ACT English

a mug on a desk that reads i am silently correcting your grammar

Unlike that unnecessarily judgy mug, the ACT English section makes no secret that it is evaluating how well you know your English grammar.

ACT English is all about assessing your knowledge of the conventions of standard written English. While this includes your grasp of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure (also known as usage and mechanics), it also includes your comprehension of rhetorical skills, such effective writing strategy, organization, and style. Other critical things to note about ACT English:

  • It’s the first section of the ACT test
  • You have a 45-minute time limit
  • You will see 75 multiple choice questions (yeah, that is a lot!)

Here’s what you need to know about ACT English, from what it tests to tips and practice!

What Is on the ACT English Test?

Question Types

The ACT divides its English questions into three main types:

  • Production of Writing (29–32%): These questions focus on the writing’s overall development and organization. In other words, does the writing meet the author’s purpose? Is it cohesive and unified?
  • Knowledge of Language (13–19%): These questions test your understanding of style–in other words, using the most effective and precise word that also maintains the piece’s tone.
  • Conventions of Standard English (51–56%): These are the grammar and punctuation questions most students associate with ACT English. They’ll test your knowledge of different areas, from sentence structure to punctuation to common English usage.

However, these seemingly general categories test very specific information! Take a look at the content you’ll see tested in these English questions.

Content Tested

  • Punctuation (including commas, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, and dashes)
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Verb forms and verb agreement
  • Pronoun forms and pronoun agreement
  • Adjectives and adverbs
  • Comparative and superlative modifiers (such as “Magoosh is more fun than my most entertaining friend.”)
  • Idioms (common English phrases or two-part phrases that always go together like “Not only did Magoosh help me improve my grammar, but also it helped me learn math.”)
  • Sentence structure (such as independent and dependent clauses, misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences and comma splices)
  • Effective essay and paragraph organization and clear, concise writing style, including strategy

*For even more detail on what to study for this section, check out this nifty guide!

Question Formats

ACT English questions always have the same formats. They’re passage-based; within the passage, words and phrases will be underlined. Each underlining corresponds to a question. The question will ask you whether the underlined portion should be changed to be correct–and if so, how.

A handful of questions won’t correspond to an underlined portion, but will instead focus on a paragraph, a section, or the entire passage. You’ll know when these questions are coming up because they mark the passage with numbers in boxes, rather than underlining.

ACT English Strategies

Because the ACT English section tests your understanding of grammatical and style rules, it is one of the more straightforward sections of the exam to prepare for. Here’s how to master it!

Ensure you understand the test format and your current knowledge level by taking a practice test. This will help you understand the areas where you need to brush up, as well as giving you a much-needed preview of what you’ll see on test day! Don’t just do “ACT English practice tests,” where you do one section at a time—it’s vital to take all four sections at once (and the essay, if you’re taking it on the official exam) to see how that knowledge comes into play in a marathon test situation!

Prioritize your studying by focusing on the most tested topics before the more obscure and challenging ones. See our 3 most popular ACT study plans here!

Don’t forget to work on your pacing and timing—spending too much time on any one problem can tank your sectional score.

Brush up on your grammar, including your knowledge of punctution and word forms.

Get familiar with less-familiar question types, such as organization questions and adding/deleting sentences.

Know how to use the multiple-choice format to your advantage by reviewing answer choice strategies.

Looking for even more English tips and tricks? Here’s Magoosh’s expert Kat with 5 must-know strategies for ACT English!

Want to find out more about boosting your English score? Check out How to Get a Perfect 36 on the ACT English Test! And for even more advice, take a look at:

ACT English Practice

So how do ACT questions test these concepts, from word choice to sentence fragments? Take a look! Read the mini-passage, then test your knowledge with the practice questions. The correct answers, along with a video and text answer explanation for each question, are included below.

Today when someone points a camera at us, we smile. This is the cultural and social reflex of our time, and such are our expectations of a picture portrait. In the long history of (1) portraiture, however the open smile has been largely, pun aside, frowned upon. A walk around any art gallery (2) for a very long time will reveal that the image of the open smile was deeply unfashionable. Such is the field upon which the mouth in portraiture has been (3) debated: an ongoing conflict between the serious and the smirk.

1. portraiture, however

B. portraiture however
C. portraiture; however,
D. portraiture, however,

Click here for the answer!

2. The best place for the underlined portion would be:
A. where it is now.
B. after the word reveal.
C. after the word unfashionable.
D. after the word walk.

Click here for the answer!

3. debated: an ongoing conflict

B. debated, ongoing
C. debated. An ongoing
D. debated, and an ongoing

Click here for the answer!


  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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