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  • Writer's picturePhilip Martin

The Benefits of the Passage Map on the ACT Reading Test

As students actively read each passage of the ACT Reading test, they are encouraged to "annotate." This is a typically scary word for high school students as it can mean many things for different teachers. Some teachers use the word to mean that students should summarize each paragraph out of a textbook in one complete sentence in their notes; other teachers mean that students should circle each vocabulary word that they can not define, then define it in the margins; some teachers mean that the thesis statement of each paragraph should be underlined; some teachers mean all of these things and more.

That is not what I mean when I say annotate. What I mean is this: as students actively (quickly) read the reading passage, they should summarize each paragraph in the margins in 1 to 5 words. If a paragraph is very long, a student could summarize the first and second halves of the paragraph in this way.

There are three main benefits to doing this quick scribbling:

1) Students are forced to look for and pay attention to the main purposes of each paragraph as opposed to getting hung up on details. Any given ACT Reading passage could feature hundreds of minute details (dates, descriptions, feelings, etc.), and the odds of any one of them being necessary in answering a question are small. By paying attention to the main purposes of each paragraph, students can more easily read quickly, giving them enough time to answer questions well (which is the only way to increase an ACT Reading score, if you think about it...)

2) Students have created what is called a "Passage Map." For example, let's say that an author spends the third paragraph of the Science passage (ACT Reading Passage IV) describing in detail the chemical composition of a medicine used to kill fleas on dogs. A student could write in the margin, "Flea killer med makeup." Then, when a question asks the student about the chemical composition of a medicine used to kill fleas on dogs, instead of scanning hundreds of words looking for the right ones, he or she has already written them in the margin. "Flea killer med makeup" is like the X on a map, showing one where to reread to find the answers.

3) On occasion (a couple of times per test), the ACT will ask this question: "What is the purpose of the third paragraph?" Well, if a student is annotating, he or she has already written the purpose out in the margin, which will likely match up fairly well with one of the 4 answer choices! Instead of rereading the paragraph and rethinking about the purpose, a student can bank that 20 to 30 seconds and apply it to future questions.

If you don't believe me, you can ask Nicole. I taught Nicole ACT prep and after her ACT, she emailed me in a hurry to let me know that her ACT Reading score had shot up 9 POINTS by putting these ACT Reading practices into place. I hope that you or your son or daughter can too!


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