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 Jun 06, 2020
Powerful Reader: an SAT & ACT Reading List

Looking to give your reading skills a boost? This guide and reading list can get you on the right track.

Click here to get the SAT & ACT Reading List!

Before I talk about ways to improve your reading ability over the long term, a quick piece of short term advice: If you want to improve your SAT and ACT scores over a period of weeks or a few months, the single best thing you can do is do timed practice SAT and ACT Reading sections from official tests.

While reading the New York Times or a novel every day is valuable work for becoming a powerful reader (see below), it won’t improve your SAT and ACT Reading scores in a week or a month. Nothing else will get you improvements on the task of SAT & ACT Reading more than doing the task of SAT & ACT Reading. My courses, videos, and articles all cover strategies on how to maximize your scores on these tests.

That said, if have a chunk time until your next SAT or ACT (>3 months) and you want to improve your reading comprehension skills, read on. The following tips and reading suggestions will help you become a more powerful reader: as you build your reading skills, you should be able to take any text, read it quickly and fluidly, comprehend its core argument or narrative, and have the ability analyze it, answer questions about it, and have something to say about it.

Sound good?

Being a powerful reader will not only lead to skyrocketing scores on the SAT and ACT Reading. It will also be a skill beneficial to you as you work your way through college, your career, and beyond. The ability to absorb, process, and work with information quickly and thoroughly is a valuable skill, so an investment in your reading skills now can pay dividends for the rest of your life.

Some Quick Tips

First, some guidelines and best practices about how to get the most out of your reading:

Read a little bit every day.

Build a reading habit that you can sustain for the long term. You don’t need to read hours every day – even 20 to 30 minutes of quality reading done consistently can make a huge difference.

Read stuff you enjoy.

You’ll have plenty of time to read stuff that doesn’t interest you, like SAT and ACT passages!

Select reading materials that pique your curiosity and you’ll find it easier to stick with your reading program and enjoy what you’re reading. This, in turn, will help you more fully engage with the material, improving your processing and analytical skills more quickly. The better reader you become, the more adeptly you’ll handle even the most boring reading passage on the test.

Read a mix of non-fiction and fiction.

One reason for student struggles on the SAT and ACT Reading test is that most of the reading you do in school is literature (fiction) in English class. No complaints there.

The major issue that results, however, is that many students are less equipped to read dense, non-fiction passages on topics as diverse as economics to biology to sociology to history. And since the majority of the passages on the SAT and ACT are non-fiction, your scores will be hurt if you only read fiction.

So make sure you read a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction. Each will teach you different analytical skills and broaden your knowledge base. The suggested list below will include a wealth of both fiction and nonfiction works, so I’ve got you covered.

Read a mix of short and long pieces.

It’s not necessary to only read long-form content.

Of course, I highly encourage you to read your share of novels and long non-fiction books. But reading shorter form content is often just as good. With shorter content, you can read more widely, more quickly, and build a broader base of knowledge. You can also get some “quick wins” to keep your reading momentum going – you’ll likely feel more accomplished reading 25 short- to medium- length pieces over reading one long, heavy book.

Still, there’s also massive value to reading longer works because they force you to grapple with an argument or narrative over a longer period of time and allow you to go deeper into the material. So try for a mix of short and long reading for best results.

Quality matters.

Not all writing is equally useful for becoming a powerful reader. Reading the ravings of your crazy uncle on Facebook might be fun, but their educational value is probably nil.

While you should read what interests you, make sure you’re reading widely, and from a diverse set of sources. If you’re just reading Tumblr, Facebook posts, or blogs, it could be like eating sugary cereal – it’ll sustain you, but it won’t nourish you. So make sure to get a mix of content to ensure a minimum level of quality. The list below includes magazines, newspapers, essays, non-fiction and fiction books, but also lists blogs and other online sources.

Read far and wide, short and long, fiction and non-fiction, and you’ll be a powerful and flexible reader.

The Reading List

I’ve put together a starting reading list of books (non-fiction and fiction), essays, magazines, newspapers, and online sources that can jump start reading if you need some inspiration. Many of these readings are free on the web; many others you could borrow from your local library or from your school’s library.

Click here to get the SAT & ACT Reading List!

If you have any favorite books, magazines, websites, or anything else that you’d like to share, leave a comment below.

I’m Rob Schombs, cofounder of Brilliant Prep and your test prep tutor. I earned a BA in Chemistry (2006) and an MA in Science and Technology Studies (2009) from Cornell University. I've been teaching the SAT & ACT since 2010.

Comments 3

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  • Linda says:

    In the math sections why are some questions separated by a black line with a tiny black triangle?

    • admin says:

      In the math sections why are some questions separated by a That indicates that certain questions are grouped, for example you can have two or three questions linked to a given table or other information. The lines just tell you when the groups begin & end. line with a tiny black triangle?

  • Abhijit Vempati says:

    Hey, Mr.Schombs!
    Thanks for demystifying the Math Section. You were straight forward (unlike the rest).