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4 Week ACT Prep Plan: Reading

With four weeks to go until the April ACT,  this month we’re providing a four-week ACT program that students can do on their own to improve their English, Reading, Math, and Science scores.

4 Week Program for Reading

  1. Week One
  2. Week Two
  3. Week Three
  4. Week Four

Week One 

Please download a free ACT exam to familiarize yourself with the test. We also recommend purchasing The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020 to use after you complete this first test.

See if you can read a passage in 8 minutes and 45 seconds and answer eight of the ten questions correctly. If you can, you’re a really good reader and we’ll offer some tips in just a moment on how to bring up the number of correct answers.

If you didn’t finish in 8 minutes and 45 seconds and get 80 percent correct, you’re about where most students are when they come to see us for prep. What follows are some tips on how to improve your reading score:

  1. Trying reading the passage at a good pace (under 3.5 minutes) to gain a general understanding of the passage.
  2. Now spend the remainder of your time going back into the text to answer the questions.
  3. Make sure to read a few lines above and a few lines below the line-reference questions, and when there is no line-reference, make sure to find a key work in the question that will take you to the area where answer can be found.
  4. Rely heavily on process of elimination.
  5. If you don’t have an answer for a question in 60 seconds, guess, as you’re not penalized for wrong answers, put a question mark next to it in the margin, and move on. If you finish the entire reading test with a couple of minutes to spare, go back to the questions that have question marks next to them.

Now, back to the students who read the passage in the allotted amount of time and got 80 percent of the questions correct. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. The answers to the first non-line reference questions can often be found closer to the start of the passage, and the answers to the last non-line references tend to be found closer to the end of the passage. 
  2. When it comes to the dual passages, don’t read both passages and then answer the questions. Read the first passage and answer the questions. Do the same for the second passage. Now do the comparison questions.

As you spend time finishing this first test, you’ll see that it’s an open book test, and your job is to make sure that your answer choice parrots back just what the text stated. Over the course of the first week, complete all four passages of this test and correct them.  

Week Two

Analyze the four passages that you took last week to see if you’re equally strong at all four sections: Literary Narrative, Social Studies, Humanities, Natural Science. The four reading passages always set up in this order and if you review the test that you just took, you’ll see these headings at the top of each passage. One other aspect we’re going to look at is how you did on the Dual Passage.

Now, look back and rank the passages in order of the number of correct answers. We’re looking to identify the passage or the passages that you had the most difficulty with. Once you’ve identified the passage or passages that you had the most difficulty with, take a look to see if there’s a specific type of question that keeps getting the best of you. Here’s a smattering of the types of questions that you’re looking to identify:

  • Questions that refer to assumptions or inferences
  • Questions that ask about conclusions
  • Questions that ask about the primary function of a portion of the passage
  • Questions that ask what a word means in context
  • Questions that ask you what something indicates
  • Questions that direct to you specific sets of lines
  • Comparison questions between Passage A and Passage B

As you review your test take note of the specific types of questions that you need to master.  

Now take another reading test from The Official ACT Prep Guide (all of the answers are noted with explanations at the end of each passage) and identify the types of questions that you missed on the first four reading passages. This week spend time bringing more emphasis to those type of questions as you practice, looking to figure out a better way to handle those challenging questions. As mentioned, all of the answers with explanations are noted at the end of each test, so armed with the right answer, you’re going to work your way back to discover why it’s the correct choice. It’s all about learning the test.   

Week Three

We’re going to focus on timing. Give yourself 8 minutes and 45 seconds to do each of the four passages. Note at the close of each passage the amount of time each passage took.

If you’re running over time, here are a few tips on how to pick up your speed:

  1. Skip questions you don’t have an answer for after 60 seconds and come back to them if there’s time at the end of the test.
  2. Try to pick up reading speed by holding your breath for the length of an  entire paragraph. When you read and hold your breath, you cannot pronounce the words internally and your reading pace generally quickens.
  3. Place a larger emphasis on ruling out.
  4. Place more emphasis on fully understanding what the question is asking so you know just what to look for.

If none of the above works, try what we call Hunting and Pecking. Do not read the text. Simply go to the questions, get really clear on what’s being asked, and go find the answer in the text. A lot of students become very proficient and score well using this method. 

Week Four 

Take a 35-minute practice test. Correct it. Review answer explanations and determine what you need to do to avoid making the same mistakes. Make sure to get a good night’s rest before the exam, have a good breakfast, and warm up by going over work that you did as you have your breakfast. No athlete would go into a big game without warming up. Same for singers and musicians. This is no different.