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ACT English Test Study Guide


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The ACT English Test includes two major categories of question types: usage/mechanics questions (a fancy way of saying good old grammar and punctuation questions) and rhetorical skills questions (covering organization, style, and writing strategy).

ACT English Test Study GuideHere’s what you need to review in order to be totally prepared for whatever the ACT English Test throws at you.

(There are 75 questions on the English section, and the ACT publishes a range of percentages for each question type. We’ve simplified this by converting the percentages to how many questions of each type you might see. Keep in mind that many questions test multiple concepts!):

Usage/Mechanics Questions


Punctuation (8 to 12 questions per test): This category includes both the rules of punctuation and also the effective use of punctuation to express ideas clearly. The ACT tests both internal and end-of-sentence punctuation, with an emphasis on the relationship of punctuation to meaning (for example, avoiding ambiguity).

    What to Study:

    • commas (VERY important)
    • apostrophes (important)
    • colons, semicolons, dashes (pretty important)
    • question marks, exclamation points, parentheses (might be on there)

Grammar and usage (11 to 15 questions per test):

    What to Study:

    • grammatical agreement
      • subject and verb
      • pronoun and antecedent
      • adjectives and adverbs with corresponding nouns and verbs
    • verb tense
    • pronoun forms and cases (subject, object, possessive)
    • comparative and superlative modifiers (more/most, greater/greatest, etc…)
    • idioms (mostly the correct use of prepositions)

Sentence structure (15 to 19 questions per test)

    What to Study:

    • subordinate and dependent clauses (and how they connect to the main part of the sentence)
    • run-on or fused sentences
    • comma splices
    • sentence fragments
    • misplaced modifiers
    • improper shifts in verb tense or voice
    • improper shifts in pronoun person or number
    • parallel structure


Rhetorical Skills Questions


Strategy (11 to 15 questions per test): These questions focus on the choices made and strategies used by a writer in the act of composing or revising an essay.

    What to Watch Out For:

    • the appropriateness of a sentence or essay with regards to its purpose, audience, unity or focus (These questions tend to ask you to evaluate whether the essay accomplished a stated goal or whether something should be added or deleted.)
    • the effect of adding, revising, or deleting supporting material

Organization (7 to 11 questions per test): These questions deal with order and coherence of ideas in an essay and the effective choice of opening, transitional, and closing statements.

    What to Watch Out For:

    • the most logical order for sentences within a paragraph or paragraphs within an essay
    • the most logical transitional phrase or statement

Style (11 to 15 questions per test): These questions focus on effective word choice in terms of style, tone, clarity, and economy

    What to Watch Out For:

    • phrases that aren’t technically grammatically incorrect but are confusing because they are poorly written.
    • words or phrases that clash with the tone of the essay (i.e. they aren’t in standard academic English)
    • eliminating ambiguous pronoun references
    • eliminating excessive wordiness or redundant material and vague or awkward expressions.