“What are some good books to read to prepare for ACT/SAT Reading?” As a test prep coach, I am occasionally asked this question by ambitious students (and more frequently by ambitious parents). Although the answer is not as simple as you might hope, the following three simple tips will help you to create your own personalized ACT/SAT reading list to prepare for your upcoming standardized test!

Tip 1: Read ANYTHING.

Upper-level reading skills are valuable on all sections of the test (even math!). If you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly strong reader, choose any book or magazine that appeals to you and dive right in!

Tip 2: Practice active reading.

While reading is often a casual process (i.e. going at your own pace and allowing information to slowly sink in), you’ll need to be an active reader for the ACT and SAT, using skimming and scanning to quickly locate and decode important information within the passages.

Tip 3: Target your weaknesses.

Passages on both the ACT and SAT follow a very predictable pattern:

ACT Reading

SAT Reading

Passage Length

~800 words

500 – 750 words


Prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science

U.S./world literature, history/social studies, and science

Knowing which types of passages to expect can help you decide your areas of focus as you prepare for your reading test, as certain genres may present more of a challenge than others. Take some time to discover your weaknesses and get plenty of practice with those types of passages.

Recommended Reading for the ACT/SAT

The following four anthologies were chosen to directly target the skill set you’ll need for standardized tests and expose you to a wide variety of writing styles. As you read each speech, essay, or story, practice active reading techniques—skim each passage (or at least the first few paragraphs) and identify main ideas and important details.

Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History by William Safire

This book is extremely useful for standardized test prep, as the included speeches could appear on both the SAT (as history passages) and the ACT (as humanities passages).

50 Essays: A Portable Anthology by Samuel Cohen

Much like the previous book of speeches, 50 Essays contains many important historical texts, such as The Declaration of Independence and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Crafting the Very Short Story: An Anthology of 100 Masterpieces by Mark Mills

On both the ACT and SAT, the first passage in the reading section is always a work of fiction from U.S. or world literature. Crafting the Very Short Story consists exclusively of stories ranging in length from one to six pages and is a great way to dip your toes into the ocean of literary fiction.

Speed Reading in 60 Seconds: 100 One-Minute Speed Reading Sprints by David Butler

If reading quickly is an issue for you, you may want to brush up on your skimming skills, or even look into speed reading! Even if you don’t use the speed reading technique suggested by the author, the drills in this book present a great opportunity to practice moving quickly through short reading passages.

But Wait—There’s More!

In addition to books, magazine articles provide great practice material (especially for the topics of social studies, science, and humanities). Pick any educational magazine like the three below and practice your skimming techniques on articles of your choice.

Happy reading! If you would like to learn even more SAT/ACT test prep tips, please contact a Student Success Advisor for a free consultation. To start your test prep journey, sign up for a free, online practice SAT or ACT exam today!