The English section of the ACT can be a hurdle for many test-takers, and rightfully so. The questions can appear to be convoluted or sometimes vague. In other subjects such as math, the answers are as simple as applying a formula. But the English section relies on quick reading and analysis. Although it may seem intimidating, this blog will go over the ten most important topics for the exam so you’ll feel confident about any question that comes your way.
Top 10 Question Types
The following are the ten most common types of questions on the ACT exam section, ranked by the rate of error:
1. Comma Usage (In-Depth Explanation for ACT English)
- This topic should be the highest priority for students to study for the exam because most tend to get this type of question wrong. The ACT knows this, so they include many questions relating to the many forms of comma usage. Students should remember to use commas to separate lists, independent clauses from dependent clauses, and nonessential clauses.
2. Apostrophes (In-Depth Explanation for ACT English)
- Apostrophe usage is a topic that many test-takers struggle with, but pinpointing the use cases can make this simple to ace. Students must read through each paragraph carefully to determine whether a word is possessive, such as dog’s, or plural, such as dogs. The most difficult word for test-takers is “its” (possessive it) versus “it’s” (it is).
3. Semicolons and Colons (In-Depth Explanation for ACT English)
- This topic usually covers up to four questions of the section, so it’s crucial to learn the difference and earn all the points. A colon begins a list or a description of an example, while a semicolon separates two complete (and related) clauses. It’s best to learn when and when not to use each type of punctuation so you won’t fall for any mistakes.
4. Dashes (Not to be Confused with Hyphens)
- Dashes are used just like the specific case of nonessential commas, but they emphasize the “nonessential” part. The ACT is looking for students to know that em-dashes (—), when used correctly, must come both before and after the clause in question to replace the nonessential commas with dashes.
5. End-of-Sentence Punctuation
- Although the exam may ask about all three end-of-sentence punctuation marks—periods, question marks, and exclamation points—the main focus is periods. Tying into the first bullet, understanding independent versus dependent clauses will help you determine where to use periods or other punctuation instead.
6. Subject vs. Object Pronoun (More About Who vs. Whom)
- Although most students are familiar with personal pronouns such as “he” as a subject pronoun and “him” as an object pronoun, the ACT also tests knowledge of the less known difference between “who” (subject) and “whom” (object). A helpful trick is to try replacing the “who(m)” with the more intuitive “he” or “him,” then swap it again to get the correct version.
7. Pronoun Agreement
- In the same vein as the previous topic, all pronouns must agree in number based on the context of the sentence. If this is not the case, the phrase will seem odd, such as listing three names and referring to them all as “he.” The questions are less explicit in the exam section, but understanding the basics will help you succeed on all of them.
8. Verb Tenses and Parallelism (In-Depth Explanation for ACT English)
- This topic is one of the more challenging topics of the English portion to learn because it can be hard to recognize. These mistakes frequently appear in lists where each item is a clause, and the verb tense must match each item. To catch errors relating to this, read each list item individually and ensure the verb before the list matches.
- Idioms are common in modern writing, but they can be difficult because questions about this topic rely entirely on your knowledge of them. Therefore, to maximize your experience with these questions, you should read through a list of the most common idioms, such as this webpage, several times to familiarize yourself with them.
10. Author’s Intent
- This topic is the most challenging for many people because it is less concrete, and there are no specific rules to memorize and apply. You should only choose to “add a sentence” if it strictly relates to the contents of the paragraph at hand, and “deleting a sentence” is the option for anything that does not relate specifically to the paragraph in question. Practicing these problems is key to understanding them.
Understanding these ten topics will bring any test-taker to victory on the English portion of the ACT exam. It can take time to tackle all of these topics, but it is worthwhile to master these so you can put more of your focus on the other three (or four) sections of the exam. If you’re looking for more English help, be sure to check out the Curvebreakers Blog for more helpful articles on all aspects of grammar and writing.
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