Here we will discuss ACT Reading strategies and tips that will help you maximize your score and performance on the ACT Reading test. Remember, because the ACT is a timed test, strategy is just as important as your knowledge of the content!

It is possible to increase your ACT score by several points simply by taking the ACT in a different way.

Our Three-Step Strategy for the ACT Reading Test

Step #1: Read the passage first with two primary goals

Reading the passage first


There are a small number of students who have the ability to read the questions first and do well because of how quickly they can process information, but we would argue that this is simply not the best way to do the ACT reading test. You will end up saving more time on the questions if you approach them having a general idea of what the main idea of the passage is, as well as how the passage is organized.

Without reading the passage first, you will end up spending more time trying to figure out the context you need to answer the questions. Although you might get lucky and be able to “figure out” the passage using the questions with specific references to the passage, there is a large chance that you will simply get confused and frustrated without the general context of the passage to help you answer the questions.

So, no matter who you are, we highly recommend that you read the passage first, with these two specific goals.

The two goals for your first time through the passage

As you read through the passage, your two goals should be to answer these two questions:

  1. What is the main idea/plot of this passage? Just try to figure out what the author is trying to say, and try to answer this question with one simple sentence.
  2. What/Where are 2-3 of the major supporting points/details the author uses to support the main idea/plot? Try to figure out the major sections of the passage and how they support the main idea/plot.

Here are two more tips for reading through the passage the first time and answering the questions above:

  1. Use your finger to read. Using your finger will help you read faster, stay on track with progressing through the passage, and stay focused.
  2. Aim for about 70% comprehension Comprehend just enough to answer the two questions above. Don’t try to remember details during your first time through the passage

ACT reading strategies and tips

Step #2: Answering the Questions

Here are the rules you should follow for answering the questions:

First, every question will have a clear answer

Try to reach a point where you feel very confident about the answer.

Second, do the questions in this order


  1. If you can answer the question confidently without looking back at the passage, answer it.
  2. If you know you can find the answer to the question pretty quickly because you know where to look in the passage, answer it.
  3. If the question has a specific reference to a line or passage, look up the reference and answer it.
  4. If the question is an “EXCEPT” or “NOT” question, skip it for later
  5. If you don’t know where to look in the passage for the answer and/or you think the question will take longer to answer, skip it for later
  6. After you’ve done all the questions that are 1, 2, and 3 above, then go back and do the questions that are 4 and 5 above.

Third, stick to the time limit for each passage

Although you can and should skip questions within a passage, make sure you circle answers for every question about the passage in about 8 minutes, or just a little more than 8 minutes.Then, transfer all of your answers to your answer sheet. Make sure you finish doing all of this within 8 minutes 45 seconds.

If you need to guess on any questions to meet this time limit, circle the questions and come back to them if you have time at the end.

Step #3: Managing time throughout the reading test

Follow this time schedule for the reading test:

Finish Passage #1 by the time your watch hits 8 minutes 30 seconds.

Finish Passage #2 by the time your watch hits 17 minutes.

Finish Passage #3 by the time your watch hits 25 minutes 30 seconds.

Finish Passage #4 by the time your watch hits 34 minutes. When you hear the 5 minute warning, start bubbling your answers one by one.

If you finish early, check over the questions you circled because you were unsure about them.

Make sure you do every passage!

The ACT Reading test is a very rushed test, so make sure you keep track of time and get to all of the passages and questions. Most students do not finish all four passages, so if you manage your time well to get to all four passages, you will have a tremendous advantage over other students.

In What Order Should I Do the Passages?

Determine if you want to skip a particular passage. Many students find the Prose Fiction passage to be the most difficult passage of the four, so it might be a good idea to do this passage last, both to make sure you have enough time for the other passages and to potentially give yourself more time for this passage if you finish the other ones early.

Why should I bubble after each passage?

Bubble after each of the passages (10 questions at a time). This will allow you to maintain focus during each passage and not disrupt your flow. This will also help you avoid bubbling mistakes.

However, when you hear the five minute warning, begin bubbling questions one at a time to make sure you are able to bubble every question.

ACT Reading Strategies – Foundations to Work on before Taking the ACT Reading Test: Reading Speed and Comprehension

Reading Speed and Comprehension

ACT Reading strategies and tips
The best way to prepare for the ACT Reading test is to read a lot, especially college level non-fiction texts, since three of the four passages on the ACT Reading test are non-fiction passages. Because time is so limited on the ACT Reading test, it is vitally important that you are able to read quickly and with comprehension.

Your reading ability must be at a certain level for you to do well on the ACT Reading test! Make sure you develop your reading speed and comprehension skills to the point where you can complete the ACT Reading test in the time provided. This may mean reading way more than you are used to reading.