Content of ACT Reading Test

You have 35 minutes to read the reading test’s passages and answer the 40 multiple-choice questions. The reading test evaluates your ability to understand the passages that appear on the test. It does not test your ability to remember relevant facts from outside the passage. You don’t need to be knowledgeable about the subject area that a passage covers in order to do well on the questions, but you do need to read attentively and to think carefully about what you read.

The passages may deal with familiar or unfamiliar subjects. It doesn’t matter though; the passages contain all the information you need to answer the questions.

The ACT reading test may contain passages from each of the following categories:

  1. Prose fiction: passages from short stories or novels

  2. Humanities: architecture, art, dance, ethics, film, language, literary criticism, memoir, music, personal essays, philosophy, radio, television, theater

  3. Social studies: anthropology, archaeology, biography, business, economics, education, geography, history, political science, psychology, sociology

  4. Natural sciences: anatomy, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, ecology, geology, medicine, meteorology, microbiology, natural history, physiology, physics, technology, zoology

Types of Passages

1. Prose Fiction

Prose fiction passages generally include a narration of events and revelation of character. The questions on prose fiction passages ask about the kinds of things you pay attention to when you read a short story or novel - plot, characters, and mood, among other things.

As you read a prose fiction passage, try to be aware of the passage’s mood or tone, the relationships of the characters, and the emotion implied by what the characters say as well as how they say it. An author often uses dialogue not only to explain a situation to a reader but also to reveal character.

2. Humanities

Humanities passages describe or analyze ideas or works of art. Although some humanities passages taken from memoirs or personal essays may seem a bit like prose fiction passages, there is one important difference: the memoirs and personal essays are written as fact, whereas prose fiction is imagined.

Humanities passages present information, but you also need to pay attention to the author and his or her point of view. These passages might have characters, but they are not characters like those in a short story. Rather, they are historical figures or contemporary people, people who have actually lived. In these passages, the kinds of relationships you’ll be asked to infer or identify are those among events, ideas, people, trends, or modes of thought.

3. Social Studies

Social studies passages typically present information gathered by research. A social studies passage might be about Japanese history or political action committees or a psychological experiment. You will find names, dates, and concepts in these passages. You also need to pay close attention to what name goes with what concept in a discussion of political systems and to keep track of who said what in a passage discussing different views of a constitutional amendment.

Watch for cause-effect relationships, comparisons, and sequences of events. Pay careful attention to the specifics, especially the way in which they help you shape an idea of the passage’s subject.

4. Natural Sciences

The natural sciences passage typically presents a science topic and an explanation of the topic’s significance. It requires a different sort of analysis than a prose fiction passage. For instance, in a natural sciences passage, the author is typically concerned with the relationships between natural phenomena, not the relationships between characters.

As with social studies passages, you should pay special attention to cause-effect relationships, comparisons, and sequences of events. Keep track of any specific laws, rules, and theories mentioned, but don’t try to memorize them.