Every ACT Reading section starts with a prose fiction passage. If you’re like most test takers, you may find this passage more difficult than the others that follow it.
Prose fiction passages don’t typically tell you what they’re about. Instead, they throw you right into the middle of a complex story without providing much contextual background. As if that weren’t bad enough, the questions often send you hunting for mundane details and don’t usually contain helpful line numbers.
All hope is not lost, however. Here are some powerful strategies to help you master this section.
- The passage and many of the questions are usually about a relationship between two people. Use this knowledge to your advantage. As you read, ask yourself about the two main characters. What are they like? What do they think or feel? At the same time, ask yourself about their relationship. How are they related? Is their relationship positive, negative or conflicted? If you answer these questions while you’re reading, you’ll be in great shape when it comes to the actual questions.
- You must constantly reassess what is happening in the story. Because the prose fiction passage begins in the middle of an ongoing story you know nothing about, it can be very difficult to figure out what exactly is happening. The more you read, however, the more will be revealed and the clearer things will become. Use any new contextual information to make sense of what’s happened so far. In other words, occasionally pause throughout the passage to regroup and make sense of the plot.
- Give yourself more time. With its obtuse plot and very specific questions, the prose fiction passage usually takes more time to complete than the other passages. A good way to split up your time is to spend 11 minutes on the prose fiction passage and 8 minutes on each of the three following passages.
- Map the passage. This is to help you answer those questions that ask for very specific details. Without a good map of the passage, these details can be nearly impossible to find. Note when the passage shifts topics in a major way and consider drawing line breaks to mark these shifts. You can also make short annotations to note what each section is about or any significant points in that passage. If you can divide the passage up into a few major sections, it will be easier to know where to look when a question asks about a specific detail.
- Note any mention of time when reading the passage. Prose fiction passages often include a question about when something happened. Whenever time is mentioned, make a special note of it. It’s likely there’ll be a question about it.