ACT Reading Test Prep: What You Need to Know to Crush It

Mastering the ACT Reading section

Source: Flickr user aafromaa.

Students reading this guide to test prep for the ACT Reading portion are probably asking themselves (either literally or rhetorically), “How the heck do you study for a reading test?”

Of course, this is a common issue. Many students struggle with how to properly prep for the ACT Reading section. Should students just read more to prepare? Or are there certain concepts or categories of things to know before taking the test?

The answer is both–kind of. Reading books, papers, or articles will indeed help students sharpen their vocabulary and prepare for this section on the ACT. But, there are also core concepts, terms, and ideas related to reading and writing that students should re-familiarize themselves with before taking the test.

What’s in the ACT Reading Section

Students looking to get a leg-up on the ACT Reading section should be prepared to read multiple written passages containing various types of content–from literary prose, to topics on sciences and humanities. Each passage will be accompanied by a set of questions asking students to interpret the content of the writing.

In most cases, students will be asked questions about the content itself. Students will be asked to select an appropriate interpretation of things like:

  • Main ideas in the passage
  • Significant details included in the passage
  • Sequences of events
  • Comparisons
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Meanings of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements
  • Generalizations about the passage

There are additional questions that refer more to the technical style and tone of the writing employed. In those cases, students will need to be familiar with various terms related to writing style and technique. (Continue reading for more details on what students should be familiar with before taking the test).

What You Need to Know for the ACT Reading Section

Although the primary focus of the Reading section on the ACT is to test students’ abilities to read, comprehend, and analyze written passages, there may also be questions related to specific techniques and styles of writing utilized within each passage.

For these questions, it’s important to be familiar with specific literary and narrative concepts, which were probably learned back during Language Arts classes. These may include concepts related to the overall tone or style of the passage, or the specific voice used by the author, or narrator, throughout the passage.

In either case, it will be good for students to study the basic writing constructs.

For example, important concepts to know might be:

  • First/second/third-person voice
  • Allegories
  • Satire
  • Foreshadowing
  • Personification

How to Study for the ACT English Section

If the task of preparing for a test on reading seems a bit difficult to tackle, there are a number of resources created to help.

First and foremost: The ACT Student website offers sample passages to prepare students for the kind of reading they will need to do, as well as the kinds of questions that they will be asked to answer for each passage. These are, of course, free for students and can be used as practice for an upcoming test.

As mentioned above, another great way to prepare for the test is to simply read. Getting in the habit of consuming, understanding, and analyzing books, or other written content, can prepare students to take on similar tasks during the test.

Some studies have shown that simply reading can be the best way for a student to prepare for the ACT. So, don’t fret about the test–grab a book!

For more study materials, see our post on 5 Online ACT Test Prep Tools.


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