Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?


Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?

If you consider yourself a math and science-oriented person rather than humanities-oriented person, the reading section of the SAT and ACT can seem intimidating.

Don’t worry! The reading sections of these standardized tests are more logic and evidence-based than you might expect. Your logical thinking ability might even make it easier for you to eliminate some of the wrong answer choices.

In this article we will discuss three strategies you can use to approach the reading section of SAT and/or ACT if you consider yourself a math and science student.

Strategy #1. Understand the Fundamental Rule

Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?

It is extremely important that you understand the #1 Fundamental Rule of SAT and ACT Reading before you take the test of your choice.

Rule: There is one, and only one, unambiguously correct answer for every question. The correct answer will always be supported with the information from the passage. Eliminating wrong answer choices should be your key strategy to finding the right answer. The supporting information for the correct answer is also cause for elimination of all the wrong answer choices.  

Some of the answer choices are quite wordy and seemingly convoluted but understand this: every word in the answer choice must be true (as supported by the passage). If even one word is untrue that answer choice can and should be eliminated. If you are a math and science person, it might actually be easier for you to eliminate answer choices based on evidence found in the passage.

Your approach to SAT and ACT Reading passages should be very different from the way you approach reading assignments in school.

On the ACT and SAT you will never analyze the reading passages in depth. You must take each ACT and SAT reading passage at face value – what it says is what it means. Do NOT bring in any outside knowledge. Although some questions will ask you to look beyond the literal facts of the text, there will still be a direct chain of evidence from the passage leading to the correct answer.

Let’s take a look at an ACT inference question to illustrate this point.



This question is asking us to make an inference (i.e. interpretation) about what the phrase in quotes “I didn’t see the red, yellow, and purple clusters that meant flowers to me” means. We can use evidence from the passage to eliminate at least some of the answer choices. The sentence referenced in the question reads:


We can use information from this sentence to get rid of three wrong answer choices. The sentence said that the father mowed for several days and after he was finished the narrator could not see the flowers. It is reasonable to understand from this sentence that the father cut down all of the flowers.

We can eliminate answer choice B and D because they are irrelevant to why the narrator couldn’t see the flowers. Choice A is possible, but we do not have enough information to support it. That leaves choice C, “the flowers grown by the old woman had been cut down when Eugene’s father mowed the lawn.” Answer choice C is correct based on the context.

If you are a math and science-oriented student, you should have an easier time with this test because it has no subjectivity.

Strategy #2. Focus on the Evidence

Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?

Even when they appear subjective, reading questions on both ACT and SAT are evidence-based. Because standardized tests are constrained by time and space (a passage must not exceed the length of a page) the answers to all questions must relate to something explicitly stated in the passage.

If any questions were open to interpretation, the integrity of the exam would be compromised. Therefore, every reading question must be answered using evidence in the passage or referenced sentence. If you do not see evidence to support answer choice – it is incorrect.

Let’s illustrate this point with an example from an SAT test (old SAT – if you want to check it out).


Let’s go back to the sentence in the passage that contains lines referenced in the question.


From reading these lines, we can see that Isaac Newton is mentioned to highlight that a great thinker, like Isaac Newton, would be amazed to witness the current technological progress.

The main point of this excerpt is that technological progress has increased at a faster rate than anyone could have anticipated.

Based on this reasoning, we can pick the correct choice A, “emphasize the rapid rate of technological innovation.”

Newton’s name in the passage is used as a symbol of great thinkers, choices B, C, and D can be eliminated because they focus on Isaac Newton and not the current rate of progress.

Choice E can be eliminated because it does not have anything to do with the point made in the referenced lines.

Strategy #3. Read Smart

Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?

One aspect of the SAT and especially ACT reading sections that presents a big problem to most students is that they cannot finish the passages in the allotted time. This problem is especially persistent on the ACT because you have only 35 minutes to read four long passages and answer 40 questions. If you are a slow reader and you try to read every passage closely, you may run out of time and lose valuable points.

Similar to the way you are learning concepts and doing practice exams to increase your chances of a higher score on the ACT, you should also determine your best reading strategy before the test. Practicing with different methods will help you decide what method works best for you.

Method #1: Read the Questions First, Skim the Passage Later

With this strategy, you will not be able to answer all of the questions right away. However, there are many questions that reference specific line numbers in the passage.

As you answer the questions with line references, you will start to get a sense of the main idea presented in the passage. If you need to read some parts of the passage more closely for specific questions, you can do that on a question-by-question basis.

This strategy helps many students reduce test anxiety. You will have a better sense of confidence and much less pressure going forward if you answer a few questions immediately.

Method #2: Skim the Passage Before Reading the Questions

Although many students find this method as effective as the first one, this strategy requires knowing how to skim effectively. I recommend reading the introduction and the conclusion of the passage as well as the first and last sentence of each paragraph to understand the main point and arguments.

Skimming this way should give you most of the information you need to answer big picture questions about the passage. When you come across questions that reference specific lines from the passage, you should go back and read more carefully.

These methods take practice – Do Not go into the test unprepared if you struggle with time on the reading section! Try these strategies on timed practice tests first. Find out what method works for you, and apply this method on test day.


Can STEM People Do Well on SAT/ACT Reading?

Even if you consider yourself a STEM person, you should still do well on SAT or ACT reading sections. If you can think logically, the SAT and ACT reading sections could even be easier for you because you can eliminate irrelevant answer choices and zero in on the one correct answer choice.


  • each question has only one unambiguously correct answer that that has support from the information presented in the passage.
  • to focus on direct evidence – every word in an answer must be correct (as supported by the passage). If it is not, then that answer choice can be eliminated.
  • Decide on YOUR best reading strategy – practice with various strategies to determine what works best for you.

Do not let the SAT and ACT reading sections derail you just because you think you aren’t good at reading. The key to success is knowing what you are up against and practice, practice, practice!

Next Steps

Are you trying to decide whether to take ACT or SAT? To find out which one is better for you – read this article that compares and contrasts both exams.

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