is important to remember that the passages will always share a topic. 

Comparing relationship

Your main goal should be to accurately assess the similarities and differences between how the passages handle the topic. When identifying the relationship between the passages, the relationship should fall under one of the following common categories:

Clear Opposition

The passages argue points of view on the same topic that strongly contradicts or conflicts with each other

Nuanced Disagreement

While they may have some conflicting arguments, the points addressed in the passages are more varied. There may even be points of agreement. 

Broad vs Specific

While the topics discussed are similar, one passage might address the topic in broader terms. The other may narrow down the topic to specific details or perspectives

Past vs Present

This relationship focuses on the views or beliefs regarding the topic. One passage may relay views or beliefs about a topic that reflects is more traditional or conventional. The other may bring up information that is newer or just present a fresh perspective on the topic.

Cause & Effect

For this relationship, one passage may present a description of an event or study. The other may detail the effects, general results, or implications of the event or study discussed in the other passage.

Comparing Style

Along with content relationships, students may also be expected to analyze the style and techniques utilized in the passages.

common types of questions you will see on the act reading:

Which of the following claims from Passage 1 would the author of Passage 2 most likely agree with?

Which of the following statements would the author most likely agree on?

Pay attention to the similarities and differences in the factual information presented. Often students will have to answer a question about the implicit factual overlap or differences between the two passages. 

In order to tackle these questions, you should mark the following as you come across them while reading:

Points where the authors agree

Do you see any differences between the factual statements, argument, style, or tone?

Claims that are presented or disputed

Make a note. You will need to remember which claim was made by which author. 

Introduction of supporting evidence

Make a note of what type of supporting evidence it is (ie. rhetorical; hypothetical; appeal to reason, emotion, or morality; statistical; etc.)

Based on the evidence, what does that tell you about the overall argument and how the author would respond?


You may be expected to make some educated guesses about the author’s point of view, motivation, and/or purpose. You will need to use the statements from the passages to support your guess.

ACT Reading questions that will require this of you:

The authors of the passages would likely agree that…

The author of Passage 1 would most likely respond to the claim in line #X of Passage 2 by…

One area the authors disagree with is…

The author of Passage 2 points out which flaw in the argument made by the author of Passage 1?

These questions usually include words and phrases like ‘most likely’ and ‘suggests.’ This indicates that there will be some guesswork on your end. There will be textual indicators for the author’s standpoint. 

Your job is not to psychoanalyze the authors. Use your time wisely and be as literal in your analysis as possible. 

Even though you are making educated guesses, you should remember that the answer is in the text. Be careful not to go too out of the box on the test day!

graphic shows a group of students practicing ACT Reading Test and score 36 on the ACT

Using these ACT Reading Tips will help you increase your speed, accuracy, and reading comprehension.

However, if initial ACT reading practice attempts are difficult, retry thorough reading, or try a combination of these tips and strategies.

Prioritize finding which ACT Reading Strategies works best for you, and speed can come after.

Check out our ACT Math Tips and ACT Science Tips to improve your composite ACT score!

Students and parents look for answers to frequently asked questions about ACT reading

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is the ACT Reading section?

The ACT Reading section is one of the four sections of the ACT, a standardized test used by colleges and universities in the United States to evaluate applicants for admission. The Reading section consists of four passages of around 750 words each, and students are given 35 minutes to read the passages and answer 40 multiple-choice questions.

How else can I prepare for the ACT Reading section?

What’s the average ACT Reading section score?

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