Additional Reading Strategies
Reading Strategies for the 99 percentile students to enable to get even the hardest ACT Reading questions and tackle the hard reading passages
August 29, 2020
Hopefully, on test day, most if not all of your passages will be straightforward. You’ll breeze along and nail one question after another, and you may even feel like you’ll have a few extra minutes. But then, it happens.
You turn the page and come up against a passage that makes your heart sink. What does this word, this sentence, this whole paragraph mean? What do you do?
First, try re-reading the sentence. If it’s still a mystery, admit it. (Perhaps the most dangerous move you can make when you’re confused is to pretend that you’re not! Pretending to understand leads you to add in ideas that are not in the passage, and makes you more likely to fall for trap answers.) Second, try to figure out what is happening around the text that you do not understand. By knowing how this part relates to the rest of the passage, you may be able to get by without actually understanding the confusing details.
Whatever you do, don’t let a term or paragraph throw you off for the rest of the passage. You don’t want to say, “I don’t know what an organophosphate is, and I can’t pronounce it, so I can’t understand this paragraph.”
Keep reading and, if necessary, come up with a shorter nickname for any tough words. Maybe you’ll read on and find that the passage is mostly concerned with DNA, which you’re told is an organophosphate, and you won’t need to deal with the term at all. Or maybe you can simply note that “DNA is an O” and move on from there. Another similar tactic is to assign basic categories to confusing terms. Is the organophosphate a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this passage?
To help you with those blues, we have constructed a drill below.
Drill 1: Read Around the Blanks
In this drill, we’ve taken some pretty complex text from academic texts and replaced some of the words with random Turkish and Danish words. As you read, see how much you can figure out about the replaced words by using the context of each short passage.
- When placed on a surface containing a high concentration of VUNDET, worms become BRUGEN. In the present study, the authors found that this paralysis could be overcome by mutating the gene OMHULLEN the ser-2 KITAP. They also found another gene with the same effect, suggesting its involvement in the same GUC.
- While critics contend that the views expounded on in Against Method are SKREVET to scientific anarchism, its author Paul Feyerabend maintains that his views stem not from a desire to promote scientific OPRINDELSE so much as from a recognition that many of the fundamental DIZGIYE of science—rationality, RASTGELE, and objectivity, for example are as seriously flawed as the “subjective” paths to truth that scientists are quick to UZANAN.
- Certainly children, whose CEVIZI arise not only from their OKYANUS impulses, but also from the world in which they have lived from the beginning, will be eager to know the past that is of YÜZME concern to the present. It is a clear gain in the psychology of instruction if history is a socially live thing. The children will be more eager to MUZ knowledge; they will hold it longer, because it is EKMEK.
- The recent genealogical NEHIR of human populations is a complex BOYAMA formed by individual migration, large-scale population MESAFE, and other RÜYA events. Population genomics YELKENCILIK can provide a window into this recent history, as rare traces of recent shared genetic ancestry are modulated due to long segments of shared genomic material.
- VUNDET must refer to some sort of chemical that has the effect of making the worms BRUGEN. In the second sentence, we learn that VUNDET causes paralysis, so we’ll call VUNDET “bad stuff,” and BRUGEN must be a synonym for paralyzed. Meanwhile, some gene is doing something called OMHULLEN to the ser-2 KITAP (whatever that is), and this stops the paralysis. We’ll accept that we don’t know what all this means, but we know it’s something that makes worms move. We don’t know what GUC is either, but it seems to be about a process or mechanism that’s the same as in the last sentence. So, we know that two genes affect the ser-2 KITAP and thereby overcome paralysis.
Actual words: tyramine, immobilized, encoding, receptor, pathway
- At first, the only thing that jumps out is that SKREVET describes how Feyerabend’s views relate to scientific anarchism. From the title, Against Method, and the complaints of critics, can we assume that he is being accused of anarchism? If so, then SKREVET would mean “the same as,” but if we’re wrong, it could mean “opposed to.” Now, the author is defending himself, so if we’re right about SKREVET, then OPRINDELSE would mean something similar to “anarchism.” “Fundamental” and the subsequent list of lofty ideals tell us that DIZGIYE means rule or principle. RASTGELE is a principle of science - something about being scientific! The last sentence makes it clear that Feyerabend believes the principles of science are flawed, making it a bit clearer that SKREVET means that his ideas are similar to or leading to scientific anarchism. Now, what does UZANAN mean? It seems that the fundamentals of science are just as flawed as the subjective ways that scientists are quick to…what? Criticize? That’s certainly a common phrase, and from the context, we can guess that we are looking at something scientists don’t like. UZANAN must be a synonym for “criticize.”
Actual words: tantamount, chaos, tenets, empiricism, repudiate
- Skipping to OKYANUS first, the “not only X but also Y” structure suggests that it’s different from “the world in which they have lived from the beginning.” So OKYANUS probably means something like “inherent,” as opposed to something you learn from the outside world. Going back to CEVIZI, we can guess that it refers to something that arises from inherent impulses; maybe it’s something like “desires.” Since we’ve just read about the connection between children and the world they live in, we can infer that the author believes they’ll be interested in history that connects to the present, so YÜZME means something like “significant.” The middle sentence states that there will be gains in the psychology of instruction. The last sentence appears to be describing what those gains will be. If children’s eagerness to MUZ knowledge counts as a gain in the psychology of instruction, MUZ must mean “obtain,” since education aims to have children obtain knowledge. From the last sentence, it’s clear that if something is EKMEK, you will want to hold it longer, so EKMEK probably means “valuable.”
Actual words: interests, innate, dominant, acquire, significant
- All we know about NEHIR so far is that it’s something that recently happened with the human population. BOYAMA is complex and is the product of migration and other events. Since we’re talking about recent population changes, this must mean something like “mixture.” (Here, we can also use our awareness that standardized test passages often focuses on diversity.) “Large-scale population MESAFE” is in the same category of causes as individual migration, so MESAFE probably means something quite close to “migration.” Since the first two elements in the list are about people moving around, RUYA probably means “related to people moving around.” Population genomics YELKENCILIK must be some sort of analytical or scientific technique – let’s just call it “the Technique.” The phrase “this recent history” allows us to go back and fill in the meaning of NEHIR: it must be history, since the word “this” signals that “recent history” has already been mentioned in the passage.
Actual words: organs, leaves, petals, stamens, common
Drill 2: Redacted Passage
It’s time to increase the challenge, so we’ve reproduced the below passage and redacted some information. You’re sure to feel that you’re missing something here and there, so don’t aim for perfection. Move on when you’ve gotten as far as you can with a question. You’ll be surprised how many questions you can answer even with lots of material missing. This is good practice for trying to answer questions even when you don’t understand the passage!
When the same habitat types (forests, oceans, grasslands, etc.) in regions of different latitudes are compared, it becomes apparent that the overall number of species increases from pole to equator. latitudinal gradient is probably even more pronounced than current records indicate, since researchers believe that most undiscovered species live in the tropics. One hypothesis to explain this phenomenon, the “time theory,” holds that diverse species adapted to today’s climatic conditions have had more time to emerge in the tropical regions, which, unlike the temperate and arctic zones, have been unaffected by a succession of ice ages. However, ice ages have caused less disruption in some temperate regions than in others and have not interrupted arctic conditions. Alternatively, the species-energy hypothesis proposes the following positive correlations: incoming energy from the Sun correlated with rates of growth and reproduction; rates of growth and reproduction with the amount of living matter (biomass) at a given moment; and the amount of biomass with number of species. However, since organisms may die rapidly, high production rates can exist with low biomass. And high biomass can exist with few species. Moreover, the mechanism proposed—greater energy influx leading to bigger populations, thereby lowering the probability of local extinction—remains untested. A third hypothesis centers on the tropics’ climatic stability, which provides a more reliable supply of resources. Species can thus survive even with few types of food, and competing species can tolerate greater overlap between their respective niches. Both capabilities enable more species to exist on the same resources. However, the ecology of local communities cannot account for the origin of the latitudinal gradient. Localized ecological processes such as competition do not generate regional pools of species, and it is the total number of species available regionally for colonizing any particular area that makes the difference between for example, a forest at the equator and one at a higher-latitude. A fourth and most plausible hypothesis focuses on regional speciation, and in particular on rates of speciation and extinction. According to this hypothesis, if speciation rates become higher toward the tropics, and are not negated by extinction rates, then the latitudinal gradient would result—and become increasingly steep. The mechanism for this rate-of-speciation hypothesis is that most new animal species, and perhaps plant species, arise because a population subgroup becomes isolated. This subgroup evolves differently and eventually cannot interbreed with members of the original population. The uneven spread of a species over a large geographic area promotes this mechanism: at the edges, small populations spread out and form isolated groups.
1. Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main idea of the passage?
A. At present, no single hypothesis explaining the latitudinal gradient in numbers of species is more widely accepted than any other
B. The tropical climate is more conducive to species diversity than are arctic or temperate climates
C. Several explanations have been suggested for global patterns in species distribution, but a hypothesis involving rates of speciation seems most promising
D. Despite their differences, the various hypotheses regarding a latitudinal gradient in species diversity concur in predicting that the gradient can be expected to increase
2. Which one of the following situations is most consistent with the species-energy hypothesis as described in the passage?
A. The many plants in a large agricultural tract represent a limited range of species
B. An animal species experiences a death rate almost as rapid as its rate of growth and reproduction
C. Within the small number of living organisms in a desert habitat, many different species are represented
D. In arctic tundra, the plants and animals exhibit a slow rate of growth and reproduction
3. As presented in the passage, the principles of the time theory most strongly support which one of the following predictions?
A. In the absence of additional ice ages, the number of species at high latitudes could eventually increase significantly
B. No future ice ages are likely to change the climatic conditions that currently characterize temperate regions
C. If no further ice ages occur, climatic conditions at high latitudes might eventually resemble those at today’s tropical latitudes
D. Researchers will continue to find many more new species in the tropics than in the arctic and temperate zones
4. With which one of the following statements concerning possible explanations for the latitudinal gradient in number of species would the author be most likely to agree?
A. The time theory is the least plausible of proposed hypotheses, since it does not correctly assess the impact of ice ages upon tropical conditions
B. The rate-of-speciation hypothesis addresses a objection to the climatic-stability hypothesis
C. The major objection to the time theory is that it does not accurately reflect the degree to which the latitudinal gradient exists, especially when undiscovered species are taken into account
D. An important advantage of the rate-of-speciation theory is that it considers species competition in a regional rather than local context
Overall Summary of the Passage
Paragraph 1: Presentation of a phenomenon. There are more species near the equator than near the poles. The odds are good we can expect the rest of the passage to give some kind of explanation for this phenomenon.
Paragraph 2: Presentation of a theory to account for the phenomenon. Species in the tropics have had more time to adapt to today’s conditions. It seems likely that the “time theory” is an explanation for what we saw in the last paragraph.
Paragraph 3: Some kind of objection? We don’t have enough here to know if this is an objection to the time theory mentioned in the previous paragraph, or if we’ve moved on to some other theory, but the author seems to be objecting to something. The word “moreover” indicates that the problem we see here is not the only problem.
Paragraph 4: Elimination of a theory? The ecology of local communities cannot account for the origin of the latitudinal gradient. The author seems to be objecting to an explanation for the phenomenon presented in the first paragraph (now we’re calling it the latitudinal gradient), but again, it’s hard to tell if this is connected to the time theory or not.
Paragraph 5: A fourth theory. Something about rates of speciation and extinction. Good news! The first sentence here tells us that we should already have seen three theories, so we now have a good idea of what was going on in the third and fourth paragraphs. We also know that the author prefers this fourth theory because it’s said to be the “most plausible.” Maybe the author has been knocking off the other theories one by one.
Paragraph 6: Explanation of the fourth theory? Something about spreading out and forming groups that can’t interbreed. Paragraph five is brief and mainly tells us that the author likes the fourth theory, so this paragraph is almost certainly an elaboration of that theory.
1. This passage has given us four possible theories for the phenomenon in question, and the author prefers the fourth one, which has something to do with “regional speciation.” We’ll expect the correct answer to mention both the phenomenon and the preferred theory
A. Well, we know that the author prefers one theory over the others, so this doesn’t seem right, even if we don’t know if the author’s favorite is “widely accepted.”
B. This doesn’t sound like the fourth theory.
C. This looks good and is the correct answer. The fourth theory is about rates of speciation, and is used to explain the distribution of species.
D. Nothing we can see says that the four theories make the same prediction. We can’t be sure that isn’t in the redacted portion, but even if it were, it wouldn’t be the main idea.
2. In this case, we can feel pretty confident that this is referring to the third paragraph because that’s the only one that mentions energy. What do we know? Someone seems to think that the greater energy available in the tropics would lead to bigger populations less likely to go extinct. Hopefully, one of the answers will address this element, rather than the missing part that the author objects.
A. Where is this agricultural tract? There’s nothing here to connect to what we have of the third paragraph. Also, wouldn’t the plants in any area represent a limited range of species?
B. It’s hard to see what to do with this. What does it have to do with energy? Maybe this connects to the author’s preferred theory, which includes rates of extinction. And again, this seems like it could be true for any area, regardless of how much energy was available.
C. Hmm, this seems plausible. Maybe the desert has more energy and so can produce more species. But wait - the passage is talking about large populations. This is talking about large numbers of different species within a small overall population. It’s hard to say for sure, but this might be a closer match with the next paragraph.
D. This seems to match what we have and is the correct answer. If the tropics are getting more energy, which lead to large populations, the opposite is probably happening in the arctic.
3. All we know about the time theory is that well-adapted species have had more time to evolve in the tropics, presumably because they have had the same type of climate for a longer time. Now we’re supposed to use that to predict something.
A. If there are no more ice ages, perhaps creatures will have time to adapt to new conditions. This is the correct answer.
B. This is actually saying that ice ages aren’t likely to have an effect on the climate in some regions. We don’t know anything about that. Why wouldn’t ice ages affect the climate?
C. This could be true - serious global warming? - but this is like choice B in that it just seems to be about what will happen with the climate and doesn’t say anything about the number of species.
D. This is about scientists finding new species. That’s something else entirely.
4. This is a harder general question than the last one, but the right answer is likely to say something about the speciation theory being better than the others.
A. Comparison trap? The unredacted parts of the passage don’t provide any comparison between the first three theories in terms of plausibility.
B. This has some details in it that we don’t know much about, but it does say that the rate-of speciation hypothesis does something good. Let’s keep it.
C. We don’t know what the major objection to the time theory is. Defer.
D. This also gives us a positive aspect of the speciation theory. Let’s keep it.
At this point, we haven’t eliminated many answers. This question wasn’t as general as it looked! Our rough prediction was that we wanted to see something positive about the speciation theory, and that would land us on a 50/50 split between choices B and D. Not a perfect situation to be in, but still not bad.
For all the curious minds, the following is the complete reproduced passage.
When the same habitat types (forests, oceans, grasslands, etc.) in regions of different latitudes are compared, it becomes apparent that the overall number of species increases from pole to equator. This latitudinal gradient is probably even more pronounced than current records indicate, since researchers believe that most undiscovered species live in the tropics. One hypothesis to explain this phenomenon, the “time theory,” holds that diverse species adapted to today’s climatic conditions have had more time to emerge in the tropical regions, which, unlike the temperate and arctic zones, have been unaffected by a succession of ice ages. However, ice ages have caused less disruption in some temperate regions than in others and have not interrupted arctic conditions. Alternatively, the species-energy hypothesis proposes the following positive correlations: incoming energy from the Sun correlated with rates of growth and reproduction; rates of growth and reproduction with the amount of living matter (biomass) at a given moment; and the amount of biomass with number of species. However, since organisms may die rapidly, high production rates can exist with low biomass. And high biomass can exist with few species. Moreover, the mechanism proposed—greater energy influx leading to bigger populations, thereby lowering the probability of local extinction—remains untested. A third hypothesis centers on the tropics’ climatic stability, which provides a more reliable supply of resources. Species can thus survive even with few types of food, and competing species can tolerate greater overlap between their respective niches. Both capabilities enable more species to exist on the same resources. However, the ecology of local communities cannot account for the origin of the latitudinal gradient. Localized ecological processes such as competition do not generate regional pools of species, and it is the total number of species available regionally for colonizing any particular area that makes the difference between for example, a forest at the equator and one at a higher-latitude. A fourth and most plausible hypothesis focuses on regional speciation, and in particular on rates of speciation and extinction. According to this hypothesis, if speciation rates become higher toward the tropics, and are not negated by extinction rates, then the latitudinal gradient would result—and become increasingly steep. The mechanism for this rate-of-speciation hypothesis is that most new animal species, and perhaps plant species, arise because a population subgroup becomes isolated. This subgroup evolves differently and eventually cannot interbreed with members of the original population. The uneven spread of a species over a large geographic area promotes this mechanism: at the edges, small populations spread out and form isolated groups.
The concept of effective scanning is simple: Research consistently shows that if we instruct our brain to look for specific information and then scan a text, we are much more likely to find that information when we scan through the text, and in much less time.
However, scanning is effective only when we instruct our brains to search for specific words and not concepts. For example, it is not an effective strategy if we are trying to find “meteors killed Dinosaurs and brought the onset of the ice age,” but it will be extremely useful if we are trying to find “Tyrannosaurus.”
Figure out the one or two words that you know are the ‘key’ to answering the question at hand. Using the skimming approach, you’ll read through the passage at lightning speed to find the keyword(s) as quickly as possible. Then, should go back to the passage to skim for those words, dragging your index finger down the page as you scan. This may seem like a minor detail, but it is extremely important: it establishes a physical connection between your eye and the page, reducing the chance that you will overlook the necessary information.
As you skim, pay particular attention to the first and last sentence of each paragraph because they are most likely to include important points. Even if they don’t provide the information necessary to answer the question, they will often provide valuable clues about where the information is located.
Each time a keyword or phrase appears, stop and read a sentence or two above and below it for context. If that part of the passage does not help answer the question, move on, and check the next place the keyword/phrase shows up. Your goal is to avoid falling into a loop of reading and re-reading a portion of. A passage, searching for information that isn’t there.
If you “prime” your brain to look for specific information, even for only a few seconds, then immediately scan a text, you’re VASTLY more likely to find that information and in much less time.
- If you need to find information without a line number, figure out ONE word that you KNOW will “mark” the relevant information.
- Use the skimming technique to find that word in no time flat.
If a question asks you something like this: Why did Maria’s grandmother not trust the market near her house?
Use the word “market” as your keyword - you KNOW that the information you need will contain that word – and then fly through the text with your finger until you see it.
Do NOT read at regular speed or rely on your eyes to generally “skim.” Instead, drag your finger along the page until you see the keyword.
If you’re asked, “Which of the following four things are NOT mentioned in the passage?” prime your brain with the first “thing,” speed scan until you find it, kill it, and then repeat with the other “things” until only one man is left standing. Rather than reading the whole darn passage again and again, you can rely on rapid-fire skimming to find the specific info you’re looking for.
The first time you use this approach, it’s going to seem a bit weird. It might be tough to come up with good keywords, or it might seem strange to force your brain to ONLY look for one or two words at a time. But the more practice you get, the faster and more accurate you’ll become. So, have at it! And once you’re done, do it again!