ACT Reading

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The ACT Reading test is a 35-minute, 40-question section that tests comprehension, inference, and other details of a passage. Every test has four passages, always with the same categories: prose fiction, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. Students who do well on the ACT reading test read quickly yet precisely, and avoid opinion in favor of fact when choosing their answers.

Here is a short description of each of the four essay categories:

Prose fiction

A short essay or excerpt from a published short story or novel. It is generally heavy on character dialogue, interactions and experiences. Questions on these passages ask about details in the story, character descriptions, meaning of statements, and word usage and meaning.

Social science

This is a textbook-style essay that discusses some aspect of our civic life, whether sociological, political, historical, economic or geographical in nature. Most essays relate to our American experience, although some explore foreign or global subjects. Questions on these passages ask about details in facts, main ideas, and arguments made in the passage.


Humanities essays are frequently biographies, memoirs, and personal essays recounting lives and experiences in the liberal arts – literature, architecture, music, philosophy, theater, ethics, language, among others. Some use standard essay format, while others take a creative approach to telling the story. Questions on these passages ask about characterization, main ideas and arguments, order of events, descriptions of main characters or the narrator, and language usage.

Natural science

The natural science essay reads like a scientific news article, and many are adapted from just that. The topics vary widely throughout the natural sciences, but the essays are always non-fiction and expository. Questions on these passages ask about factual details and claims made in the essay, summarizing statements or points of view, terminology, and inference of descriptive phrases.

Unprepared students are commonly caught off-guard, not realizing how little time they have to read each passage and answer the ten questions about it (it’s under 9 minutes). The questions and answer choices themselves make for a lot of additional reading. Because the questions sometimes appear to be asking for interpretation, it can be hard to feel confident about your choice, and easy to get lost debating what to do.

Prepstar ACT classes and our private tutors help students in several key areas. Reading faster is possible with practice, and so is careful, inspectional reading that sees objectivity rather than subjectivity. Through practice and examination, students gain the clarity needed to see the difference between the one correct answer choice and the three wrong ones.