ACT & SAT Prep and College Admissions Blog

ACT - English: Overview and Basic Strategies

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 @ 12:00 AM


This article provides a quick overview of critical information to know and key strategies to apply to boost your performance on the ACT-English test.  

It is organized around three sections: overview, strategies, and concepts.

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A. ACT-English Section Overview

Timing:    

75 questions in 45 minutes

15 questions every 9 minutes

Skills tested: Usage/grammar and rhetorical skills

B. Strategies to employ

General strategies for the ACT-English section

  • Don’t waste too much time on any single question. Every question is worth the same amount, regardless of difficulty.

  • Go mostly in order. Answer all questions in a section before moving on to the next one.

Strategy for usage/grammar questions

  • Read each answer in the context of the sentence.

  • Eliminate answers that are obviously wrong.

  • Look for patterns in the remaining answers.

  • If no obvious grammatical issues in the remaining choices, choose the most concise, to-the-point answer.

Strategy for rhetorical skills questions

When a question asks you to put something into context of the paragraph/passage, quickly read over the paragraph (or skim the passage) and be able to sum it up in a single sentence. This will often directly relate to the answer.

C. Concepts to grasp

1. Paralell structure -  having the same pattern of words, phrases, or clauses.

Example 1:

Not Parallel: Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bicycle.

Parallel: Mary likes hiking, swimming, and riding a bicycle.

Example 2:

Not Parallel: The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and his motivation was low.

Parallel: The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and lacked motivation.

2. - Misplaced modifier - word or phrase that is improperly separated from the word it describes.

Example 1:

Unclear:

                On her way home, Jan found a gold man's watch.

Clear:

                On her way home, Jan found a man's gold watch.

Unclear:

                The waiter served a dinner roll to the woman that was well buttered.

Clear:

                The waiter served a dinner roll that was well buttered to the woman.

3. Transitional phrases - the ACT loves transitional words and phrases. Examples include but, and, yet, however, nonetheless, and furthermore.

If you notice that all of the answer choices are transition words/phrases, read the sentence before the transition and the sentence after it and determine how they are related.

4. Comma splice – connecting two full sentences with a comma.

Example 1:

Comma splice: 

                It is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark.

Fixed version 1 (using semi-colon): 
                It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.

Fixed version 2 (using dash):

It is nearly half past five – we cannot reach town before dark.

Fixed version 3 (using colon): 
                We cannot reach town before dark: it is nearly half past five.

Fixed version 4 (using two sentences):

                It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.  

Fixed version 5 (inserting a conjunction):

                It is nearly half past five, so we cannot reach town before dark


Hopefully you are now on your way to preparing for the ACT-English section.