To raise your ACT Reading score, answer fewer questions

To raise your ACT Reading score, answer fewer questions

Broadly speaking, time-based ACT Reading problems tend to fall into two categories.

The first category involves students who cannot even come close to finishing ACT Reading in time. At 35 minutes, they might still be only halfway through the third passage, and often their scores are stuck somewhere in the low 20s. Even if they’re solid readers, they need to radically change their approach in order to see significant improvement.

The second category typically involves students who are scoring in the mid-high 20s. Their overall comprehension is strong, and they could likely answer nearly all of the questions right given just 10 more minutes, but they can’t quite seem to get there in the allotted time.

If you fall into the second category, this post is for you. (more…)

Don’t go too fast on ACT Reading

Here’s a cautionary tale for those of you who don’t have trouble finishing ACT Reading on time.

One of my students who had been doing quite well (around a 30) on ACT Reading suddenly started to see his score drop down into the low 20s. I wasn’t hugely concerned; it was finals week, he was stressed and exhausted, and it was normal for him to be less focused.

Nevertheless, I asked him to do a passage while I watched, just so I could see how he was working through things. I didn’t time him, but after maybe four or five minutes, he got convinced that he was running so far behind that it would be impossible for him to recover.

When I looked at the wrong answers he was choosing, they all seemed to be of the “half-right half-wrong” variety. It occurred to me that he was freaking himself about time, then rushing and missing questions he would have gotten right had he just spent a little bit more time on them.

So I asked him to try an experiment: I would time him on a passage, but I also wanted him to completely forget about time — even go a bit more slowly than normal — and just work carefully. Not only did he did he finish with 45 seconds to spare, but he also got every single question right. He was shocked.

So the moral of the story is: don’t rush. Even if you feel like you’re running out of time, you might not actually be doing so. Perception is not necessarily reality. It’s more important to work carefully and not get through all the questions than to get through all of the questions and get a lot of them wrong.

The ACT Reading curve is huge. Huge. Even if you don’t get to finish the last couple of questions, you can still get a score well above 30. You’re better off leaving a few questions blank and ending up with a 32 than you are trying to answer everything in pursuit of a 36 and ending up with a 28.

Three passages, not four

The single biggest problem that I have observed among ACT-takers is that they never have enough time to finish the entire Reading section. 40 questions in 35 minutes is a lot, and if you’re a slow reader, then it can be a disaster.

One possible way of handling that problem: skip one of the passages.

If you know you generally hate Prose Fiction, plan to skip that passage; if Science is usually awful, skip Science, etc. If you don’t have a preference, skim through the four when you first get the test and see which one looks least interesting.

Now I realize what you’re thinking: how can I possibly get a decent score if I omit a quarter of the section?

Here’s how: first, you’re not going to omit it completely. You’re going to pick a letter pair (A/F, B/G, etc.) and fill it in for every single answer for that passage. Statistically, you are almost guaranteed to get at least two questions right, usually three, and sometimes even four (although I wouldn’t bet on the last one).

You now have approximately 11 minutes and 30 seconds to spend on the remaining three passages. If you can use that extra time to get, say, 9/10 questions correct on each one, that already gives you 27 points. Add three more points from the omitted section, and that gives you a raw score of 30, which is usually equivalent to about a scaled score of 27 — not bad if you’ve been stuck at 23 or 24.

Now, let’s say you have a fantastic test and get 10/10 right on the other three passages. That’s a raw score of 30. Plus three points from the omitted test = raw score of 33 = scaled score of 30.

That’s right, a 30.

I will admit that this strategy can be risky. If it backfires, you can end up with a much lower score than what you started with, and sometimes that does happen initially. It also only works if your comprehension is generally very strong. But if that is truly the case, it’s important to stick with it because eventually it will pay off. If you’re a slow enough reader that there’s just no way you’ll ever get through all four passages, it might be the best chance you have to seriously increase your score.