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

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Aug 10, 2015 9:00:00 AM

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 in 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 added in 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 English section starts on page 12).


High Level ACT English Guidance

A big mistake that 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.


What’s Actually Tested on ACT English?

The first step to tackling the ACT English section is knowing 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.


Complete Guide to ACT Grammar Rules

This article outlines the concepts covered by ACT English. Use it to quickly review the rules and determine what you need to study further.



ACT English Skills

A key part of preparing for the ACT English is learning rules covered by the test. I've listed our guides to all the key 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 in order to understand the more complex topics.


Run-Ons and Sentence 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.



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 will 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, the sentence "Each of the siblings have their own rooms" may sound okay, but the singular subject "each" actually requires the singular verb "has."


Verb Tense and Forms

Issues with verb forms are a lot more common than you might think: they include 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 a lot of students up.


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.)



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.



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 and how to fix them.


Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are words like "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 and Adverbs

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



Rhetorical Skills


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.


Redundancy and Wordiness

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 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 the questions that ask you where a sentence or paragraph should go. These questions tend to seem more complicated than they are—make sure to use process of elimination to narrow down answers.


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.



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.



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



ACT English Tips and Strategies

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


The Most Common Mistakes You Make on ACT English

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


Distribution of Grammar Topics on ACT English 

This article breaks down the frequency with which different types of questions appear. Use it to help prioritize your studying.


The Best Way to Prep for ACT English

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.)


Where to Find the Best ACT English Practice Tests

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 Best ACT English Strategies 

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


The Best ACT English Tips 

Using these 8 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 in your ACT study routine.


How to Get a 36 on ACT English

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


Best Books for ACT English Prep

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


The Best ACT Vocabulary Lists and ACT Vocabulary 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.


What's Next?

Having read these guides, you probably know what I'm going to say you need to do next: practice! You can only improve so much by reading about the test—you have to try out the strategies and tips for yourself.

When doing so, make sure you know the best way to review missed questions, since you can't improve unless you learn from your mistakes.

There's guide includes everything you 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 your prep program to your needs, giving you the most effective prep possible. 


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Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this English lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

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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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