The ACT English Test

Written by tutor Laura S.

The ACT test, like the SAT test, is used by universities to measure the ability of a student to succeed and to compare the student with his or her peers. It has many differences from the SAT test, however. The ACT test is comprised of 5 sections: English, Reading, Math, Science, and an optional Writing section. Guessing is not penalized, so it is to your advantage to fill in every answer before time is called on each section. If you are a freshman in high school or younger, please see my note at the bottom of this overview!

The English section of the ACT test contains 75 questions that must be answered in 45 minutes. The test taker reads through several passages, answering questions about grammar. Read every sentence in each passage as you go, even if a particular sentence does not involve a question, because there is one or more question at the end of each passage that deals with the whole passage.

Tips for the ACT English Test

Here are some important tips to remember when taking the ACT English test.

Take some practice tests ahead of time, so that you can get used to the format of the test and the kinds of questions on it. You can also get familiar with the instructions. They don’t change, and knowing the instructions ahead of time will help save you minutes on test day.

Relevancy really matters on this test! If a particular phrase or sentence is not germane to the topic being discussed, omit it! Remember, the test favors being short and sweet and to the point. Stay on topic! Omit irrelevant information.

Redundancy is a big, big no-no on this test! Do not let the passage repeat itself! For example, if the passage refers to “the genius who was really smart,” the correct answer would be to omit “who was really smart.” By definition, a genius is really smart!

Parallelism is important. Make sure items in a series are parallel. For example:

Lisa studied for her test, cleaned her room, and was given permission to see a movie.

Notice the first two verbs are active, but the last one is passive. The correct answer to fix this lack of parallelism would be the following:

Lisa studied for her test, cleaned her room, and obtained permission to see a movie.

If the passage is written in first person, keep it that way; if it is written in second person, keep it that way. For example:

You will really like the story about butterflies. It talks about how they migrate. One will find the anecdote about Bob the Butterfly amusing.

Wrong! Do not allow the passage to say “one” if the entire rest of the passage says “you.”

Make sure you also review these grammar topics:

Do not be afraid to put “no change” or “omit” as answers. Each of these responses will sometimes be the correct answer. Manage your time during the test. If you find that you will not have time to finish the test, give yourself a couple of minutes to fill in the rest of the answers. To increase your odds of guessing at least some answers correctly, choose one letter to fill in the rest of your answers.

Note to freshmen in high school: Read, read, read! Read good literature. (BTW, texts and tweets do not constitute good literature!) I find that the reason that people do well on the English portion of the ACT test lies in their exposure to good English. Just as FBI agents study real $100 bills in order to instantly spot counterfeit bills, you should spend time reading so that errors in grammar flash like neon signs at you.

Note to sophomores in high school: Find a good grammar handbook and read it. If you learn that book, you should ace the ACT English test.

Note to juniors and seniors in high school: Purchase an ACT test prep book and get tips like the ones above to help you score more points on the test. Have fun!

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