SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Ultimate Study Guide for ACT English: Tips, Rules, Practice, and Strategies

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jun 18, 2018 12:00:00 PM

ACT English

 

This guide collects the best ACT English prep material on the internet. We've created everything here from scratch, and we think it's the best guide available anywhere.

In writing it, we pored over real ACTs, consulted the best existing books, and thought deeply about what you'll need to excel on ACT English. Our subject guides closely reflect what you’ll see on the actual test and our strategies have all been used successfully by our past students. We’ve covered everything you need to know about ACT English.

This post is a table of contents, designed to lead you through the different articles you’ll want to study in a logical order and explain how to get the most out of them. It starts with the big-picture, high-level ideas that will get you thinking about the best way to approach ACT English. Then it moves on to our coverage of the skills and concepts you’ll see on the test. The last section includes a variety of ACT English tips and strategies that can help you create a study plan and learn to attack the test in the most efficient way.

Whether you’re looking for a complete study guide or just some additional help in a few areas, this guide can help. If you plan to use this information as your main source for ACT English prep, simply read through the pages below more or less in order—this approach will walk you through every step of studying for ACT English.

If, on the other hand, you’re just looking for some further depth on a few topics or some helpful tips for the section as whole, scroll through this post and follow any links that look interesting. We recommend the first option, but it’s up to you!

A quick note: If you aren’t familiar with ACT English yet, it’ll be helpful to look at an example test before reading this guide. You can download an official test here (the ACT English section starts on page 12).

 

High-Level ACT English Guidance

A big mistake many students make is assuming that because they take tests in school all the time, they know exactly what to expect from the ACT. This test has its own special quirks, however, and learning how to navigate the ACT's unique structure and style is a key part of preparing for it and the English section specifically.

 

What’s Actually Tested on the ACT English Section?

The first step to tackling the ACT English section is to know what’s on it. This guide will help you understand how the ACT English is structured and what concepts it tests so that you can begin planning your prep.

 

5 Critical Concepts You Must Understand to Ace ACT English

The ACT English section has certain quirks that set it apart from a grammar test you might see in English class. In this article, you’ll read about the key big-picture concepts you need to understand in order to excel on this section of the test.

 

The Best Way to Approach ACT English Passages

It’s easy to ignore the passage format of ACT English, but doing so puts you at a real disadvantage. This post will help you understand why it’s important to have strategy for how to attack the ACT English passages and determine the best way for you to approach them.

 

How Often Is NO CHANGE the Right Answer on ACT English?

One of the most common mistakes students make on ACT English is assuming that there must be an error in every question. NO CHANGE is actually the answer more than 25% of the time it’s an option.

 

The Complete Guide to ACT Grammar Rules

The 14 ACT Grammar Rules You Must Know

The first article outlines all the concepts covered by ACT English, from punctuation to grammar, and the second one goes over the most important grammar rules that appear on the ACT. Use both articles to quickly review the rules and determine what you need to study further.

 

 

ACT English Skills

A key part of preparing for ACT English is learning rules covered by the test. I've listed our guides to all the major concepts below, split into Grammar and Usage and Rhetorical Skills, and organized roughly in order of importance (from the most commonly tested rules to the least commonly tested ones).

 

Grammar and Usage

Parts of Speech

The ACT English section doesn’t directly test parts of speech, but this guide outlines all the basics you need to know in order to understand the more complex topics.

 

Run-on Sentences and Fragments

Questions about sentence structure and correctly connecting independent clauses are the most common type on ACT English. Make sure you understand how to spot and fix run-ons and fragments.

 

Commas

On ACT English, commas are the single greatest source of confusion for most students. It's the most often tested punctuation mark on ACT English and appears very frequently. It’s vital to understand when you really need them so you can avoid overusing this tricky punctuation mark.

 

Other Punctuation

The other forms of punctuation you'll see tested on ACT English are semicolons, colons, dashes, and apostrophes. This guide covers them all!

 

Subject-Verb Agreement

Verb errors are another major topic for ACT English questions. Make sure you understand how to spot even the most well hidden agreement errors. For example, while the sentence, "Each of the siblings have their own rooms" might sound OK, the singular subject "each" actually requires the singular verb "has."

 

Verb Tenses and Forms

Issues with verb forms are a lot more common than you might think. For ACT English, you'll need to be especially familiar with problems such as inconsistent tense usage, confusion of would and will, and gerund errors.

 

Pronoun Agreement

The final major category of grammar issues is pronoun errors. Pronoun agreement, especially plural versus singular pronouns (e.g., it/he/she vs they), trips up a lot of students on the ACT.

 

Pronoun Case

You’ll see questions about pronoun case (e.g., me vs I) less often, but it’s still important to know what it is and how it’s tested. (Hint: the hard pronoun case questions usually involve compound objects.)

 

Idioms

Idiom errors, which deal with the correct usage of prepositions and conjunctions (e.g., "talk to" vs "talk at"), are one of the most confusing topics on ACT English because they don’t follow any general rules. Make sure you know when to trust your instincts about which answer sounds right.

 

Faulty Modifiers

Both misplaced and dangling modifiers appear on the ACT English section. These errors, which involve descriptors that are separated from the nouns they're describing, usually aren’t obvious, so it’s important that you know how to spot them.

 

Parallel Structure

Items in lists and comparisons need to be in the same form—that’s the basic rule of parallelism. This guide will help you understand exactly where parallelism errors appear on ACT English and how to fix them.

 

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are words, such as "who," "when," and "which," that introduce additional information. Common errors with relative pronouns are creating a fragment and using the wrong pronoun for what it’s describing.

 

Adjectives vs Adverbs

Adjective and adverb issues are relatively rare, but when they do appear on ACT English, they usually involve an adjective being used in place of an adverb (e.g., "He ran quick" instead of "He ran quickly"). You might also see questions about superlatives (most) versus comparatives (more).

 

 

Rhetorical Skills

Transitions

Transitions are the most common type of rhetorical skills question on the ACT. These questions can be confusing, but learning a few simple tricks will make them much easier.

 

Wordiness and Redundancy

Another common rhetorical skills topic, redundancy is confusing because it’s not necessarily something that would be considered wrong when you’re talking or writing normally. Make sure you know what counts as redundancy on ACT English.

 

Add/Delete

Add/Delete questions, which ask whether a sentence or phrase should be included or removed from the passage, are some of the most common and challenging rhetorical skills questions on ACT English. You need to know how to approach them systematically to succeed on the ACT.

 

Author Technique/Intent

The key to author intent questions, which ask about how best to achieve a certain effect, is reading them closely and understanding what they’re asking. This guide breaks down techniques for doing so effectively.

 

Macro Logic and Organization

Macro-logic is just a fancy term for questions that ask you where a sentence or paragraph should go. These questions tend to seem more complicated than they really are—make sure to use the process of elimination to narrow down answers.

 

Author Main Idea

Main goal questions, which ask about what the author's overall purpose is, are kind of weird because they seem to belong more on the reading section than the English one. Nonetheless, there’s usually one or two on each test, so it’s important to know how to answer them.

 

Relevance

Like redundancy, relevance is tricky because it’s likely to be a concept you haven’t encountered in this form before. Relevance questions ask you to determine whether a piece of information is necessary in context.

 

Word Choice/Diction

Like idiom questions, word choice questions are tricky because they’re hard to predict and require you to have a deep knowledge of common English usage. Unlike idiom questions, however, they aren’t that common.

 

Formality

Questions that deal with formality are relatively rare—you might or might not see one on test day—so this topic should be one of the lowest priorities for your ACT English prep.

 

 

ACT English Tips and Strategies

This section collects a range of posts on study strategies, test-day tips, and other helpful info for your ACT English prep. You can find everything you need to know about how to build an ACT English study plan and also get helpful tricks for the test and materials for further study.

 

The 8 Most Common Mistakes You Make on ACT English

Because ACT English tests such a limited set of topics, most students miss multiple questions on just a few ideas. If you avoid making these eight common mistakes, you can raise your score by 1-2 points.

 

Full Analysis of ACT Grammar Rules: Which Are Most Important? 

This article breaks down the frequency with which different types of questions appear on ACT English. Use this guide to help prioritize your studying.

 

ACT English Prep: The Best Methods and Strategies

Make sure you know the best approach for ACT English practice and prep so you can make the most progress with the least amount of work! (You’ll still have to do a lot of work, though.)

 

The Best Sources for ACT English Practice

Don’t waste your time with bad practice tests. This guide will tell you where to find the best ACT English practice tests—and a lot of them are free!

 

The Top 9 ACT English Strategies You Must Use 

This post outlines the key strategies that you need to implement in your ACT English prep.

 

The 8 ACT English Tips You Must Use in Your Prep 

Using these eight ACT English tips can boost your score even if the test is tomorrow, but they’ll be a lot more effective if you incorporate them into your ACT study routine.

 

The 18 Hardest ACT English Questions Ever

This guide introduces some of the hardest ACT English questions in existence and offers tips for approaching and solving them. Use these if you're aiming for a top score!

 

How to Get 36 on ACT English: 10 Strategies From a Perfect Scorer

If you’re aiming for an especially high score on ACT English, check out this guide to getting a perfect score (from someone who actually did so!). Even if you have more modest aims, this post provides some helpful tips on how to approach the test.

 

The Top Prep Books for ACT English

If you’re looking to supplement your online study with some old-fashioned paper books, these are the ones you should use for your ACT English prep.

 

The Best ACT Vocabulary Lists on the Web

ACT Vocabulary | Words You Must Know

ACT English doesn’t test vocabulary that much (see the diction post above for more info), but if you’re concerned about not knowing key words, take a look at these posts, which round up the best online sources for ACT vocab and identify which words you really need to know.

 

Conclusion: How to Use This Ultimate ACT English Guide

Having read most (hopefully all!) of these ACT English guides, you probably know what I'm going to say you need to do next: practice with actual ACT test questions! You can only improve so much by reading about the test—you have to try out the strategies and tips for yourself. Use full-length ACT practice tests to determine whether you're on track to hitting your target score.

When doing so, make sure you also know the best way to review missed questions, since you can't improve unless you learn from your mistakes. In addition, I recommend looking over questions you guessed on and got right so you can ensure you know how to get the correct answer.

Overall, remember to balance your ACT prep by coming up with a foolproof study plan. And know that, with a little hard work, you can get a great score on ACT English!

 

What's Next?

Looking for help with other sections of the ACT? Don't forget to take a look at our expert guides to ACT MathReading, Science, and Writing. There's also an ultimate guide to the entire ACT!

Not sure what ACT score you should be aiming for? Get help setting a personalized goal score with our guide to what good, bad, and excellent ACT scores look like.

This guide has everything you'll need to build an effective ACT English prep program, but if you're feeling overwhelmed by the idea of doing it all by yourself, consider giving our online prep program a try. Built by Harvard grads and ACT full scorers, the PrepScholar ACT program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, and then customizes the program to your needs to give you the most effective prep possible. 

 

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Alex Heimbach
About the Author

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.



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