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The ACT English Test – Basics

The ACT English section will always be the first test of the ACT. It is 75 questions and will take 45 minutes.  The format is very specific – a passage with multiple paragraphs and a title will have underlined portions that may or not may contain grammatical errors. The passages look something like this:
As the sun was slowly rising (1) over the Atlantic Ocean and

painted New York harbor a spectacular fiery orange, I started

my old Toyota’s engine. At this early hour, there was still

some semblance of the night’s tranquility left on the city side-

walks, but I knew that, as the minutes  ticked by, the streets

would flood with humanity. (2)
The numbers here correspond to the question about each underlined portion. The official ACT guide breaks down the tested concepts into 2 categories with 3 sub-skills. You will receive a subscore for each category and a total score based on all questions.
Usage/Mechanics (40 questions)

– Punctuation (10 questions)

– Grammar and Usage (12 questions)

– Sentence Structure (18 questions)
Rhetorical Skills (35 questions)

– Strategy (12 questions)

– Organization (11 questions)

– Style (12 questions)
To study for these, familiarize yourself with English grammar and usage, and with the most-tested errors.

A quick note about “OMIT the underlined portion”: You will often see an answer choice with this phrase. While it is not always correct, it is a good place to start! Ask yourself if the sentence makes sense without the underlined phrase. Is the sentence suddenly clearer or less wordy? If the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change, and the underlined portion is unnecessary, choose “OMIT”!

Try a quick practice question from the paragraph above!


Question 1


(B) rising slowly

(C) rose slowly

(D) continued to rise
Verbs in a compound should be in the same tense. The compound verb in this clause is “was…rising…and painted.” Since the second verb is in the past tense, the first should be as well. The correct answer is (C).

Above all on the ACT English, trust yourself. We study grammar rules, memorize idioms, and learn to recognize style errors to fine-tune our ears. By the time you take your ACT, you should have a good sense of what is and isn’t correct. If you can’t spot an error, but a sentence doesn’t “sound right” you are probably right that something is wrong with the sentence!


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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