ACT English Tips

10 Tips, Strategies, and Techniques for the ACT English Test Section

act-english-tipsStrategies to Ace the ACT English Section Test

Typically, the first section of the ACT test that you will take is the English section. A lot of students think the ACT English Section is simply recognizing punctuation and correcting grammar, but it’s much more than that.

The English section is often thought of as the easiest ACT test section to prepare for, but you still need to take it seriously. There are tons of grammar rules, syntax, and writing techniques that you will need to master to ace the English ACT.

Let’s look at some of the best tips for the ACT English test and how you can increase your ACT score.

10 ACT English Section Tips that You Need to Know

Here is a list of the top 10 ACT English tips to ace your ACT test and improve your score.

  1. Take Your Time
  2. Sometimes NO CHANGE is the best Answer
  3. Read the Entire Sentence
  4. Don’t Count on What Sounds Right
  5. Make Things Parallel
  6. Memorize the Most Important Grammar Rules
  7. Rule out Similar Answers
  8. Make Sure Pronoun-Antecedents Agree
  9. Check for Subject / Verb Agreements
  10. Beware of Run-on Sentences

General ACT English Tips

Tip #1: Take Your Time

Too many students think they need to rush through the test in order to finish it. That’s not true. Yes, you do have a time limit, but remember that your incorrect questions don’t count against you. You can take your time and answer the questions correctly. If you run out of time, you can guess on the rest.

Don’t feel rushed. Feel prepared. Set a pace and stick to it. The ACT test is long and gives you plenty of time to finish.

 Tip #2: Sometimes NO CHANGE is the best Answer

Just because there is an option to choose “no change” doesn’t mean it’s a trick. Sometimes the sentence is correct. Read the sentence a second time and then evaluate the answers, keeping in mind the grammar rules. If it’s correct, it’s correct. Don’t over think it.

Tip #3: Read the Entire Sentence

Many students get tripped up because they skim the sentence or jump to conclusions before they finish it. Don’t fall into that trap. Read the ENTIRE sentence before looking at the answers. Sometimes the very last word in the sentence is what makes or breaks the answer.

Tip #4: Don’t Count on What Sounds Right

Don’t count on something that sounds wrong to your ear as being wrong. Just because it sounds off doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong. If it sounds weird, read it again and go through the grammar rules in your head. Then make a decision.

Tip #5: Make Things Parallel

Parallelism is often overlooked when reading something because you don’t think about it. Basically, it means that all parts of the sentence are equal or parallel. This is most commonly found in lists. For example, I want to go running, biking, and for a hike. Notice anything weird? The first two verbs in the list end in “ing” while the last one doesn’t. This list isn’t parallel.

It should read, I want to go running, biking, and hiking. Ahhhh, much better.

Tip #6: Memorize the Most Important Grammar Rules

There are numerous easy to memorize grammar rules that will help you spot errors instantly. Memorize them. Who can forget, I before E except after C? These types of rules will help drastically improve your score.

Tip #7: Rule out Similar Answers

A good way reduce the number of answers to choose from is to eliminate answers that are essentially identical. If you read the answers and two of them are basically the same, they are both definitely wrong.

Tip #8: Make Sure Pronoun-Antecedents Agree

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement is often overlooked because it falls in different parts of the sentence. Make sure your subject and pronoun plurality match. For example, candidates is plural and should be accompanied by a plural pronoun like they.

Tip #9: Check for Subject / Verb Agreements

The subject and verb plurality should always agree. For example, I were going to the store doesn’t make sense because I is singular and were is plural. The sentence should read, I was going to the store.

Tip #10: Beware of Run-on Sentences

This is one of the most common grammar/sentence errors. Memorize the common and semi-colon rules, so you understand what makes a compound sentence and what makes a run-on. Don’t get tripped up with this easy to stop error.

What is the ACT English Section?

The ACT English section is not a writing or grammar test but rather a test on your editing skills and ability to correct punctuation and grammatical errors to improve the style and organization of five different passages.

The section comprises five essays or passages on different topics ranging from personal narratives to historical passages. Most importantly, each essay has fifteen questions which makes up a total of 75 multiple-choice questions. Interestingly some of the questions will be in specific sentences or phrases in the passage, and some ask about the entire passage or paragraph.

Skills Tested by ACT English Section

ACT English section covers two areas, which include Usage and Mechanics and Rhetoric skills. The Usage and Mechanics part entails grammatical knowledge, fine-tuned punctuation, sentence structure, and usage. On the other hand, rhetorical skills focus on passage comprehension as a whole and the ability to optimize the style and organization of the essay.

It is important to note that although the section tests grammar rules, it doesn’t test vocabulary and spellings. You will work with passages, implying that context can help you find the right answers, and you are not required to know complicated and incomprehensible grammar rules.

The two parts independently receive a sub-score, but the overall section score is the most important. Here are the skills the test covers:

  • Usage and Mechanic skills
  • Rhetoric skills

Let’s look at each.

Usage and Mechanic skills

This is the detailed part of the English section comprising 40 questions testing grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure rules. You should pick answers that make the passage as precise as possible.

Punctuation Rules

Punctuation rules comprise seven to eleven questions accounting for 10-15% of the score. The questions test internal and end of sentence punctuation conventions, where you should use punctuations to make the passage as precise as possible.

It is good to consider the whole sentence when correcting, even if you have been asked about a short phrase. Examples of punctuations tested include commas, colons, semicolons, apostrophes, dashes, question marks, exclamation marks, and periods.

Usage and Grammar

Usage and grammar comprise questions testing grammar rules such as subject/verb agreement pronoun/antecedent agreement and modifier/word modified agreement. Other things tested include pronoun case, verb formation, comparative and superlative adjectives formation, and adverbs.

Notably, you should be aware of questions on idiomatic usage. Usually, the questions are 11-15, accounting for 15-20% of the score.

Sentence Structure

The sentence structure section comprises 15-19 questions testing relations among and between sentence clauses, construction shifts, and modifier placement. The section tests one’s ability to ascertain the differences between sentence clauses.

You are tested on comma splices, dependent or subordinate clauses, fused or run-on sentences, sentence fragments, verb tense or voice shifts, misplaced modifiers, and pronoun number or person shifts.

Rhetoric skills

The rhetoric skills section is the main part of the ACT English section test because it entails thinking about the whole essay/passage and argument instead of correcting sentences. You should find answers making the passage’s organization, style, and idea clearer. There are 35 questions in this section.


The organization section comprises 7-11 questions and contributes around 10-15% of the score. The questions in this section test your organization of ideas to choose effective transition, opening, and closing sentences. Usually, the questions focus on the start and end of paragraphs. Therefore you should have a proper comprehension of the passage and its meaning as a whole.

Strategy Questions

Strategy questions are 11-15 and account for 15-20% of the score. They test how well one can develop a specific topic by picking certain phrases or words matching the passage’s purpose and audience. It would be best if you judged the impact of revising, deleting sentences, adding, and how the sentence fits the audience, purpose, and the focus of a given paragraph in the essay.

Style questions range from 11-15 and contribute a subscore from 15-20%. The questions test one’s ability to select the appropriate and precise words to keep the tone and level of style of the passage, manage sentence elements to enhance rhetorical effectiveness, and avoid wordiness, redundancy, and ambiguous pronoun references. The focus is tone, writing style, effectiveness, clarity, and clarifying awkward and vague content.

ACT English Test Format & Structure

The test comprises 75 multiple choice questions with four alternatives which have to be answered in 45 minutes. Each of the five sections has around 15 questions. In the reading passage, an enclosing box on the question number or underline references the questions.

Notably, there are few questions concerning the whole passage, and they are labeled explicitly. The first option for the underlined text questions is “NO CHANGE,” which means you are not changing the phase or word as it is in the passage.

The ACT English section questions fall into three categories including, 11-13 Knowledge of Language questions, 22-24 Production Writing questions, and 39-41 Conventions of Standard English questions.

Who Should Take the ACT English Section?

Students considering university admission have to take the test, but different institutions have different minimum ACT English score requirements.

Postsecondary institutions usually use the English placement test, and those that have a good score are likely to waive introductory English courses.


How is the ACT English Test Graded?

For every question of the ACT you get right, you get the point, and there is no penalty for a wrong answer. The total number of questions you get right contributes to your raw score.

What is a Good ACT English Score?

A good score means your average, mean, or scaled score for the test should be 20. Always aim to score above 20. To be among the 10% on the ACT English test, your grade should be above 29.

ACT English Testing Fees

The ACT test costs $95 including the writing section. Here is a detailed list of the ACT costs and fees.

  • Registration Full ACT (no writing) – $55
  • Registration Full ACT (with writing) – $70
  • Test change $15

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