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Strategies for Finishing ACT Reading Comprehension Faster
The most common issue
that students have on ACT Reading is time. Granted the timing is tight: 35
minutes for four passages and 40 questions, or precisely 8 minutes and 45
seconds per passage/ten question set. The timing, however, is not the whole
In reality, what
presents itself as a time issue is often something else entirely. Most people
assume that they have problems on ACT Reading because they can't read fast
enough when the real problem is that they don't know how to read effectively enough to locate the requisite information in
time. Yes, it is true that many ACT Reading questions are detailed-based
and require the identification of a particular fact buried in the middle of a
paragraph, but what many test-takers overlook is the fact that there are many
strategies they can employ to quickly locate the necessary information -- even
if they have no recollection whatsoever of where it is.
In a roundabout way, the
ACT can actually be more of
a reasoning test than the SAT, and if you really want to improve your score
dramatically, you need to treat it like one. Simply reading each passage fully,
trying to absorb all of the information, and then going through the questions
in order will have little to no long-term effect on your score.
The bottom line is that
if you want to get through all four passages in time and obtain a high score,
you must be willing to be
flexible and shift your strategy to fit the question.That includes doing the following:
1) Skip around
If a question looks hard
or time-consuming, skip it upfront and come back to it if you have time. Figure
out a marking system so that you don't forget do so. Your goal is to get as
many questions right as you possibly can as fast as you can; don't sacrifice
questions you can get right for questions you can't. If you know that
"main point" questions are always a problem, for example, just skip
them and answer everything else first.
2) Learn to
distinguish between "detail" passages and "argument"
passages and treat them accordingly
For passages that focus
more on details or descriptions without a real point, you can ignore this
process; it won't really get you anywhere.
For the passages that do
focus on a single argument, however, you need to take the time to both
determine and write down the main point and the tone. Keeping those things in
mind when you answer the questions can save you unbelievable amounts of
3) Learn what
information you can skip initially
This is another strategy
that comes primarily into play when you're dealing with a straightforward
"argument" passage. Whenever you encounter a topic sentence that
clearly indicates that the rest of the paragraph will just offer supporting
details, you can skip the rest of the paragraph. If a question asks
specifically about those lines, you can go back and read them closely, but
remember: the topic sentence has already told you why those details were important, and there's a decent
chance that's what the ACT will ask about.
4) Think logically
about where information is most likely to be located
This may sound obvious,
but very often when asked to locate a piece of information that they don't
recall, people begin re-reading the passage from the beginning. Don't. If the
passage discusses a movement chronologically and the question asks about an
event that clearly must have happened toward the end of the movement, focus on
the end of the passage.
In addition, when you're
trying to locate information that you simply don't remember reading, just focus
on the topic sentences to help you figure out where the topic is discussed. If
you try to skim through the interiors of paragraphs, you'll most likely just
end up lost.
5) Circle major
transitions and important information...
and don't forget to
consult those spots when you look back. That's where the information that gets
asked about will probably be. It's a waste of time to make notes if you just
end up ignoring them and skimming through random sections.
The ACT can be exactly
like the SAT here, in the sense that there's often a "back door" that
will let you quickly answer what appears to be a complicated question.
For example: if a
question asks about the order of a series of events and the answers list four
different combinations, each with a different event first, you just have to
figure out the first event. By default, only the answer that lists that event
first can be right.
7) Learn when to look
at the answers first and when to look at the passage (or your notes) first
Again, this requires
that you be willing to shift your strategy to fit the question. If it's a main
point of passage question, you need to consult your notes about the main point.
If it's a main point of paragraph question, you need to read the topic sentence
of the paragraph in question. If it's an "all of the following EXCEPT'
question, you need to look at the answer choices first. You just have to do
whatever will get you the answer fastest.
And yes, all of this
requires you to do some serious thinking on your feet. You can't just sit back
and expect it to happen. But if you're willing to change the way you look at
the test, you might just be surprised at the results.