The English Test is the first section on the ACT. This test is made up of five essays or passages, with various words or phrases underlined. These passages will be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, and will be written in various styles. Your job is to determine whether or not each underlined portion needs to be replaced with one of the answer choices. The right answer, or the “best” replacement, will be grammatically correct, make sense in the context of the passage, and will be as concise as possible. You may also have to answer questions regarding rhetoric, such as where a given sentence would best be placed in the passage.
You have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. This allows you 36 seconds per question, but some questions may take more time than others. This section is multiple choice, with one of the answer choices almost always being “no change.” Each of the five passages contains 15 questions. The final question of a passage will often ask about the passage as a whole, so be sure to read the entire passage as you go so you have a sense of its purpose and structure.
The English section of the ACT is used to test a student’s understanding of the written English language. The correct answer will usually be the choice that sounds most natural while adhering to the rules of written English, such as subject/verb agreement, comma placement, and correct usage of the various parts of speech. Students will want to avoid choosing unnecessarily wordy answer choices that don’t add anything to the sentence; the best answer tends to also be the most concise.
When approaching a question, consider asking yourself the following questions:
a) Does the question involve subject/verb agreement? Commas vs. semicolons?
b) If you know what concept is being tested → Do you remember the grammar rules for this concept? If yes, apply them!
2. Can you eliminate any of the answer choices?
3. Is the meaning of the sentence easier or harder to understand after plugging in an answer choice?
The ACT categorizes each question on the English test into one of six categories, each of which encompass a different approximate percentage of the test:
Punctuation questions will involve the proper use of commas, semicolons, colons, and dashes. Incorrect answer choices often contain more punctuation than necessary. Understand the purpose of each punctuation mark and how it functions in the given sentence.
These types of questions involve subject/verb agreement, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Make sure that you know the noun or pronoun to which a verb is referring, and that the tenses match.
Sentence structure questions will test you on your understanding of phrases and clauses, and your ability to form a complete sentence rather than a fragment. Learning about the different types of phrases and clauses can help you answer these types of questions.
Strategy questions may ask you if a given sentence should be replaced, omitted, or left as is. You may be asked how the meaning of a sentence would change if certain parts are changed or eliminated. Understanding the passage as a whole, as well as the purpose of each sentence is useful for these types of questions.
These types of questions deal with the organization of specific paragraphs or the passage as a whole. Organization questions may ask you where a sentence or paragraph should be placed in the passage. The best placement for a sentence or paragraph will be the position which provides the most clarity. Try rereading parts of the passage with different placements of the excerpt in question to see which makes the most sense in context.
These questions deal with the overall style or tone of the passage. Style questions may ask you to eliminate redundancies or correct awkward phrasing. If a sentence sounds unnatural or seems awkwardly placed, it probably is!
We break these subsections down even further to focus on the specific skills necessary to be successful on the ACT English Section.