ACT Reading Section

ACT Reading Test Outline

The ACT Reading test is a 35-minute assessment that includes 40 questions. There are four sections on the ACT Reading test, each based on a reading passage or pair of passages. The total Reading test score is from 1 to 36, and there are also three reporting category scores (Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas). The ACT Reading test is always the third section taken, and there is no break afterwards. In addition to Reading test and reporting category scores, test-takers also receive an English Language Arts (ELA) score of 1 to 36. The ELA score is calculated from the test scores for ACT Reading, English, and Writing.

ACT Reading Test Passages

ACT lists Reading test passages in four subject areas: prose fiction/literary narrative, humanities, social science, and natural science. Prose fiction/literary narrative passages are taken from classic literature or personal essays. Examples of humanities topics include film studies, music, theatre, and art. Among the social science subjects test-takers can expect to see are history, political science, sociology, and psychology. Natural science passages are based on biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and other "hard" sciences. Passages or passage pairs typically total about 750-800 words.

ACT Reading Test Question Types

All 40 ACT Reading test questions are multiple choice with four answer options. There are 10 questions per section, but for sections that include paired passages, the exercises are divided into three groups (questions on passage A, questions on passage B, and questions on both passages). Unlike the ACT English test, there are no underlined passages or boxed numbers in the ACT Reading Test passages (students will not be able to immediately link questions to specific passage text while reading). However, the Reading test passages do have line numbers every five lines, and some of the questions reference these line numbers. The division of questions into reporting categories is as follows: Key Ideas and Details (22-24 questions), Craft and Structure (10-12 questions), and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (6-7 questions).

ACT Reading Test Skills

The ACT Reading test is intended to "measure reading comprehension." Each of the three reporting categories assesses multiple reading skills. The Key Ideas and Details area consists of close reading (finding and interpreting facts, drawing conclusions, and paraphrasing); central ideas, themes, and summaries (identification and summarization of topics, main ideas, and supporting ideas); and relationships (sequence, cause and effect, and comparison). The Craft and Structure category involves understanding word meaning, word choice, text structure, and point of view. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas questions concern arguments (main ideas presented in passages) and multiple texts (passage comparison and drawing conclusions from two sources).

ACT Reading Test Scoring and Benchmark Data

The 50th-percentile score for the ACT Reading Test is between 20 (the 48th percentile) and 21 (the 55th percentile). The average ACT Reading test score is 21.3, which is higher than for any of the ACT's multiple-choice sections. A Reading Test score of 30 is in the 89th percentile, and a 34 is in the 98th percentile. About two-thirds of ACT-tested students (66%) score 23 or below. The College Readiness Benchmark for the ACT Reading test is 22. In the most recent high school graduating class for which statistics are available, 47% of students who took the ACT met this benchmark for the ACT Reading test.

ACT Reading Test Scores, College Course Placement, and College Acceptance

Many universities use individual ACT section scores for the purpose of course placement, and students with scores above certain levels may be able to waive remedial or even introductory courses in those subject areas. The ACT Reading test is frequently used to evaluate reading comprehension skills in new college students, and those with low scores may be required to take remedial courses with titles such as "Introductory College Reading" or "Academic Success Strategies." Highly selective universities do not typically report their average ACT Reading test scores, but the high composite scores these institutions do disclose are partially based on the Reading test. Students applying to these elite schools should aim for Reading test scores of at least 30 in order to be competitive.