How to Pace Yourself on the ACT Reading Test

The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions (10 questions on each passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 passages, so pacing yourself is essential.

One way you can focus your timing is to briefly flip through the entire test BEFORE you begin. You will always see 4 passages and you must always answer all 40 questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to approach them in the order in which they are presented on the test. As you practice, you will start to realize which passages are easier and which are more challenging for you.

For example, if Prose Fiction is your strong point but Natural Science passages make you nervous, it may make sense for you to do the Prose Fiction passage first and save the Natural Science passage for last. Just because the Natural Science passage is first, doesn’t mean you’ve got to do it right away. If you do decide to skip around, make sure you are still bubbling in your answers into the corresponding numbers on the answer grid. You don’t want to lose points because you bubbled incorrectly!

Another way you can pace yourself appropriately is by practicing your active reading skills. Do you find yourself getting lost in the details or are you someone who tends to read too quickly and miss some of the important information? For the ACT Reading Test, you’ve got to strike a balance between reading for the author’s point of view and for the function of each paragraph and also noting the location of important details in case you need to come back later. Make sure you underline anything that seems significant to you – look for words and phrases that reveal the author’s opinion or summarize or give the main idea of each paragraph. Practice with an egg timer. If you are spending more than 3 minutes reading and marking passages, you are risking not being able to finish all of the questions on test day.

Once you feel confident in your Reading skills and strategies, it’s important to practice before your test day by taking a few full-length practice reading sections. Full-length practice tests are available in ACT practice books at local bookstores, at your local library, and are even downloadable online. Find a quiet place where you can take the practice session and clear off the table or desk. Try and eliminate any distractions and do the best your can to mimic your test-day environment. Keep a clock or timer in front of you so you can periodically check and see how you are doing. You may want to set the timer to go off every 9-10 minutes. If it does and you are still on the same passage, it may indicate to you that you need to practice your strategies in order to get through the test. Don’t rush, but make sure you can move confidently from one passage to the next and answer ALL questions in the time allotted.

Remember there is no wrong answer penalty on the ACT test so you need to make sure to bubble in something, even if you are running out of time!

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