About the ACT Reading Passages: Social Science and Humanities - The Olive Book Blog (2022)

The ACT Reading section is made up of four passages with about 10 questions each (40 total). There are four main types of passages that you will encounter on the ACT Reading section: literary narrative/prose fiction passages, natural science, social science, and humanities.

One difference between the ACT and the SAT you can use to your advantage is that the ACT Reading passages are always in the same order: prose, social science, humanities, and natural science. That makes it easier to change the order of how you might do these passages, especially if there is a passage that you struggle with or one that takes more time to do.

How to Ace the ACT Reading Section

In this post, we’ll cover strategies for the social science and humanities passages you’ll see on the ACT. These passage types are pretty similar so we’ve combined them into one post.

What is the Social Science Passage? What is the Humanities Passage?

The social science passage is about the economy, psychology (the study of the human mind and human behavior), sociology (the study of human society), or even a historic document, like something written by the founding fathers.

Partly because of the wide variety of content possible, the social science passage can be one of the trickiest passages to read. Often the passage is dense with lots of vocabulary words that you may or may not be familiar with, along with long, rambling sentences. These passages are informative but have a bias. Bias means that the author is trying to convince you of a perspective, point of view, and/or argument. You need to treat the social science passage like a combination of narrative and informative (a cross between how you read the prose and natural science passages).

Social science passages are informative but have a bias. Bias means that the author is trying to convince you of a perspective, point of view, and/or argument.

(Video) Reading Social Science Passage Part 1 - Answering Questions from Memory

Like the social science passages, the humanities passage covers a wide variety of content. A humanities passage could be about art or ethics. It could be an essay or speech by a famous historian or about a well-known historical moment. Sometimes the author of the essay is unknown but the theme is relatable – coping with family dynamics, balancing cultural traditions and current ones, facing conflict, or working through emotions.

The humanities passage can best be described as informative with a purpose. Having a purpose does not necessarily mean that there is a bias. Though a bias is possible, the purpose of the passage could be to describe a concept in order to build up to a conclusion. No matter what, your job is to determine the purpose of the passage.

The humanities passage can best be described as informative with a purpose. No matter what, your job is to determine the purpose of the passage.

Pacing Your Reading

Since the social science passage is like a combination of the prose and natural science passage, your pacing strategy is a combination of how you read those two passages as well. Your job is to read, skim, and re-word ideas. The idea is that you are “hearing” your voice as you read until you hit a dense sentence, then you skim through it. (Read more about skimming here.) Once you have reached the end of the difficult part or sentence, you take a second (literally about one second) and “say” in your head as simply as possible what exactly that part/sentence meant.

Your job is to read, skim, and re-word ideas. The idea is that you are “hearing” your voice as you read until you hit a dense sentence, then you skim through it. Once you have reached the end of the difficult part or sentence, you take a second (literally about one second) and “say” in your head as simply as possible what exactly that part/sentence meant.

Like the social science passage, the language of the humanities passage can be dense and/or contain unfamiliar vocabulary. So what you “hear” in your head is going to vary. Depending on your interests and what you read on your own time, you may luck out with a passage that keeps you interested. When your interest is peaked, you will be able to read a bit faster and retain the content, like you would on a prose passage. So this means that the more interested you are, the more clearly you will hear your voice reading in your head and the faster you will read.

If you find the passage boring, then you don’t want to get bogged down. Instead, you’ll need to increase your reading speed because you are more likely to have to return to the passage for more questions, so you’ll need to save time during the passage reading in order to have more time when answering questions.

How to Stay Focused on the ACT Reading Section

(Video) Writing Strategies for Social Science: Tips from 30 Years of Practice

So if you are less interested, then skim and focus on the structure of the passage and determining both the main idea of the passage and the author’s purpose in writing it, like you would on a natural science passage. Remember, when you skim you will still hear your voice when you read certain parts. The rest of the time is more of a mumble with quick re-word phrasing of what you have read, especially if the text is dense.

What to Look for on the Social Science and Humanities Passages

As you are reading, two important things to look out for are the tone of the passage and the author’s purpose.

For both passages, understanding the tone is key to answering the questions correctly. These passages will ask more inference questions than detail questions. While you can and will return to the passage for details, it is hard to return to a particular place in the passage to understand tone. Tone builds throughout the passage, and thus would require you to read the entire thing again if you missed it the first time! You must keep a watchful eye on the subtext of the passage – read not just the words at face value, but think about what the author really means.

For both passages, understanding the tone is key to answering the questions correctly. These passages will ask more inference questions than detail questions.

If the passage is dense, you will need to stop along the way to re-word what you have read. Otherwise, you could reach the end of the passage and have no idea what the passage is about! You must balance hearing your voice read the words, skimming over the denser, confusing, detailed parts, and hearing your voice re-word what the author said in a simple way.

For the social science passage in particular, you want to pay attention to the structure of the passage, the main idea of the paragraphs, and elements that support the argument, as well as any counterexamples. Furthermore, since this passage is not just informative, you must determine if there is an argument or bias. Noting transition words is key here – they help you identify what the author thinks, as well as what the author disagrees with.

The social science passage is not just informative; you must determine if there is an argument or bias. You want to pay attention to the elements that support the argument, as well as any counterexamples. Transition words will help you identify what the author thinks and what the author disagrees with.

The Key Strategies for the Social Science and Humanities Passages

Your strategy for the social science passage is a combination of strategies for the first two passage types. As you read, “hear” the words in your head, and use your intonation to help understand the subtext of each sentence. When you hit a dense, rambling sentence, then skim (mumble) through it. Once you have reached the end of the sentence, take a second (literally about one second) and “say” in your head as simply as possible what exactly that sentence meant.

(Video) CRASSH | The Politics of Economics: Performing Social Science?

You must balance hearing your voice read the words, skimming over the denser, confusing, detailed parts, and hearing your voice re-word what the author said in a simple way. Focus on the main idea and passage structure while also looking for why the author wrote this.

You must balance hearing your voice read the words, skimming over the denser, confusing, detailed parts, and hearing your voice re-word what the author said in a simple way. Focus on the main idea and passage structure while also looking for why the author wrote this. For the social science passage, ask: Is there a bias? Is it informative or persuasive?

About the Paired Passages

The paired passages are usually two natural science or social science passages. Your goal when reading these passages is to figure outhow they relate. When considering how the passages relate to one another, think about these options:

  • Do the passages express different opinions or perspectives on the same issue?
  • Does one passage present a problem while the other passage offers a solution?
  • Does one passage present a theory while the other passage offers evidence to support the theory?
  • Or maybe each passage presents the same evidence but comes to differing conclusions?

Basically, the passages will agree on some points and disagree on others. To help you clarify what you’ve read, after you read the first passage write or think of one sentence to summarize the passage. Then after you read the second passage try to come up with one sentence that doesn’t just summarize the passage but relates it back to the first. The simpler the sentence the better!

Ready to start practice for the ACT Reading section? Our ACT course contains practice passages and questions for every kind of passage you’ll find on the ACT Reading section. Head on over to www.olive-book.com to enroll!

Further Reading:
How to Stay Focused on the ACT Reading Section
How to Ace the ACT Reading Section
The Importance of Making Time to Read for Fun

Pin, print, or save the image below to remember the key strategies for the social science and humanities passages:

About the ACT Reading Passages: Social Science and Humanities - The Olive Book Blog (1)

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FAQs

What are the 4 types of passages on the reading ACT? ›

There are four ACT reading passages of about 800 words each, always in this order:
  • prose fiction.
  • social science.
  • humanities.
  • natural science.

How hard is the ACT reading section? ›

So what makes it (seem) so hard? Timing: The ACT Reading section has 40 questions and a 35 minute time limit. That give students less than one minute per question and does not even factor in time to read the passage. In other words, the ACT Reading moves at a blistering pace, and it can be hard to keep up.

What is the humanities passage on the ACT? ›

The humanities passage can best be described as informative with a purpose. Having a purpose does not necessarily mean that there is a bias. Though a bias is possible, the purpose of the passage could be to describe a concept in order to build up to a conclusion.

What type of content is covered in the ACT reading section? ›

The reading section measures your ability to read closely, reason logically about texts using evidence, and integrate information from multiple sources. The section questions focus on the mutually supportive skills that readers must bring to bear in studying written materials across a range of subject areas.

How do I pass the ACT reading test? ›

Practice your ACT Reading tips

Take it one passage at a time when you're getting started. Set your timer for 8 minutes and 45 seconds and complete one passage in the time allotted. From there, correct it and review your answers. Make sure you check every answer choice to know why your answer is (or isn't) the best one.

What is the fastest way to answer ACT questions? ›

8 Ways to Improve Your Speed on the SAT/ACT
  1. Use a dull pencil. ...
  2. Cross out incorrect answers. ...
  3. Circle answers first, then bubble in your scantron one test page at a time. ...
  4. Skip the hard stuff on a first pass. ...
  5. Locate line-specific questions before reading the passage. ...
  6. Practice, and time yourself by individual passages.
9 Feb 2019

How many types of passages are there? ›

The three main types of passage are narrative passages, descriptive passages, and expository passages. Read this article to know more about this topic.

How many passages are in the Science ACT? ›

On Test Day, the ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you'll take. It will have 6-7 passages with 5-8 questions each; you'll have 35 minutes to complete them.

Which of the following passage topics are possible in a complete ACT reading test? ›

Which of the following passage topics are possible in a complete ACT reading test? One passage about art history, one fictional piece, and two passages about social and natural sciences.

How can I improve my ACT reading section? ›

ACT Reading Tip #8: Follow Kaplan's Method for ACT Reading Comprehension. Read the passage and write short notes next to each paragraph. Read the question and identify helpful hints. Predict an answer BEFORE you look at the answer choices.

What does the ACT reading section look like? ›

Format of the ACT Reading

The ACT Reading section asks 40 questions in 35 minutes. There are three single passages and one set of paired passages (usually either in the Prose Fiction or Humanities subject areas). Since there are four different categories of passage, this means 10 questions after each one.

What kind of reading is on the ACT? ›

The ACT Reading test consists of 40 questions that must be answered within the 35-minute time limit. The test consists of four sections, each containing one long or two shorter (paired) prose passages. The passages focus on topics in social studies, natural sciences, prose fiction, and the humanities.

Is ACT reading easier than SAT? ›

The ACT Reading passages follow the exact same pattern. In this respect, the two tests are equal in difficulty. New SAT Reading Test questions follow the natural order of the passages, whereas ACT Reading Test questions do not.

Should you read the whole passage on the ACT? ›

While the ability to read and mostly understand short passages is a prerequisite for the reading portion of the ACT, it's also a prerequisite for all sections of the ACT. In some ways, the ACT Reading section is simply about quickly finding information presented in paragraph form.

Why is the ACT test so hard? ›

The ACT is challenging for many students because of its strict time constraints. On the English section, you'll answer 75 questions in just 45 minutes, which is equal to a mere 36 seconds per question. On the Math section, you'll answer 60 questions in 60 minutes, so you have a minute at most for each question.

Which ACT test has the most questions? ›

How many questions are on the ACT?
Time# of questions
English45 min75 questions
Math60 min60 questions
Reading35 min40 questions
Science35 minutes40 questions
2 more rows

What is a good ACT score? ›

In general, a good ACT score is any score in or above the 75th percentile — at least a 24. Students should aim to hit or exceed the middle 50% of ACT scores at their chosen colleges. The ACT Writing section is optional and uses a separate scoring scale.

Does reading help your ACT score? ›

A student who doesn't understand the basics of grammar and punctuation will likely score poorly in English. But the student who doesn't read well will be penalized on all four subject tests. As strange as it may sound, many times low ACT scores can be traced back to a student's ability to read and comprehend.

Is a 34 on the ACT good? ›

A 34 ACT puts you at the 99th percentile, meaning you scored higher than 99% of all test takers.

Is a 23 ACT score good? ›

Is a 23 a good ACT score? Yes, with score of 23 you're in about the top third. It places you in the top 68th percentile nationally out of the 2 million test takers of the ACT entrance exam.

How do you get a 30 on the ACT? ›

To get a 30, you must score highly on all four sections of the exam (excluding Writing). Specifically, you'll need to get at least a 30 on two sections and a composite score of 29.5 (which rounds to 30) or higher. This means you can only miss a handful of questions on each section.

What are the different types of reading passages? ›

The three main types of passage are narrative passages, descriptive passages, and expository passages.

How many passages are in the English ACT? ›

On the ACT English Test you'll face five passages on topics ranging from historical essays to personal narratives. Portions of each passage are underlined, and you must decide if these are correct as written or if one of the other answers would fix or improve the selection.

What is a passage in reading? ›

a portion or section of a written work; a paragraph, verse, etc.: a passage of Scripture.

How many passages are in the English section? ›

ACT Section 1: English. The ACT English section has five passages with accompanying four-choice multiple-choice questions.

What is the style of a passage? ›

The tone of any given passage is the author's emotion or feeling, usually towards his subject. An author's style is the particular way he uses language to reflect his unique authorial voice. Most style or tone questions will include the words “attitude,” “tone,” “style,” “feeling,” etc.

How many passages does the science Act have? ›

On Test Day, the ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you'll take. It will have 6-7 passages with 5-8 questions each; you'll have 35 minutes to complete them.

What is social science Act? ›

On the ACT Reading test, Social Studies passages cover topics like economics, political science, history, psychology, and education. You'll get one Social Studies passage on every test, followed by ten questions about it. If you're a history nerd or an economics whiz already, you might think this is going to be easy.

How many can you miss to get a 30 on the ACT? ›

To get a 30, you must score highly on all four sections of the exam (excluding Writing). Specifically, you'll need to get at least a 30 on two sections and a composite score of 29.5 (which rounds to 30) or higher.

What is the easiest ACT section? ›

If you're trying to boost your ACT score, the English section is the easiest to tackle. Here's why: there is only a handful of technical grammar content covered and there are really only a handful of rhetorical skills covered.

Does ACT take off for wrong answers? ›

You may be happy to learn that wrong answers won't count against you on either the ACT or SAT. Students will be awarded points for each correct answer with no points taken away for any incorrect ones. This is why never leaving an answer blank on your test is so important.

What is passage all about? ›

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions.

What was the point of the writer of the passage? ›

The reason an author writes something is called the author's purpose. When you figure out why a reading passage was written, you are identifying the author's purpose. Author's write for one of four reasons – to describe, to entertain, to explain or inform, and to persuade.

What is a sentence for passage? ›

They controlled the passage of goods through their territory. the passage of food through the digestive system the passage of air into and out of the lungs the passage from life to death the passage of the seasons He left after the passage of a few hours.

What is the highest score in ACT? ›

Your Composite score and each test score (English, mathematics, reading, science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The Composite score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

What harder SAT or ACT? ›

Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT or ACT is harder than the other. Different students tend to do better on one test over the other.

Is December ACT easier? ›

Is there an easiest or hardest test date for the SAT or ACT? No! It's a common myth: “Don't take the SAT in October – all the seniors are taking it then!” Or, “Take the ACT in December – it's easier!” None of these statements, or any other evaluation of testing difficulty based on test date, is true.

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