In this post, we’re going to talk about the best strategy for the ACT reading test. If you’ve done any research, you’ll know that there are a lot of different strategies out there for the ACT reading test. The problem is that a lot of these strategies aren’t very good and can hurt your performance on the reading test more than help it.

So, to help save you a lot of time, I’m going to simply explain what the best strategy is for the ACT reading test. Just do this three-step strategy, and forget about the other strategies out there.

Step #1: The first thing you should do is read the passage at a speed that allows you to answer the following questions:


For the Prose Fiction passage:

Who are the main characters, and how do they relate to one another?

For the other three passages:

What is the main point being made, and what are 2-3 of the major sections/arguments?

The Purpose of Reading the Passage First

The first time you read through the passage, just focus on these questions and don’t try to remember every detail. Spend at most 3 minutes 30 seconds doing this, preferably less if you can. The goal for your first time reading through the passage is to give yourself a basic foundation for approaching the questions that’ll allow you to immediately have a sense of which answer choices are possible or correct and which are obviously wrong.

Why You Shouldn’t Read the Questions First

It’s not a good idea to start with the questions blindly without first reading the passage because of the following reason: Trying to find the answer to each individual question without the basic foundation of knowing what the passage is talking about will probably take longer than approaching all of the questions at once already having a general idea of what’s correct and what’s not. Here’s an analogy: Let’s say you need to travel to three different places for errands. Reading the passage first is like taking some extra time at the beginning to figure out what order you should travel to these places to be most efficient. In contrast, reading the questions first is like starting right away and going to the places at random, which will very likely end up taking longer because of the extra travel you’ll need to do as a result of not having a game plan beforehand. So, read the passage first because this’ll allow you to approach every question with a game plan in mind already, instead of blindly going all over the place trying to find answers.

Don’t Take Notes in the Margins

Also, don’t take notes in the margin, as some of the major ACT prep companies recommend. The big problem with this strategy is that it just takes too much time. I watched this one video where the instructor spent about nine minutes going through and taking notes on one passage. I recommend that you keep things quick and simple by just answering the questions above your first time through the passage.

Step #2: Next, after you’ve read the passage and answered those basic questions, you’ll start progressing through the questions one by one.

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

  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 a significant amount of time to answer, skip it for later.
  6. After you’ve done all the questions for 1, 2, and 3 above, then go back and do the questions for 4 and 5 above.

Step #3: Make sure you 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, make your guess, but also circle the questions and come back to them if you have time at the end. It’s extremely important that you give yourself time to work on all four passages because you don’t want to miss any of the easy questions in each passage. Also, most students aren’t able to get to all four passages, so if you learn how to manage your time well during the reading test to get to all four passages, the fact that you have a game plan will give you a huge advantage over other students who aren’t managing their time well.

Finally, if you can finish all four passages with some extra time at the end, then you can go back and check over questions you guessed on or were unsure about.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, the goal for the ACT reading test is to maximize every minute you have because your biggest battle for this test is against time. I firmly believe that the three-step process I just explained in this video will help you maximize your time and get the highest score possible on the reading test.