Marking Up the ACT Reading Section

The major advantages that you have on ACT reading test is that you can write anything on the testing packet. Most students don’t know this, and therefore can’t use it to their advantage; however, it is a very powerful helping tool. In marking up the ACT, you want to use only two different marks:

  • Underline any main ideas and topic sentences for each paragraph.
  • Circle unfamiliar words and proper nouns (i.e. people’s names) the first time they come up.

With these two markings you’ll have all of the tools you need for answering the questions on the ACT reading section without fail. Use them wisely, but be careful of overusing them. One of the major pitfalls is marking up too much text, which becomes more of a distraction than a roadmap.

You can then use your markings to look back on any specific area of the test that a question asks about, and what’s more, you’re able to do it really quickly. Additionally, marking up the passage helps you by forcing you to keep searching for the main ideas first and foremost, and helps you avoid common problems, such as spending too much time on details and being distracted by them.

Main Ideas and Skimming (ACT Reading)

In most cases on the ACT, skimming is all you’re going to need to do in order to understand the Natural Science, Social Sciences, and Humanities passages. In these cases, the writing is usually very formulaic, and therefore easy to analyze. The first sentence is almost always the main idea of the paragraph, and if you can keep that in mind, then you might be able to skim the rest of that paragraph, which is only going to have supporting details, inserted primarily to help you understand why the main idea fits into the whole essay.

Most of the time, on the ACT test, the topic sentence will be fairly short, and will have few extraneous details attached. This makes it easy to pick out. Once you think you have it, then you should definitely underline that sentence. If a question asks you to pick out the most important detail supporting that point, or why the author might have included that point in their essay, you know exactly where to look to find that specific information.