Strategy 1: Eliminating Answers that Create Mistakes
Questions on the ACT English section all involve detecting and correcting writing mistakes that are found either in the passage itself or in the answer prompts. So more often than not, you’ll employ the first strategy: eliminating answers that create mistakes. Here is one example from a typical ACT English question:
The title of valedictorian is given to one person, those who have the single best academic performance within a high school graduating class.
Select the answer that best corrects the underlined portion of the passage.
A) NO CHANGE
B) those who, have
C) the person with
D) a person that is having
To eliminate incorrect answers that add new mistakes to the text, quickly scan for things you know can’t be right. The first place to look is the text itself. There’s an obvious mistake in the underlined phrase: “those” is a plural word, but it refers to a clearly singular antecedent: “one person.” So right there, you can eliminate choice A (NO CHANGE) as an answer. ACT English loves to present you with plural/singular contradictions, so it’s a good idea to look for other singular/plural mistakes after finding the mistake in the text. You can see another mistake in plurals/singulars and immediately rule out answer B, which also has “those.”
That brings you down to answers C and D. This is a little trickier. Neither seem to violate any obvious grammar rules. Here, it can help to read each choice out loud in context or at least picture each choice in context. Which one sounds and looks right? Most native English speakers would notice that C works better—it “flows” more smoothly.
If you’re having trouble making this distinction, you can still notice that D seems more like a stylistic mistake because it’s wordier. Remember that more often than not, ACT English treats something with an unnecessary number of words as an error, sometimes describing overly wordy phrasing as “awkward” in its official practice materials.
So, by detecting and ruling out writing mistakes one step at a time, you’ve managed to get the correct answer choice C by process of elimination.
Strategy 2: Eliminating Answers Not Supported by the Text
The second ACT multiple test choice strategy, eliminating answers that are not supported by the text, is less common in ACT English, but it can still happen in content-based questions such as this one (adapted from the Minnesota DNR website):
We have no evidence that earthworms ever inhabited the area surrounding the North American Great Lakes before European settlement. Even if they did, the glaciers killed any native North American earthworms in this region. For the last 11,000 years since the glaciers receded, the ecosystem in these portions of the United States and Canada developed without earthworms, and the earthworms living in the present day region are imported species. This is not to say that North America as a whole is devoid of indigenous earthworms. In fact, there are over 100 varieties of native North American earthworms in unglaciated areas such as the Southeastern U.S. and the Pacific Northwest.
Given that all of the following sentences are true, which one would most effectively conclude this paragraph?
A) NO CHANGE
B) Both glaciated and unglaciated regions have similar native species of mice.
C) Sometimes even in modern times, the buildup of snow of snow in this region during winter can seem glacier-like.
D) Both native and non-native species of earthworms in North America are used in recreational fishing.
On this kind of question, you can use the second strategy: eliminating unsupported answers. To find the correct answer, look for the one that’s supported by the passage and is a relevant, good “fit” for all the other information being presented. B definitely doesn’t work, because it looks at a completely different animal than the one discussed in the rest of the passage. C also doesn’t work since the passage isn’t about modern weather patterns at all. The same goes for D—the passage isn’t concerned with fishing or the commercial sale of earthworms for fishing. This leaves us with A by process of elimination.
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About David Recine
David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!
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