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Responding to a Friend's Questions

Dear Jim,

It is wonderful that you are about to take the ACT. However, it would seem that you need some questions answered first, which is reasonable. The ACT reading test is a 35 minute test with 40 questions about reading passages. Each reading passage is about 750 words long and there are 4 passages total. There is one passage about Humanities, Prose Fiction, Science, and Social Science, all with 10 questions per passage. You should know the directions beforehand, so as to not waste time. You should know the layout of the test. On the left side of each column of reading material, there are numbers. These numbers tell you the line number, and they appear every 5 lines. This helps you quickly reference the lines that a question refers to. After reading each passage, the questions are in no particular order and vary in difficulty. You will be given an answer sheet, separate from the test booklet that has the passages and questions, you will use the answer sheet to record your answers. It is important to note that nothing you write in the test booklet is graded, so make sure you use the answer sheet.

I believe you also asked about how to save time. Before reading the passage, skim the questions and underline a key word or phrase in the question. The key word should identify the topic of the question. If you don't immediately spot something to underline, go on to the next question.On average, spend 3-4 minutes rapidly reading or skimming a passage. Here are some skimming techniques. Read the first sentence of each paragraph at your normal pace. The first sentence is usually the main or topic sentence. It gives you an idea of what the paragraph is about. Speed up your reading pace for the middle part of the paragraph. Don't worry about the details such as names, dates, and explanations. Read through these rapidly. Read over examples rapidly. However, underline any words that match those you previously underlined in the questions. Read the last sentence of each paragraph at your normal pace. The last sentence is often a concluding or summary sentence that helps you further understand the main point of each paragraph. Don't get hung up on words you don't know, skip them and keep on reading. If you must figure out an unknown word in order to answer a question, use context clues to figure out the meaning of the word. For context clues, read the sentence and preceding and following sentences.

What is active reading, you asked? To actively read, you are determinedly reading with a purpose to understand and evaluate a passage for relevance to your purpose for reading. To read and re-read is just reading content; actively reading is a more effective way to understand and learn a passage. Active reading can actually help save time, because it keeps you from having to re-read multiple times. There are three ways to actively read. They are looking at structural clues, annotating, and looking at hinge words. To find structural clues, think about how the passage is organized, where are the paragraph breaks, and what words are bold or italicized. To annotate a passage means you write on the passage as you read. This could be circling the names of people, underlining critical phrases, terms, and main ideas and numbering ideas that are in sequences. Hinge words and structural clues relate back to annotating the text, because you should make a mark in the passage to note a hinge word or structural clue. Hinge words, also known as transition words, are words or phrases that are used to alert you of shifts in thought, or they can be words that are used to drive a point home. Oftentimes, answers are located near hinge words. Common hinge words can include: but, although, yet, however, as a result, nevertheless, on the other hand, despite, while, in spite of, consequently, therefore, thus, and alternatively. There you go Jim, everything you need to know. I hope this clears things up for you! Good luck!


Jared Smith