An Update to the ACT Reading Section

In early July 2021, ACT announced a small, but not insignificant, change to the Reading section of the exam: the inclusion of "Visual and Quantitative Information" questions. ACT describes this new addition as part of the Reading Test Description:

Beginning in 2021, one passage in the Reading Section may be accompanied by a graph, figure, or table that contains information relevant to the reading task. In the passages containing these visual and quantitative elements, some of the questions will ask the student to integrate the information from the passage and graphic to determine the best answer. These items will contribute to the student’s score in the Integration of Knowledge and Ideas reporting category.

In short, the ACT will now include questions referencing one or multiple figures (tables, graphs, diagrams, or charts) accompanying one of its passages. The graphics will be similar to those featured on the SAT’s Reading section. Based on the sample passage provided by ACT and on similar question types on the SAT, it seems likely that these questions will focus on students’ abilities to correctly interpret or decipher patterns within the data, connect the data to the text, and understand how the data support the main idea of the passage. While it is unclear exactly when ACT will begin to introduce these questions, the phrase “beginning in 2021” means that students should be prepared to see these question types as early as the July 2021 exam.

To stay prepared, I would encourage students to use the sample passage linked in the above paragraph to familiarize themselves with the types of questions they may see. For additional examples of similar questions, students may also wish to practice with examples of Informational Graphics questions from the SAT or even some questions from ACT’s own Science section. Additionally, here a some quick tips to help students tackle these types of problems:

  1. Always be sure to read titles, keys/legends, and axes carefully. This will keep you from making faulty assumptions or misinterpreting data.
  2. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the details of a figure. Figures typically serve the same role as a paragraph: they support the passage’s main idea. Oftentimes, establishing that relationship can help all of the remaining details fall into place.
  3. Use process of elimination. Each question can only have one correct answer, which means there must be something wrong with each incorrect answer, such as information that is inconsistent with the data provided by the graph or conclusions that lie beyond the scope of the graph (another important reason to read the title and axes). 

Although the inclusion of a brand new question type may be unsettling for test takers, there are many positives to these types of questions. For one, students should take comfort in knowing that the types of graphs and figures appearing on the Reading section will most likely be similar to the very same ones they have encountered while studying for the ACT’s Science section. Additionally, the inclusion of graphics can often provide visual clues to help students more quickly and efficiently understand the information provided within the text; the graphic may even provide direct answers to questions without requiring a full comprehension of the text. Ultimately, this minor change should not have a major impact on most students and, in fact, may even prove an advantage.

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