Monday, December 7, 2009

Successful Approach for CUNY ACT Reading

Most students have the ability to pass the CUNY ACT Reading Exam, but some students with the ability to pass may fail because of bad habits. If they apply a few pointers in their approach to this test, they can pass. I’ve been mentioning these pointers to my students throughout this semester, as I have in previous semesters.

First of all, what does not work is the habit of reading the passages hastily (quickly and carelessly) and reading only once.  Also, not taking the time to check your answers does not work. This mentality (common in students who fail the ACT Reading Exam) of quickly getting it over with does not work. This is evidently true to me and other teachers who’ve seen students fail with this ineffective approach.

If you have this ineffective tendency or habit, you must change it. If you rush to finish quickly, you will fail quickly, leading to prolonged misery (in being held stagnant in your college career not allowed to take many of your core classes until you pass the ACT reading exam. You would be spending unnecessary extra time and money.) For those who still refuse to change, it has been said that it is absurd to do something same way again and again, and expect a different result. Clinging to the same habit that led to your failure will put you back in the same place.

Here’s the approach of students who pass the CUNY ACT Reading exam. This approach involves working in a fashion that may be tedious, but it is better to “suffer” in the short-term than to fail the CUNY ACT Reading again, and suffer in the long term. The effective approach in passing the ACT Reading can be summed up in one sentence:

Have the discipline and endurance to read to obtain an in-depth understanding of the passage (not neglecting any details.) Be meticulous, not hasty.

Here’s how. The following is a specific list of what you should do to increase ACT Reading comprehension (which would result in a higher reading score):

1. Ask for scrap paper at the beginning of the test.
2. After reading each paragraph, sum it up in a phrase or sentence (on the provided scrap paper and label it with the paragraph number) before moving on to the next paragraph. (Do this for every paragraph.)
3. When you finish reading one passage, pause for a few seconds to state to yourself the main message (or main point) of the entire passage in one sentence, and write it down. Think also about the tone or attitude of the author. (For example, does he have an objective tone or an opinionated tone? Is he strongly for or against an issue covered by his writing?) Write it down (or at least do it in your head) before you move on to answer the questions for the passage.
4. When you answer the questions, use the process of elimination (POE).
5. The following are various types of questions commonly found in CUNY ACT Reading Exams:
  • Vocabulary questions. When you come across a vocabulary question, go back to the passage and re-read the passage from the beginning up to the place where the word is found in the passage. Do this even if you know the definition of the word (since the word in the context of the passage may be different from the definition of which you know.)
  • Main point questions. When you come across a question that requires you to know the main message, or main point of the passage, re-read the entire passage.
  • Questions about the author’s attitude or tone. Re-read the entire passage before you answer.
  • Questions about the attitude of a character in the story, or passage. When you come across a question about the attitude of a character in the passage, re-read the entire passage.
  • Questions about a specific point in the passage.  Often, you may still get this type of question wrong even if you find the location of that point in the passage, if you do not keep in mind the overall main point of the entire passage.
  • Whenever you are in doubt about a question, re-read the entire passage.
From my experience, students who started to apply these pointers drastically improved in answering the vocabulary questions correctly. Students who refused to do so continued to get these common types of questions wrong, and they continued to fail the ACT Reading.

By the time you are done with the entire exam, you should have read the passages at least three times (but probably more.) If so, you’ve greatly increased your chances of passing this exam.

If I am to simplify this lesson into one word, that word would be – RE-READ. Speed counts for nothing (in the CUNY ACT Reading), as this exam is not timed. Having the discipline to endure in the short-term to get in depth understanding will lead to passing the ACT Reading Exam.

When you do practice tests, apply everything I’ve mentioned here (so that they become habit.) If you are my student, all of these should just be a review.

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Copyright: © 2009. This document is the sole property of Amadeo Constanzo. You may use this article for free on your web site, blog, or other publication if and only if you include this entire copyright notice including the following links and statement. Other free teachings from Amadeo Constanzo can be found at and

Shu Chan 陳樹中 University of California UC Davis

Terence Chan LIU Long Island University

Another ACT Writing Prompt

The content of this entry has been removed because the ACT Writing exam has changed. It is now known as the CATW exam. For information and practice exercises for the new CATW implemented in the Fall 2010 semester, go to: