Thursday, March 25, 2010


Perhaps the most difficult area in which to alter an ACT score is Reading. Even though the test generally gives one point for each correct answer in this section (unlike English and Math where two more correct questions may be needed to gain just one point), improvement depends on understanding the structure of the test and altering your reading style to match the requirements of a passage. Changing your reading style requires knowing what that style is in the first place, something most of us don't think about after elementary school. The foundational skill was formulated as early as 4 or 5 years of age and honing it has occurred almost imperceptibly ever since. There are no rules or formulas, only unique strategies which are largely undocumented but have become second nature to the individual reader.

Reading tests in elementary school tend to examine comprehension on a very superficial level. In upper grades and higher level English courses, reading becomes more than just fact-finding, moving into identifying implications or "reading between the lines" and identifying literary devices. The ACT Reading test is a mutation of the two functions.

To change the way in which someone has become accustomed to reading may take open-minded experimentation. The goal in preparing for the ACT Reading section is to try out different strategies, practice each sufficiently, and select the approach or approaches which garner the most points, possibly picking the modus operandi based on the topic of the essay.


FIRST, EXAMINE YOUR CURRENT READING STRATEGY. Do you read every word? Reread? Skim or scan? Do you "create mental pictures?" Do you pause to digest what has been read? Does your mind wander either to related information useful in synthesizing the reading with prior knowledge or to unrelated information to entertain and distract?

How do you take note of important information? Mentally? In writing? Do you circle or underline facts?

Are you compelled to thoroughly read or are you satisfied to simply answer required questions? (Think about a history class, for example. If given the assignment to read a chapter and answer the 5 questions at the end, how do you proceed? Questions first? Reading and note taking first? Scanning for answers?)


1. Take notes from the questions by underlining or circling clue words. This will focus attention on key elements that can be used to search through the text for related information.

2. Take notes as you come across relevant information within the passage. Circling may be more helpful than underlining because it limits the amount of copy highlighted and can be easier to find among all the words in a paragraph.

3. Do not try to learn anything. The goal of the Reading section is to temporarily find immediate, correct answers. Note taking will help maintain information long enough to select an answer while allowing you to "release" it when it is no longer useful, therefore leaving more brain space for short term memory.


To find the best personal reading strategy, try each of these suggestions at least twice before deciding its value.

4. Review the questions first in order to establish a purpose for reading.

5. Identify each question as direct ("As stated in the passage...") or inferential ("It can be inferred from the passage..."or "Based on the passage as a whole...")

6. Answer direct questions first. Since these answers are usually quotes from the text, using a word search approach will help locate where the needed information is and finding answers will provide a basic knowledge of what the passage is about.

7. If a question has a line reference, go directly there to read for an answer.

8. If referred to a paragraph, read it in isolation if the question asks what is written. If the question asks what would be missing if the paragraph were omitted, save it until you know more about the passage.

9. For vocabulary issues, try substituting the alternatives in the sentence when dealing with common words. If the vocabulary is technical or topic specific, look for a definition close to the first use of the terminology.

10. Inferential questions could benefit from an elimination strategy. Reject an answer that is too inclusive, e.g. "Tests are always hard." Avoid disparaging comments, like "This scientist's opinion is irrational." Eliminate answers that are unrelated to the topic.

11. If you are compelled to read the entire passage, try skimming or scanning.

12. To conduct a word search, try scanning by looking at text lines from Right to Left in order to preclude the distraction of creating meaning before isolating the relevant word.

13. When answering questions out of order, mark choices on the test booklet until all 10 answers for a single essay have been selected. Then transfer the picks to the scantron sheet and move on to the next passage.


14. Many exceptional readers feel no compunction toward speed. If timing is a persistent problem, try pacing exercises. Try to answer all 10 questions from a passage in 9 minutes. Direct questions may take less time to answer, leaving added seconds for inferential ones.

Keep in mind that no single strategy is right for everyone. In fact, you may want to use different approaches for different topics. Fiction, for example, may lend itself to creating mental pictures, while Social Science may seem like so much jibber jabber. Remember always that your objective is to find 10 correct answers, not to prepare for an upcoming essay exam.

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