Three Important Tricks for the ACT English

Three Important Tricks for the ACT English

While the ACT as a whole challenges test takers on time management and content, each individual section has a unique set of challenges that can trip up even the savviest of test takers. For example, even an avid reader and grammarian can end up with a lower score on the English section than what he or she may have expected. After reviewing the test it can often seem like many of the incorrect answers were the result of “silly mistakes.” What gives? The dirty little secret is this: the ACT loves these “silly mistakes,” and intentionally tries to trick you into getting you to make as many of them as possible. While the best way to power past these potential pitfalls is through much practice and solid guidance, there are a few rules of thumb that can be useful to anyone.

 1.    Read the whole sentence, not just the whole line.

Many students, concerned about finishing sections of the test on time, look for shortcuts to improve their speed. One “shortcut” you should not try is reading only the underlined portion of a question. For any given ACT English question you should locate the period before the underlined portion, then find the one after it. This is the minimum amount of text you should be considering as you approach each question. Context is important! Furthermore, finishing the section on time is rarely the primary issue for most students on the English section; rather than focusing on shortcuts, students should direct their attention to answering questions correctly.  So read the whole sentence!

So many students make the mistake of not reading until the end of the sentence — and for good reason! It’s incredibly easy on this section to fall into a ‘rhythm,’ going back and forth between the columns of text and questions without actually considering enough information to make the right decision. This rhythm can make important information blend into the rest of the text and spell doom for even the best-prepared students.

 2.    Watch out for weird spacing.

Have you ever noticed, on certain parts of ACT English passages, that there are these odd blank spaces that help the questions line up properly with the text? No? You haven’t? Well, you’ll have to take our word for it, they’re there, we promise!

The point is this: these blank white spaces are major visual interruptions, yet we don’t even usually notice that they are there. Awareness is the key here — once you begin noticing which parts of the passages are spliced with white space, you can make sure you’re not missing something because of the gaps between one line and the next.

Always look for indentations to determine where paragraphs begin and end— a large jump from one line to the next does not necessarily mean a new paragraph has started.

3.    When there’s an actual question, read it extremely carefully.

ACT English questions can be filed under two main categories. The first category (under which most of the questions on the test fall) comprises of questions that don’t actually ask a question. Frequently you’ll be presented with four answers and essentially asked to choose the “right” one without much direction.

There are, though, plenty of questions that do ask you an actual question. While it seems like this type of the question must be the lesser of the two evils, it’s not always that straightforward. It’s crucial to figure out exactly what the test is asking you to do. It can help to underline the meaningful words in the question to orient yourself to the test’s directives.

Above all, consider the goal of the question before deciding which one you like best. Work with the question on its own terms. And good luck!