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A Quick Reference Guide for Understanding ACT Reading Passages

ACT Reading always contains the same four types of passages: Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science. One of these passages will randomly be a pair of two shorter passages. To effectively comprehend the passages in the time allotted, you should approach each type with a different strategy. We’ve compiled these strategies into a handy reference guide. Print this guide out and keep it handy as you begin practicing the ACT Reading section.




  • Can be either fiction or nonfiction.
  • Use the “CAPS” approach to skim.
    • Identify the Characters
    • Identify their Attitudes
    • Identify the Problem (conflict)
    • Identify the Solution (or possible solution)
  • Note the tone and mood.
  • Keep an eye out for literary devices.



  • Usually has a stated thesis and purpose.
  • Read the 1st
  • Identify the thesis/main idea.
  • Identify the purpose: Analyze, Inform, Persuade, etc.
  • Read the last paragraph.
  • Identify any conclusions reached.
  • Read the first and last sentences of the remaining paragraphs.
  • Skim the rest for key words.



  • Broader definition than “real” humanities; functions as a “catch all” category for passages that don’t fit elsewhere.
  • Thesis is not always explicitly stated.
  • Follow same approach as for SOCIAL SCIENCE passages.
  • Is occasionally a narrative passage. If this happens, use “CAPS.”



  • Explicitly stated thesis/purpose
  • Follow same approach as for SOCIAL SCIENCE.
  • Do not be intimidated by advanced scientific terminology. These terms must be defined/explained elsewhere in the passage or in footnotes.


Dual Passages

  • Use the Passage I-IV strategies as appropriate. For example, if the Dual Passages are under the Passage III heading, use the HUMANITIES strategies.
  • Read passage A and answer its questions.
  • Read passage B and answer its questions.
  • Answer questions that refer to both passages last.

Remember: Similarities between passages are broad; differences are na


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