Introduction to ACT English
Welcome to the ACT English test, where you’ll see lots of underlined words, boxed in paragraphs, over punctuated English, and under developed fragments.
Here are the details: the ACT English test is 45 minutes long, with 75 questions split over 5 different passages. There are exactly 15 questions per passage, and all are roughly the same length.
An important note: The essays and passages on the ACT English test are written in the voice and quality of average high school upperclassmen. This means that you should always be on the lookout for colloquial language, but know that the passages will not be out of your pay grade when it comes to reading comprehension. You’re not going to get a complicated breakdown of nuclear physics or the planetary orbit (Don’t be too upset, those will be on the science and reading tests).
ACT English Topics
Let’s break down the topics that make up the 75 questions you’ll encounter on the ACT English test. These are rough estimates (or Educated guesses) based on hundreds of past tests.
The test will be broken up into two main topics:
40 questions on Usage and Mechanics and 35 questions on Rhetorical Skills.
Usage and Mechanics consists of 10 questions on Punctuation, 12 questions on grammar and usage, and 18 question on sentence structure.
Rhetorical Skills consists of 12 questions on strategy, 11 questions on organization, and 12 questions on style.
Check out TutorMe’s ACT Preparation Course for in depth breakdowns and strategy for each of these categories.
You’ll see a few different types of questions on the ACT English test. We’ll start with the most common type: Underlined questions.
Underline questions prompt you to correct a specific section of the passage. The first answer choice on every underlined question will be NO CHANGE. If the underlined portion contains no errors, then NO CHANGE is the answer.
ACT English Strategy
The most important strategy on the ACT English test is to use the answer choices to guide you to the error. If you can’t recognize a mistake immediately, or don’t know how to proceed on a certain question, take a look at the answer choices, and you’ll have an idea of what the question is tackling.
For example: if the answer choices to a questions are:
No Change Their They’re His You can immediately tell from the answer choices that the question is testing your knowledge of the correct forms of “there”.
Here’s another important piece of strategy: Don’t trust your ear. Oftentimes, sentences will be so incorrect, that it will sound obvious what is wrong with them. Don’t jump to conclusions just because something sounds or doesn’t sound correct. The English language is much more complex and formal than the way we speak everyday.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your ear to guide you through a problem, sometimes it will be correct. But don’t use your ear as an “end all be all” judge for the accuracy of grammar.
Just because something is underlined doesn’t mean there is an error within it. Don’t waste time looking for something that isn’t there. If you’ve thoroughly analyzed an underlined portion and can’t find an error, than use NO CHANGE.
NO CHANGE isn’t just there to throw you off, it will be an answer more than once on the ACT English test.
The other type of question on the ACT English test is Boxed Questions. They ask you about a larger portion or section of the essay or passage than underlined portions. They usually ask about the effect of omitting or adding information, paragraph order, or the overall organization of a passage. You should answer the questions in the order of the passage.
You don’t need to read the whole passage before you begin answering the questions. Remember, this isn’t the reading test, it’s the English test. Underlined questions will direct you to the exact portion of the passage you need to return to, you won’t have to go digging like you will on the Reading test.
For boxed questions, you’ll most likely need to read entire paragraphs, and sometimes the passage itself. So, get a general idea of the subject and events of the passage, and then jump right into the questions.
Skip the questions you don’t know immediately, then make a second pass once you have finished the rest of the passage. Don’t skip around from passage to passage, it will lead to confusion and cause you to re-read the passages more times than is necessary. Finish all 15 questions in a passage, even if you need to guess, then move on to the next one.
Less Is More
Finally, and this is the golden rule of the ACT English test: LESS IS MORE. The ACT is always look for not just the answer that is grammatically correct, but also the once that is the most CONCISE.
The shortest answer is the correct answer roughly 50% of the time. This means if you have to guess on a question, you should guess the shortest answer. Always be on the lookout for redundancy, using more words than is necessary to say something. OMIT is usually a safe choice. If a question has the answer choice “OMIT the underlined portion” odds are that it is the correct answer.
Good luck! And don’t forget to check out TutorMe’s ACT Preparation Course for in depth breakdowns and strategy for every aspect of the ACT English test.
If you need help on the other tests, check out our posts for the Science, Reading, and Math tests.