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ACT Vocabulary

Even if you don’t have an impressive vocabulary, you can still get great scores on the ACT English, ACT Reading, and ACT Writing tests by keeping your focus on strategy. Here are ten tips to boost your scores on this English-language heavy sections of the ACT!


ACT Vocabulary Strategies

Memorize transition words and phrases.

Especially helpful on the ACT Reading Test, words and phrases like “thus,” “therefore,” “on the other hand,” etc. help tell you what the author’s doing with each paragraph.

Think like a thesaurus.

It is much easier to memorize synonyms for words than their full definitions. Start grouping words together mentally (and on paper) according to their meaning. For example, words like “pusillanimous,” “poltroonish,” and “timorous” would go on the “shy” list.

Word on harder passages to aim for a 36.

Once you’ve got the hang of how to take notes on ACT Reading passages, seek out challenging passages to practice. If you can make sense of even the most dense, complex passages you’ll likely find the ACT Reading passages a cinch!

Slow down on ACT Math Word Problems.

Practice translating these questions from English keywords to Math equations. Be patient at first – these questions may be especially frustrating vocabulary-wise. Luckily, the common ACT math phrases such as “less than,” “is the same as,” and “product of” are easily memorized.

Faced with a tough ACT vocabulary word? Try to break it into its component parts.

Look for prefixes, roots, and suffixes if you don’t know what a word means. Does it “sound” like a word you already know? It’s likely that they have the same root!

Don’t panic if English isn’t your first language!

Many native speakers are confused by answer choices that include slang, contain popular (though incorrect) grammatical phrases, or just “sound right.” Non-native speakers learn the exact same question types and strategies as native speakers, but can apply them without any prejudice.


Vocabulary Practice

Review the most-tested grammar errors.

Spend some time with a solid English grammar review book to review the parts of speech, sentence fragments and run-ons, and the basics of sentence construction. A “fun” book like Writer’s Express or English Grammar for Dummies is a great resource, but you can also use an ACT-specific book such as McGraw-Hill’s ACT.

Apply the ACT idioms into your compositions.

Start applying the ACT Idioms early in your studies and incorporate them into your everyday speech, emails, and English compositions. The more you can incorporate them into your English writing, the more confident you’ll become.

Keep up with current events to build your Reading skills AND boost your ACT Writing examples.

My recommendations include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or any scholarly journal that you find interesting. Listen to NPR to keep up with the day’s events and write down any new words you don’t understand. Set a regular schedule for your reading and stick to it. Even twenty minutes a day will help you conquer ACT Reading, and can help you come up with examples for the ACT Writing test!

Quiz your friends.

Whether in real life or online, connect with other ACT students! You and your friends can circle any unknown vocabulary you see on your practice ACT English or ACT Reading tests, then make up your own practice quizzes to build your vocab!


About Magoosh ACT

Magoosh is a company of passionate educators, located in Berkeley, CA. We are here to provide you with everything you need to prep for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Magoosh.

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