About the ACT Reading Passages: Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction

about the prose passage act

The ACT Reading section is made up of four passages with about 10 questions each (40 total). There are four main types of passages that you will encounter on the ACT Reading section: literary narrative/prose fiction passages, natural science, social science, and humanities.

One difference between the ACT and the SAT you can use to your advantage is that the ACT Reading passages are always in the same order: prose, social science, humanities, and natural science. That makes it easier to change the order of how you might do these passages, especially if there is a passage that you struggle with or one that takes more time to do. 

In this post, we’ll cover strategies for the literary narrative/prose fiction passage you’ll see on the ACT. 

What is a Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction Passage?

You’ll see one literary narrative/prose fiction passage on the ACT. These are excerpts from stories and are basically the same kind of passage. You’re probably very used to this kind of reading. The literary narrative is usually set in the past and told from a single character’s point of view, while the prose passage is a fictional story.

Pacing Your Reading

Read this passage at your normal pace so you can retain and digest the content of the passage. This is probably the slowest you will read out of all the other types of passages, but you’re reading carefully so you will remember what you have read. That way, when you answer the questions, you are probably going to return to the passage for less than half of the questions asked! By not returning to the passage, you will speed up the overall time you spend on this passage and its questions. 

Read this passage at your normal pace so you can retain and digest the content of the passage. That way, when you answer the questions, you are probably going to return to the passage for less than half of the questions asked! By not returning to the passage, you will speed up the overall time you spend on this passage and its questions. 

If, on the other hand, you do not trust your ability to focus and retain the story or maybe you just get a passage that is not working for you, then you will need to read faster in order to save some time that you can then use when you return to the passage to answer questions.  

How to Ace the ACT Reading Section

What to Look For in the Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction Passage

But let’s assume that since you have a lot of practice reading stories, you do trust yourself to stay focused and remember what you read. So as you read, you read you want to focus on: 

  • Who is the main character(s)?  
  • Who do they interact with?
  • How do they feel about the other characters or what they are doing/the choices they are making?

You are focused on the characters in terms of their relationships with other characters: the mood, tone, emotions, conflicts, and decisions of these characters. Since these passages are all excerpts, you may not understand 100% who everyone is or what’s going on. But, the passage will give you enough information to answer the questions listed above and the questions on the test. You can just accept that you don’t really know what’s going on and use the information you do have to own the questions. 

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Remember, in order to remember the characters, tone, and main plot points, you need to be reading at a pace that will allow you to hear your voice in your head reading (almost all of) the words. Be sure you are engaging your “brain voice” – that voice you hear in your head when you read. Your brain voice should rise and fall to indicate the intended emotions of the characters and the meaning behind the words. You are watching for subtext! 

How to Get a 36 on the ACT English Section

The Key Strategy for the Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction Passage

For this passage, you want to forget the plot (except for conflicts between characters or big decisions made by characters). Instead, get a feel for the tone/emotions of the characters or narrator. Hear all the words in your head using your brain voice, and use your intonation to help understand the subtext, or meaning behind the words. 

Ready to start practice for the ACT Reading section? Our free ACT course contains practice passages and questions for every kind of passage you’ll find on the ACT Reading section. Head on over to www.olive-book.com to enroll!

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act Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction Passage strategies
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