Imagine a text that goes ' Ugly mess called sprawl. Communities destroyed. Laws and policies. Incentives for sprawl. Why so concerned about sprawl? About more than bricks and mortar. Corroding the sense of community. One form of sprawl, strip malls. Sprawl's other form, spread-out residential subdivisions. Affordable housing. Who picks up extra costs? We all do. Higher taxes. Government riddled with policies that encourage sprawl. Current zoning laws. Impossible to create compact walkable environment. Insist on sensible land-use panning.'
These are 75 words from a 750 ACT reading passage, so ten percent of the text. A bit stream of consciousness? Yes maybe, but you get a lot from just reading these ten percent.
The text is about sprawl. Sprawl is not good. It destroys communities. We don't care because we think we can save money. But sprawl increases taxes, so we lose money somewhere else. There are two types of sprawl: commercial and residential. Stopping sprawl is difficult because zoning laws support the spread of sprawl. The solution is to have more sensible land-use planning.
This is pretty much all you need to know about the text before having a shot at answering the questions. Surprisingly, all of it is in only a very small portion of the text.
So, one of the key skills in the ACT reading section is to identify the most important parts of a text and don't get lost in the details.
One of the big dangers of tackling a reading passage is to get lost in the details it contains. If you try to keep everything you read in you head, you'll end up understanding nothing at all.
In the ACT you don't read in a conventional sense. The aim is not to read each and every last word but to find the really important words that make up the framework of the text. This type of reading should actually rather be called searching or rummaging.
Imagine you're in a messy antiques shop looking for a couple of specific items. How are you going to proceed? Painstakingly examine each and every item? No, probably not. The way to find what you want before going crazy is to scan the piles of items for signs of something interesting. The same counts for the ACT reading passage: you just want to find the items you are looking for.
A lot of the time, when students have problems dealing with the reading sections, this is only due to the fact that they don't understand that conventional reading and ACT reading are two very different activities.
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