How to Beat the Clock on ACT Reading – Part 2

Time can easily slip away from us when we get caught up in reading. Though that’s usually a good thing, it can create problems on the ACT. Completing the ACT reading section within the time limit is a challenge for many, many students.

In Part 1, I discussed the critical relationship between mastery and speed. If you haven’t yet read that, you should do so now. To put things in a minuscule nutshell, what I said in Part 1 is that one of the biggest impediments students face in increasing ACT reading speed is focusing too much on speed. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but believe me it’s true. I’m a test prep tutor. I know these things.

That said, if you’re sure you’ve made accuracy tactics fully automatic but are still struggling with pacing on ACT reading, it could be because you’re overlooking one of the following brilliant insights.

1) Make sure your first reading of each segment is only at medium depth.

When you first read each of the three segments, you should not be reading for full understanding. Your goal is simply to gain a little bit of context and, most importantly, be able to recall the content well enough to know which questions you can answer as you’re going through them after reading the segment. (You’ll read for real if and when a question requires you to do so.) You’re not quite skimming, but your reading should be on the “quick and dirty” side – too superficial to see exactly how all the bits and pieces fit together but well enough to get a decent sense of what those bits and pieces are. The first time through a segment, don’t stop or slow down to try to make sense of a tricky bit. For all you know at that point, you won’t get asked about it, so the extra time will have been wasted.

2) Make sure you aren’t answering general questions too soon.

Main point questions and forced elimination questions should be marked with a “G” and ignored until you have worked every other question for that passage. It’s important to mark them, so you don’t inadvertently reread them prematurely, wasting precious time.

3) Make sure you are underlining key words and phrases in the questions.

The first time you work through the questions, you should underline key words and phrases in the questions you’re not yet able to answer. For one thing, doing so helps you to more quickly find the answers in the passage (similar to locators in the science section). It also saves time by making it easier to assess whether the questions can be answered after your 2nd and 3rd passes. The idea is to avoid rereading the entire question. Just glance at your underlined words and phrases and ask yourself whether you just read about that or not. Rereading the questions may not seem like a big time waster, but keep in mind that on ACT reading, every second counts.

4) Minimize ping-ponging.

Ping-ponging is excessively going back and forth between the answer choices and the passage. This usually happens when students read the answer choices first, instead of going to the passage first, getting a clear idea of the answer, then focusing on eliminating answer choices that fail to restate that. Students end up reading an answer choice, thinking about it a second, going to the passage to check, thinking about it a bit more, going back to the answer choice, then back to the passage…yeah, bad idea – a pace and accuracy killer. Be systematic. Be disciplined. Execute the tactics. Whenever possible (and it usually is) go to the passage before reading answer choices.

5) Focus on elimination.

When you know how the passage answers the question, you sometimes don’t need to read beyond the first couple words of an answer choice. Remember, because of ploys like bait-and- switch, you must read the entire answer choice to confirm it’s correct. On the other hand, the instant an answer choice states something that contradicts the answer, it can be eliminated. Also make sure you strike out answer choices you’ve eliminated to avoid wasting time by inadvertently rereading them.

That’s all for now, but I’ll have more tips for you in Part 3. Stay tuned!

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