On both the ACT and the SAT, reading passages can pose a challenge. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see at least one passage on any given test that you think is Just. Plain. Boring.
Boring passages are hard to read—you zone out, you miss details, you wind up re-reading the same paragraph three times, and you waste valuable test time. Worse yet, doing poorly on just ONE boring passage can seriously mess up your entire verbal score—miss four questions on a boring passage, and you could see a thirty-point drop in your overall score.
So how can you cope with these rather boring passages in order to boost your test scores? Here are some ACT reading tips for dealing with boring passages.
1. Read Actively
Active reading means that you’re actively looking for things as you read. It’s a lot harder to zone out if you’re looking for specific things while you read, so look for the main ideas, shifts in tone, and the purpose of each paragraph as you read the passage. You still want to get the gist of the passage itself, but by looking for these individual components instead of just trying to absorb the passage contents, you can help stay focused and (hopefully) only read the entire passage once.
2. Keep Your Pencil on the Page
On the reading section, this means using your active reading skills to annotate the passage. Underline important sentences, jot quick little notes in the margins, and find ways to keep the pencil on the page in order to keep your mind from wandering. These notes will help you find the most relevant parts of the passage as you work through each question, so it’s a win-win!
3. Make It a Race
If you’ve got a competitive streak, make the reading section a race against yourself. Time yourself as you work through each passage and question set, and try to beat your previous time with each subsequent passage. This ACT reading tip makes you less likely to zone out if you’re determined to get through the passage quickly.
4. Remember Why You’re There
In the end, nothing is going to make a boring passage suddenly interesting. You’ll need a good amount of self-discipline to slog through a passage that you find dull as dirt. It helps to remind yourself of why you’re taking the test in the first place – you know the SAT and the ACT are important, or you wouldn’t bother reading about how to get your scores higher. The tests are certainly important enough to force yourself through some boring reading material. You got this!
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
The more you practice with realistic ACT reading passages, the better you’ll become at slogging through the boredom. On the March 2018 SAT, many students identified a particular Charles Dickens passage as being particularly difficult. It was drawn from Chapter 18 of Dickens’s American notes, which you can find here. If you really want to test your mettle, give it a read!