Before reviewing specific tips, let’s ensure you know the structure of the ACT English section.
WHAT’S THE STRUCTURE FOR THE ACT ENGLISH SECTION?
This section has 75 questions in 45 minutes, which breaks down to 9 minutes per passage. There are 5 passages with 15 questions each.
Now for the top 10 expert tips…
Tip 1: Be pithy
You want to choose answers that are short, sweet, specific, and to the point.
Tip 2: Read carefully
Sneaky questions like “all of the following EXCEPT” or “which one is the LEAST acceptable?” can trip up students. Don’t go on autopilot when looking for the right answer. Read carefully and don’t get tricked.
tip 3: Don’t stop until you get to their period (AKA – read carefully and completely)
Often when revising a sentence, you’re changing a verb, pronoun, or punctuation mark in the middle of the sentence. Many students only read to where they make the revision, and then move on without reading all the way to their period. That’s a problem and it can lead to preventable mistakes.
tip 4: Learn homophones
The ACT loves to test its vs. it’s and your vs. you’re and their vs. there vs. they’re. Revisit your grammar and grade school lessons and become an expert.
tip 5: Follow instructions
This probably sounds like a very weird thing to suggest, but it’s actually incredibly important. There will be questions that say, “which of the following ____” – “Which of the following is colorful,” “Which of the following is the most specific,” “Which of the following allows you to visualize the scene?” The answer is the one that’s colorful; it’s the one that’s specific; it’s the one that allows you to visualize. Do exactly what the questions say.
tip 6: Be specific & formal
Think of how to speak in a proper, sophisticated way by avoiding slang and casual language. It’s imperative to be specific and formal.
tip 7: Form a bridge with transitions
Transitions form a bridge between what comes before and what comes after. They’re only one word – but that one word is powerful. If someone says, “I really like you, and” versus “I really like you, but” just the word “and” or “but” signals an entirely different meaning to what’s coming next. When choosing a transition, consider what comes before and what comes after.
tip 8: Never put a comma between two complete sentences
This is number one, number one, number one. This is referred to as a comma splice, and the ACT loves testing this. Consider the following: “I see two complete sentences, they’re separated by a comma.” It’s not immediately obvious, but that comma shouldn’t be there. Because the sentences “sound” right, students don’t always notice that the comma should be a period or semi-colon.
tip 9: Never repeat yourself
Avoid redundancy on these exams. If you see a sentence that reads, “I played soccer on artificial turf that was not real grass,” that phrase is redundant. Artificial means it’s fake, so the sentence doesn’t need to repeat that it’s not real.
tip 10: Be consistent
When thinking about being consistent, think about tense. If you’re writing in past tense, stay in past tense, and if you’re writing in present tense, you will want to continue in present tense.
What’s the take home message?
Overall, the ACT English section will test you on (1) conventions of English (grammar, punctuation, and usage) and (2) expression of ideas (development of ideas, organization, and effective use of language). The ACT English questions are not arranged in order of difficulty. Most students end up working through and finishing this section of the ACT with fewer pacing challenges than in the ACT Math, Reading, and Science sections.
The English language can feel like an overwhelming number of rules. Fortunately, the ACT English section tests a finite set of defined conventions. Students who focus on mastering the most frequently tested rules can easily master this section.
For the other ACT sections, you can also see Expert Tips for ACT Math, Expert Tips for ACT Reading, and Expert Tips for ACT Science. To learn how the ACT Writing section is organized and different from the SAT Essay, see ACT Writing vs. SAT Essay. Happy studying!
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