Welcome back to Tricks of the Trade, where we teach you all the insider secrets of the SAT and ACT. Today, we’ll be introducing a game-changing-yet-little-known strategy that will help you better manage your time on the passage-based Reading and Science sections.

Total Passages

Total Questions

Time Limit

SAT Reading



65 minutes

ACT Reading



35 minutes

ACT Science

6 or 7


35 minutes

When faced with so many passages and questions, it’s important to make smart decisions about how you’ll spend your time. That brings us to the part no one has ever told you: there’s nothing stopping you from switching up the order of passages (and even questions) to get as many points as possible as quickly as possible.

Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down.

You Can Change the Passage Order

On both the SAT and ACT Reading tests, the genre of the very first passage is always literature/prose fiction. However, this passage can often be a “curveball” and the most difficult to skim, as it may contain unexpected plot points, excessive dialogue, and sometimes even an old and challenging style of English. Many students find themselves getting stuck at the very beginning of the section, sacrificing precious minutes that could be better spent raking in points on the more straightforward passages that follow.

If you know right away that any given passage is likely to be a potential area of weakness for you (such as an ACT Science passage with an insane-looking graph), just skip right over it—you can return to this passage during any remaining time you may have at the end. At that point you can slow down and dedicate all your remaining time to the toughest passage. Even if you can’t finish every question, that’s okay—it was the toughest one anyway!

You Can Change the Question Order

Just like the passages, individual questions can also be saved for later. Often, the first question for an SAT or ACT Reading passage will ask about the “big picture” of the passage, such as the primary purpose, main idea, etc. As such, there are no corresponding line numbers for these types of questions, and answering correctly will require you to have a clear understanding of the passage as a whole. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that the best time to answer these big-idea questions is after you’ve already touched on the details in the specific questions?

Note: Be sure to flag any questions or passages that you do skip so that you don’t forget to circle back later!

What’s Next?

As you complete your ACT Science and SAT/ACT Reading practice, notice which types of passages are most challenging for you, and use that knowledge to your benefit on future practice tests—your score will thank you!

We hope you’ve enjoyed these ACT and SAT Reading tips. Stay tuned for more Tricks of the Trade, and in the meantime, don’t forget to schedule your free consultation with a Student Success Advisor to begin your test prep journey today!

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