What Is Covered on the ACT Reading Test

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

The ACT Reading Test consists of four passages, each with 10 questions, for a total of 40 questions. Each passage is supposed to be similar in difficulty to materials you encounter during your freshman year of college.

The test contains one passage on each of the following topics:

  • Prose fiction. The first passage in the section is a fiction passage from a novel or a short story. Some of the fiction passages are very fun to read. But don’t expect that you’ll have read them before. The ACT test makers obviously don’t want to test you on what you’re already familiar with (and maybe even have discussed in class); they want to test you on how well you evaluate a passage that’s new to you.

  • Social studies. The social studies passage comes after the prose fiction piece and covers sociology, anthropology, history, geography, psychology, political science, and economics. That’s an incredibly wide range of topics when you think about it. The history passages are generally easier to understand; some of the psychology ones can be intense.

  • Humanities. The third passage can be about music, dance, theater, art, architecture, language, ethics, literary criticism, and even philosophy. Most students tend to like the humanities passages because (believe it or not) they’re actually interesting.

  • Natural sciences. The last passage is what most people think about when they hear the word science. The natural sciences passage can cover chemistry, biology, physics, and other physical sciences.

Are you panicking right now, screaming, “I haven’t taken physics! No fair!”? Not to worry. The questions don’t require you to know any particular subjects. Everything you need to answer the questions is right there in the passages, and you can go back to the passages as often as you like.