06 April 2013

Do ACT Reading passages in order of most to least interesting

This is a nifty little strategy I learned about five years ago, when I first started tutoring the ACT. It requires a tiny bit of time upfront, but it can pay off quite a bit. It’s also fairly easy to adapt to your interests and strengths.

Here it is:

As soon as you start Reading Comprehension section, quickly leaf through all four passages, and start with the one that seems easiest/most interesting. Then do the next most interesting, then the next, and save the least interesting/most difficult for last.

Yes, you will have to spend maybe 30 or 45 seconds initially figuring this out, but you don’t have to read a lot — you can usually tell from a sentence or two whether the passage is going to be reasonably ok or utterly impossible.

Working this way has a couple of major advantages:

1) Time

Easier passages tend to go more quickly, meaning that you’re less likely get behind on time from the start. You also don’t waste time on questions you might not get right, then get easier questions wrong toward the end because you’re running out of time and panicking.

2) Confidence

If you start out with something interesting, your level of engagement will be higher. You don’t start thinking “this sections sucks, I hate this, I’m never going to finish on time, I wish it were just over already” two minutes into the test, then miss easier things later because you’re discouraged. You’ll be more focused and more likely to know you’re answering things correctly, which will boost your confidence and make the rest of the section seem more manageable. If you get stuck in the last passage, well… it’s the last passage. You’ve already answered lots of questions correctly, so it won’t ruin you. You might get a 28 rather than a 30, but you probably won’t get a 23.

Know your strengths and weaknesses:

I find that most people taking the ACT tend to have pronounced strengths and weaknesses on the reading passages — those who are more math/science-oriented tend to find the Science and Social Science passages easier and more enjoyable, whereas people who are more humanities-oriented tend to prefer Prose Fiction and Humanities. And when people have a least favorite passage, it’s almost always either Prose Fiction or Science.

If this applies to you, you’re in luck because your decision is basically made for you. If you know that one type of passage always gives you trouble, don’t even it look at it initially; just save it for last. If you always find one passage relatively easy, just start with it. When you’re done, just look at the two remaining passages, and do whichever one you like better first.

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