The ACT reading section will gauge your skills and ability to extract and derive meaning from passages; whether you’re debating between the SAT vs. ACT, you’ll need to have thorough practice! Reading involves more than just skimming and absorbing information, and for those hoping to stand out on their college application, mastering the ACT is pivotal. This blog will take a deep dive into the ACT reading section and provide sample questions to help you prepare.

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Should You Take the ACT? What the ACT Reading Section Tests Structure and Question Types on ACT Reading Section Prep Strategies for ACT Reading ACT Reading Sample Passages and Questions Conclusion FAQs

Should You Take the ACT?

The ACT test, an acronym for American College Testing, stands as a critical milestone on the road to your college education. Besides gauging your grasp on core subjects, it unveils your readiness for college-level work, with a special spotlight on the Reading section.

As you venture through your ACT preparation and read the following content, you'll unravel the importance of the ACT Reading section in college admissions, and discover actionable strategies to ace it, and mitigate any challenges you may face along the way.

Depending on where you’re at in your college applications, your mind may be flooded with questions: “Should I take the SAT?”, “Should I take the ACT?” and a myriad of others; and your questions are completely valid! While we can’t say for certain which option is best for you and your future academic career, if you aren’t sure what your path ahead looks like, the information provided may help you make an educated decision that works best for you and your goals!

This blog aims to be your compass in navigating the ACT Reading Section, gearing you up for a commendable score that paves your way into the college of your dreams.

What the ACT Reading Section Tests

The ACT Reading Section unfolds as a realm of passages, each beckoning you to unveil its themes, dissect its language, and interpret its essence. Within its scope, questions dart around themes, language, and meaning, testing your capability to not only comprehend but also to analyze and infer.

...If this sounds intimidating, fret not. It’s simpler than it sounds!

Essentially, you must be able to read a passage and extract information. You must be able to showcase your ability to closely review a passage that will be provided and answer questions based on the material. When you put your mind to it, it becomes clear that you’ve likely been practicing doing this since your early days in school! Whether you’re a strong reader, or somebody who excels at reading, or not, you can achieve an excellent score if you’re aware of how to approach the text, understand its meaning at face-value, and provide concise responses!

Structure and Question Types on ACT Reading Section

How long does the ACT take? The whole test is 4 hours in duration, but the ACT Reading section is composed of 40 questions that you need to tackle in 35 minutes!

That means you have less than a minute per question, so pacing is key, as is ample practice. The section is divided into four subsections, each based on a different passage. You'll encounter a variety of topics that typically include prose fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences. (You'll also find plenty of natural sciences on the ACT science section!).

Types of Questions:

  1. Detail Questions: These ask you to recall facts, details, or specifics directly stated in the passage. Think of them as a "scavenger hunt" where the answers are right there in the text.
  2. Main Idea Questions: You’ll need to grasp the central theme or main point of the passage or a particular paragraph. This is like zooming out to see the big picture of what you’ve just read.
  3. Vocab-in-Context Questions: These will test your ability to understand how a word is used within the passage, which might be different from its more common meaning.
  4. Function Questions: Here, you'll analyze why the author included certain information or structured the passage in a particular way. It’s all about the "why" behind the words.
  5. Inference Questions: You need to read between the lines here. What is the passage suggesting without stating it directly? This requires some detective work!
  6. Author’s Viewpoint Questions: What’s the author’s tone and view on the topic at hand? You’ll be identifying the perspective from which the author approaches the subject matter.
  7. Comparative Relationships: Sometimes, you'll compare and contrast ideas or analyze cause and effect within the passage.
  8. Generalizations: These questions ask you to apply or extend ideas from the passage to a broader context.

Prep Strategies for ACT Reading

It’s no secret that the college application process can be a gruelling one, and gearing up to take a very important test like the SAT or ACT can place a lot of stress on students, no matter what their goals are.

While some may be wondering how to get into ivy league colleges, others may be laser-focused on applying for one of the easiest colleges to get into, including top non-ivy league schools. Everyone’s path is different, and some opt not to participate in any testing at all. But, if you do choose to take the ACT, you understand  how to study for the ACT you be prepared to dedicate the time and attention required to ace it!

Here are the preparation basics:

Even before you begin studying for the ACT, you can work on improving the following in your day-to-day life:

  • Practice Active Reading: While practicing, underline key points, circle vocabulary words, and make margin notes. Active engagement helps you retain information and see the structure more clearly; and this could be in any reading material you pick up on a daily basis! Magazine, non-fiction textbook, fictional adventure story…it doesn’t matter. Getting comfortable with active reading will help you all throughout your academic and professional career, as well as in the ACT English Section.
  • Time Management: Work on pacing to ensure you have enough time to address all questions without rushing; you can practice this in your day-to-day life at home and school by maintaining good time management skills…or establishing them if you’re struggling!
  • Be Confident on What You Know:  Always go for the low-hanging fruit first. Answer questions with content you’re confident about to secure those points early on.
  • Use Process of Elimination: If you’re unsure about an answer on a test, eliminate the clearly wrong choices to improve your odds of guessing correctly; this goes for ANY test, especially the ACT.

Getting comfortable with your English language skills and comprehension months before the test date is always a good idea – this can help you in your future academic, personal and professional endeavours. But, when your test date is on the horizon, you’ll need to focus on very specific prep!

How to prepare for the ACT Reading Section:

1) Start Early.

As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm, and in ACT prep, this certainly holds true. While it is never too early to begin studying, it can definitely be too late; we recommend that students begin studying a minimum of 3 months in advance of their ACT test date.

2) Increase vocabulary.

Learning synonyms and antonyms, as well as engaging in different texts and even practicing your own writing and reading skills outside of school/test prep is a great way to improve and increase your vocabulary.

3) Learn to summarize text and understand theses.

Asking questions (to yourself) while reading is a great strategy to better understand a text. For instance, ask yourself, “What is the point of this paragraph?” or “what is the author trying to express? Do I agree? Are there shortcomings to their argument”, and “what is the main idea/thesis?” Being an active reader (versus being a passive one who merely skims a text) will help you tremendously on the ACT.

4) Take a mock test.

Once you’ve focused on the above points, and perhaps created a study schedule, you can begin assessing practice questions, or taking a mock exam. Mock exams can help you gauge where you’re at with timing, comprehension, scores, and the ability to complete the test to your satisfaction. Practice is key, and it’s the best way to discover your own weaknesses in the process! It can be tough to improve without practice and a critical assessment of your performance! Once you’ve taken mock tests and/or completed practice questions, you’ll have a better idea as to whether or not you need an ACT tutor ahead of your first attempt. Working with a tutor can prove extremely beneficial but of course, you need ample time to get to know one another and establish a good workflow. Knowing ACT test dates can also help you best utilize your preparation time and make the most of the weeks and months leading up to the date…the last thing you want to be is rushed.

Kickstarting your preparation journey well ahead of the test date is crucial, and can set you miles ahead of those who opt to study only days (or hours) before the test. The right study materials - official ACT prep books, reputable online resources, mock exams, and practice tests, form the bedrock of your prep.

Time, in the ACT, is of the essence. Mastering time management, understanding the fabric of question types, and studying and practicing, as well as crafting a personalized study schedule are your tickets to a stellar performance.

ACT Reading Sample Passages and Questions

Sample Passage 1: The Curious Case of the Disappearing Bees

In the past decade, bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate worldwide. Scientists call this phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe that it is due to a combination of factors including pesticides, habitat destruction, and climate change.

The impact of CCD is far-reaching. Bees play a critical role in pollinating many of the crops that feed the world. Without them, food production would plummet, and ecosystems would become imbalanced. In an effort to combat this issue, conservationists are urging farmers and homeowners to reduce pesticide use and plant bee-friendly gardens.

Sample Passage 2: A Leap into the Quantum World

Quantum computing is an emerging technology that has the potential to revolutionize industries by performing complex calculations at unprecedented speeds. Unlike classical computers, which use bits to process information in a binary format of 0s and 1s, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits. These qubits can exist in multiple states at once, a phenomenon known as superposition, enabling them to process a vast number of possibilities simultaneously.

One of the most promising applications of quantum computing is in the field of cryptography. Quantum computers could potentially break many of the encryption algorithms currently used to secure digital communications. However, they also hold the key to creating virtually unbreakable new forms of encryption.

As scientists and engineers continue to untangle the complexities of quantum mechanics, the day when quantum computers are common remains on the horizon. The challenges are substantial, but the potential rewards could be transformative.


Mastering the ACT Reading section is a blend of early preparation, understanding the question dynamics, and averting common pitfalls. It’s important to learn how to extract and analyze the content in front of you, and response to related questions in a timely, yet concise manner.

As you stride towards your ACT test date, keep these strategies in tow. With a disciplined preparation regimen, a keen understanding of the ACT Reading Section, and a clear avoidance strategy for common challenges, you're well on your way to securing a score that resonates with your college aspirations.

Remember, every practice session is a stepping stone towards a commendable ACT Reading score. So, embrace the journey with diligence and the right strategies, and you'll see your efforts come to fruition.


1. What is the primary aim of the ACT Reading Section?

The ACT Reading Section assesses your comprehension, analysis, and interpretation skills essential for college-level coursework.

2. How early should I start preparing for the ACT Reading Section?

It's advisable to start preparation at least 3 months in advance to familiarize yourself with the question types and practice time management.

3. What types of questions are common in the ACT Reading Section?

Questions about main ideas, author's arguments, evidence, contrasting viewpoints, tone, inference, synonymous phrases, author's purpose, and structural patterns are common.

4. How can I improve my time management during the ACT Reading Section?

Practice under timed conditions, allocate time per passage, and swiftly move on from challenging questions to maximize your overall score.

5. How much time will I have to write the ACT?

Wondering how long the ACT will take? The reading section of the ACT takes about 75 minutes – with English, Math and Science factored in, you’re looking at about 4 hours.

6. Where do students usually fall short in the ACT Reading Section?

Common pitfalls include mismanagement of time, overthinking questions, and skimming too quickly through the passages. To mitigate this, we recommend you familiarize yourself with the content and reading and extracting information. Moreover…practice, practice, practice!

7. How can I practice identifying the tone of a passage?

Practice with varied reading materials, focus on the author's word choice, and use questions from practice tests to identify the tone. Understanding tone can begin with understanding the purpose of a text and reading on a regular basis (even outside of your study schedule) to familiarize yourself and improve your comprehension abilities!

8. Are there any tips for understanding the author's purpose in a passage in the ACT Reading section?

Look for clues in the text (especially the introduction and conclusion) and evaluate the author's argument and supporting evidence to understand the purpose – why are they writing it? In our example about Bee Colonies, it is clear that the purpose or ‘main idea’ was that the Bees play an integral role in our ecosystem, as it’s mentioned in the introduction and conclusion, and is the reason why the problem is being investigated.

9. How can I prepare for the ACT if I’m not yet in my senior year?

If you’ve got ample time and aren’t attending college within the next several months, perhaps consider a high school summer program to help you decide on your future path. 

10. What if I don’t want to take the ACT, but do want to pursue college?

There are colleges that don’t require the SAT and ACT. That’s right…if you don’t test well, breathe a sigh of relief: you don’t necessarily have to take these tests to attend college. 

11. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the ACT or college preparation, where should I turn?

Everyone’s path is different, and at different points during your applicant journey, you may very well require (and benefit) from obtaining college admissions help, or college interview prep help. Alternatively, if you solely want to focus on your ACT, or, SAT, speaking with a professional may prove beneficial as well.

To your success,

Your friends at

BeMo Academic Consulting

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