The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know (2022)

The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know (1)

One of the nice things about the ACT is that it doesn't change all that much from test to test. This is especially true for the Reading section: Reading is always the third section of the ACT, there will always be passages on four subject areas, and each subject area will have 10 questions.

So what are the 4 types of ACT Reading passages? Read on to find out!

feature image credit: Four by Jukka Zitting, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

4 Passages To Rule Them All

The 4 types of passages on the ACT are always the same, and always presented in same order: 1. Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative, 2. Social Science, 3. Humanities, and 4. Natural Science.

ACT, Inc. has an exhaustive list of all the topics that might be covered in each of these areas, but it's kind of overwhelming. To make it a little easier to understand what exactly is covered in each subject area, I've summarized each passage type, along with the questions that you’re likely to see on them, below.

Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative

These passages usually consist of excerpts from fiction or literary memoirs. You're likely to be asked...

  • questions about the main theme
  • questions about the narrator's tone and intent (e.g. what did the narrator mean when she used this particular phrase or word?)
  • which questions are and are not answered by the passage

Social Science

These passages usually consist of straightforward discussions of topics in the social sciences, including areas like psychology (study of the mind), sociology (study of societies), and education. You're likely to be asked...

(Video) Four 4 Types of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know

  • to paraphrase how information from the passage describes subject of the passage
  • which statements the author would agree with (that is, what's the main point of the passage)

If the passage is about a particular person (like Harriet Tubman), there will often be questions about the passage subject’s point of view, rather than author’s point of view (in contrast with Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative or Humanities passages, which often deal with the author or narrator's points of view).


These passages from can be from personal essays or memoirs, as well as on humanities subject areas like the arts, literature, media, or philosophy.

Questions on Humanities passages are similar to Prose Fiction in that you're more likely to be asked about the tone or point of view of the passage or the narrator as compared to the Social Science or Natural Science passages.

Natural Science

These passages are nonfiction writing about SCIENCE. The topics can range from subjects that you've probably covered in school, like bio, chemistry, or physics, to more esoteric areas like astronomy, technology, or medicine (no paleontology yet, but I can always dream).

You do not need a science background to understand the passages; all you need are solid reading comprehension skills. (The same is true of the ACT Science section). Becoming familiar with science writing, however, might make you feel less intimidated by these passages when you have to deal with them on the ACT.

Similar to Social Science questions, Natural Science questions tend to be more focused on specific detail or statements that can be backed up with evidence from passage. A typical question you might see is "Which of the following statements is supported by the information in the fourth paragraph?"

How Do I Know Where My Problems Are?

So how do you know if you struggle with some passage types more than others? Follow these steps to find out your weaknesses.

Step 1: Take a timed practice ACT test, in order, and score it.

Because Reading appears third on the ACT, it's important to take it as part of an entire timed and in-order ACT. How your brain copes with the Reading section when you're just practicing reading passages and answering questions on them is very likely different than how it will do after it's been tired out by English and Math.

Step 2: Compare your Social Studies/Sciences and Arts/Literature subscores.

Your Social Studies/Sciences subscore is simply the combination of your scores on questions on Social Science and Natural Science passages, while your Arts/Literature subscore is the combination of your scores on questions on Prose Fiction/Literary Narrative/Humanities passages. Most official scoring charts will provide you with the information you'll need to calculate these subscores, which will be out of 20. You can even calculate them for yourself: your Arts/Litereature subscore = questions 1-10 + questions 21-30, while Social Studies/Sciences subscore = questions 11-20 + questions 31-40.

(Video) Types of ACT Reading Questions - Chegg Test Prep

Is there a significant difference between your Social Studies/Sciences and Arts/Literature subscores? More than a 1-2 point difference between subscores indicates a difference worth checking into. For instance, if you got a 12/20 Social Studies/Sciences subscore and a 17/20 Arts/Literature subscore, you definitely would want to focus your studying on Social Science and Natural Science passages.

Step 3: For each of the four passage types, compare how many questions you answered incorrectly.

Since there are 10 questions in each section, it's pretty easy to do percentages - 1 question wrong is 90%, 4 questions wrong is 60%, and so on. Comparing your scores on each of the passage types can be really illuminating, because it can shed light on areas you may not have realized you had issues with.

Remember, it’s not just important that you’re comfortable with reading the passages: it’s important that you can successfully extract info from them to answer questions correctly.

Example from my life: Prose Fiction passages are the least straightforward to read for me, but I find the questions on these types of passages the easiest because there are fewer concrete things to ask about (especially when compared to Social Science or Natural Science passages). When I did a timed practice Reading ACT, I got 1 wrong on Social Science and 2 wrong on Natural Sciences passages; if I were taking the test for real, I would start my studying by first focusing on Natural Science passages and then Social Science passages.

Step 4: To be absolutely certain, take multiple timed ACT practice tests

Sometimes, even if you normally do well on a passage type, a particularly difficult passage can throw you and cause you to get more questions wrong than you normally would in that area. If you think that might have been the case on the timed ACT practice test you took, and you have the time, do not hesitate to take another timed practice test. The more accurate data you have, the better you can structure your studying.

Step 5: Once you know which passages you struggle with questions on, focus your reading preparation on those passages.

While there are some questions that tend to appear more on some passage types than others (more on this in upcoming articles), most of the different types of questions can and will be asked about each of the four passage types. By focusing on the particular passage type you have trouble with, you'll both increase your skill at extracting information from passages you find challenging as well as familiarizing yourself with the different ways the ACT will question you (a skill which then will carry across all passage types).

The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know (2)The detective by paurian, used under CC BY 2.0.

(Video) ACT Reading - Complete Practice Reading Passages with Chase and then Q&A

Be a detective and hunt down your weakest ACT Reading passage types.

What Do I Do Next?

Now that you know about the 4 types of passages, learn more about how to do well on ACT Reading.

Want more in depth information aboutwhat's actually tested onACT Reading? We have the article for you.

Find out the best way to approach ACT Reading passages with our complete guide.

Having problems with finishing the ACT Reading in time? Read our article for tips on how to avoid this dreadful fate.

Aiming for a top score? Read about how you can get a 36 on ACT Reading.

Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points?

Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice ACT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.

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(Video) How Often Does Each Type of ACT Reading Question Appear on the Exam

The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know (3)

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The 4 Types Of ACT Reading Passages You Should Know (4)

Laura Staffaroni

About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.


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.

Which subtest has 4 different types of passages? ›

The 4 Types of Passages You'll See on ACT Reading
  • The ACT reading section requires students to answer 40 questions across four (or occasionally five) different passages in 35 minutes. ...
  • These passages are literary stories or narratives borrowed from various authors.
4 Mar 2016

What is the fastest way to answer on the ACT? ›

Step-By-Step: How to Break Down ACT Reading Questions
  1. Step 1: Do a Quick Read of the Question (and the Relevant Line Numbers If Applicable) ...
  2. Step 2: Underline Important Terms and Phrases. ...
  3. Step 2.5: Rephrase the Question (If Necessary) ...
  4. Step 3: Consider Relevant Evidence in the Passage and Make an Answer Prediction.
27 Feb 2016

What are the different types of passages? ›

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

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

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.

How long does it take to get ACT scores back? ›

Multiple choice scores are normally available two weeks after each national test date, but it can sometimes take up to eight weeks.

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 should I study for ACT? ›

The Most Important Things to Study for the ACT
  • English: Punctuation and Grammar. Ah yes, punctuation and grammar! ...
  • Math: Pre/Basic Algebra. ...
  • Reading: Reading Strategically. ...
  • Science: Graphs and Charts. ...
  • Final Thoughts.
21 Jun 2016

What is the most common answer on the ACT? ›

The idea that C is the best answer to choose when guess-answering a question on a multiple choice test rests on the premise that ACT answer choices are not truly randomized. In other words, the implication is that answer choice C is correct more often than any other answer choice.

Is a 19 on the ACT good? ›

What Is a Good ACT Score Overall? A good ACT score ranks you higher than the majority of test-takers. As such, any composite score above the 50th percentile, or 19-20, can be considered a solid score.

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.

What are the 5 types of reading passages on the SAT? ›

The SAT® Reading section consists of five passages from three different genres: literary narrative, science, and history and social science. These five passages include a combination of modern and classic published works.

What is a passage in reading? ›

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

What are the different types of reading comprehension? ›

While, according to Barret's taxonomy, there are five types of reading comprehension: literal comprehension, reorganization, inferential, evaluation, and appreciation.

What score would you get if you guessed on the ACT? ›

Even if you guessed on every question, you'd get a composite score of around 11-13. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you will get the lowest possible score—or even a score lower than 11—on the ACT.

How many questions can you miss on the ACT to get a 25? ›

Overall, you can skip/get wrong around 50 questions per ACT test to get a composite score of 26. For English, you can skip/miss 14 questions on average to get a 26. For Math, you can skip/miss 17 questions on average to get a 26. For Reading, you can skip/miss 11 questions on average to get a 26.

What is a perfect ACT score? ›

The highest possible score on the ACT is 36. The current average ACT score is 21. A "good" ACT score depends on the colleges and universities you are considering.

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.

Do colleges prefer 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 SAT or ACT better for math? ›

The two exams may appeal to different types of students, says Jumamil. A key difference is that students with a strong English background "may flourish on the ACT," which puts more emphasis on verbal skills, she says, while for students who are strong in math, "the SAT may reflect that much better."

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.

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.


1. Understanding The 4 MOST IMPORTANT Question Types to DOMINATE the ACT READING Test
(Star Tutors)
2. ACT Reading: Improve Your Fiction Reading Comprehension | Kaplan SAT & ACT Prep
(Kaplan SAT & ACT Prep)
3. EVERY ACT Reading Passage Type IN 3 MINUTES SexyJ Quick & Dirty Tip #23
4. Best Ways to Approach ACT Reading Passages Strategies
(Top Tier Tutoring)
5. 10 Must Know ACT Reading Strategies to Raise Your Score
(Top Tier Tutoring)
6. ACT Reading Test: Analyzing the Passage

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