Tackling the ACT Synthesis Passage

Published on Tuesday, January 29th, 2019 by

ACT Chalk Talk #11

Several years ago, ACT updated its Reading test to include a synthesis passage. This type of passage features two short passages instead of one long one, and students are asked to connect the dots between the two texts. Students who aren’t familiar with the format can be thrown off, so we’ve prepared an FAQ that helps your students use this type of passage structure to their advantage.

How do I know I’m looking at a synthesis passage?

Instead of one long 800+ word passage, you’ll see two short passages, each around 400 words long.

Where does the synthesis passage appear?

Oftentimes, but not always, it’s the third passage.

How should I approach the two passages?

Skim the first passage. Then, answer the questions that belong to that passage. You can tell which question to answer because these directions appear above the first batch of questions:

Then skim the second questions and answer the rest of the questions.



What should I focus on as I skim the passages?

The toughest questions will ask you about the relationship between the two passages. Before you start reading, be sure you’re clear about how the two passages relate to one another. This is explained at the top:



In this example, taken from an official ACT practice test, the two passages are written by the same author. One is an essay, and the other is a work of fiction.

Once you get to the second passage, pay attention to how it compares and contrasts to the first passage.

Any tips for answering the last questions?

The last questions ask about both passages. The directions will point this out:



However, they often can be answered using the facts from only one passage. So don’t overthink it. If you can get to the correct answer with one passage, go with it.