When we described the English section, we mentioned the “one minute per question” standard most students use and decided that it was arbitrary. What about the ACT’s time constraint on the Reading section? Is it fair? In our opinion, it’s not. In fact, we think this is the most unfair section on the ACT in terms of timing. Let’s take a closer look and see why.
On the Reading section, you’re given 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. But what makes this section challenging is that you have to read through four lengthy (and often dense) passages to find the answers to these questions.
To get an idea of how aggressively-timed the ACT Reading is, let’s say that you’re actually given 36 minutes. We know that’s not actually the case, but it will make the math easier. Dividing 36 minutes by four, you get nine minutes to complete each passage. But we actually have a little less than nine minutes on average per passage (because we really have 35 minutes, not 36).
Now, take a look at one of the passages in the Reading section of a real ACT test, if you haven’t already. (Links to free practice ACT tests on the web can be found on our Resources page.) How long do you think it would take you just to read one of those? We think the average American high school student needs roughly five minutes to read one of those passages, leaving less than four minutes to answer all ten (often deceptively tricky) questions about that passage. That’s less than 30 seconds to read, to think through (including often having to refer back to the text), and to choose your answer to each question. And this doesn’t even factor in the time you’ll need to bubble in your choices on the answer sheet.
But while there are many students who agree with us that the timing is unfair, there are always some students who tell us that the Reading section doesn’t really give them any problems and that they just naturally do very well on that section. Strange? Not really. What we have found is that these students are “readers.” They read for fun, and they’ve made a habit of reading for most of their lives, so they read relatively quickly. These students aren’t as affected by the time constraint on this section, because, in essence, they started preparing for the Reading section of the ACT when they were very young – they just didn’t know it.
If you’re one of these students, you have a great advantage that will really serve you on the Reading section of the ACT. But if you’re not, don’t worry. You can still develop your reading efficiency through practice, but we can also show you how to strategically reduce the time pressure you’ll experience on this test and still improve your score.