In ACT Reading, there are 40 questions to answer within 35 minutes. Each section consists of one long passage or two shorter passages (paired). Social studies, natural science, prose fiction, and humanities topics are covered in these passages. There are multiple-choice questions accompanying each section. A section containing two short passages (paired passages) will include some questions involving both passages.

ACT Reading Format:

Table 1: ACT Reading Format

No. of QuestionsQuestion TypeTime LimitTime/Question
40Multiple-choice with 4 answer choices35 Minutes52 Seconds

ACT Reading questions boil down to three categories of questions, according to ACT such as Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, as described in Table 2.

Table 2: Content Area Category

Content AreaConcept TestedNumber of Questions Asked (Approx.)Percentage of Questions Asked (Approx.)
Key Ideas and DetailsDetermine central ideas and themes Summarize accurately Draw inferences and conclusions by understanding sequential, comparative, and cause-effect relationships22-2455-60%
Craft and StructureDetermine word and phrase meanings Analyze authors’ word choices Analyze text structure Understand authors’ purpose and perspective and characters’ point of view Differentiate between various perspectives and sources10-1225-30%
Integration of Knowledge and IdeasUnderstand authors’ claims Differentiate between facts and opinions Use evidence to make connections between different texts Analyze how authors construct arguments Evaluate reasoning and use of evidence5-713-18%

Table 3: Question types and skills you can expect to encounter on the ACT Reading Test

Question TypesSkillsQuestion Distribution (approx.)
Big Picture QuestionsThis section will ask you to identify the main theme or the author’s perspective, thus providing the “big picture” of the passage.4 questions (8 to 10%)
Vocabulary in ContextUsually, you will be asked to describe a word from a passage using synonyms that pertain to the passage’s context.4 questions (8 to 10%)
Detail QuestionsThis question asks you to identify the small details of the passages instead of asking you about the main theme. Pay attention to the details in these passages.15 questions (30% to 38%)
Development and FunctionYour rhetorical skills will be tested by analyzing specific passages. There will be questions about ideas’ structure, function, and development.9 questions (20% to 22%)
InferenceBased on the information provided in each passage, you will be asked to determine the most logical conclusion.8 questions (15% to 20%)

ACT Reading Passage Detail:

There are four ACT reading passages of about 800 words each, always in this order:

  1. Prose Fiction
  2. Social Science
  3. Humanities
  4. Natural Science

The students are assessed in the following areas of study:

  • Social Studies – These questions are based on passages in biography, anthropology, business, economics, psychology, history, archaeology, geography, political science, education, and sociology.
  • Natural Sciences — These questions are based on passages in meteorology, astronomy, biology, botany, natural history, ecology, geology, physics, medicine, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, technology, chemistry, and zoology.
  • Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction – These questions are based on passages from novels, memoirs, short stories, and personal essays. Questions in the Prose Fiction section are based on passages from novels and short stories.
  • Humanities – These questions are based on passages in art, dance, film, language, radio, literary criticism, philosophy, music, television, ethics, architecture, and theatre.

Download ACT’s free e-book to learn more about the ACT. For a comprehensive diagnostic report, students can also grade ACT practice test bubble sheets online using Socrato’s test grading software.

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