If you’re trying to boost your ACT score, the English section is the easiest to tackle. Here’s why: there is only a handful of technical grammar content covered and there are really only a handful of rhetorical skills covered.
In other words, if you are really paying attention you will notice that the test makers are just asking the same questions over and over again with different passages on the ACT English section.
Imagine that the math section only covered 20 kinds of questions. Sure, they could ask the question in a difficult way, use complicated fractions, or maybe word the question in a way that makes you a little less certain what to do or word the answers so you’re a little unsure–but it would still be a question from one of only 20 topics! This is what the ACT English section is like.
What is the Format of the ACT English Section?
The ACT English section is 45 minutes long and contains 75 questions. The questions test your understanding of grammatical errors across five passages. According to the ACT, the questions test: “conventions of standard English (punctuation, usage, and sentence structure), production of writing (topic development, organization, unity, and cohesion), and knowledge of language (word choice, style, and tone).”
Example of a passage and question on the ACT English section:
So How Do I Work the ACT English Section?
If you can figure out what your weak areas are and improve them, then it doesn’t matter what the passage is about or what the particulars of the sentence are; if they’re asking you a sentence about say, comma use, and you now understand how to use a comma, then you will get it right!
While it may seem that the rhetorical skills questions are more unpredictable, this is not true. They are just as predictable. If they ask you a question about logical order, then you just need to figure out three things: which sentence comes first, or which sentence comes last, or which two sentences have to go in a particular order. Often you only need to determine one of these in order to eliminate enough answer choices to find the correct answer!
Common Pitfalls on the ACT English Section
There are some tricky parts to the ACT English section, or everyone would already be getting 36’s! Here are some common pitfalls for students:
Not Understanding the Vocabulary
Sometimes students will just get tripped up with vocabulary. They simply do not read enough or enough variety of material. So there’s just some sort of wording in the passage or in the question or in the answer that trips them up, and they don’t understand and select the wrong answer.
Moving Too Fast
Often students go too fast in this section. It’s long! In order to answer 75 questions in 45 minutes, you have to stay on your toes and move with speed, but not so fast that you miss the details, which are usually very important in this section.
Feeling Too Confident
Students can also get cocky! I know this sounds a lot like going too fast, but it isn’t. The test makers can be very tricky. They will often underline in a manner that makes it more difficult to figure out the sentence.
Like, let’s say they underline the sentence so that it looks like the subject and the verb are contained in the underlined portion and don’t agree. But the truth is that the subject is found in an earlier part of the sentence and that’s what you need to find in order to determine the correct verb. They do this with commas and semicolons and everything else too.
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Overestimating Your Grammar Skills
The last pitfall is that you may not understand grammar as well as you think you do! For example, do you really know how to use a semicolon? Do you know all the rules for comma usage? Step #1 to getting a 36 on the English section is being honest with yourself about the fact that you probably have learned a handful of these rules in general, but if you don’t really understand the concept then you cannot apply it well.
How to Get a 36 on the ACT English Section
So in order to get a 36, you’ll need to become skilled at identifying the kinds of questions you’re encountering as you practice. Olive Book’s ACT course breaks down the grammar topics that are covered on the test and walks you through what you may think you know, but maybe really don’t know through video lessons and practice questions. Often in the videos or in the written explanation for practice questions, the type of question will be indicated. This can help you to find similar questions in a practice test or find other questions on Olive Book that ask the same kind of question. In the same way, the ACT course can also help you identify what kinds of questions you are struggling with in the math, reading, and science sections!
Whichever study method you use, as long as you’re focused on improving your weak spots, you’ll raise your English score (maybe even to a 36!) and see your composite score boost in the process.