English questions on the ACT consist of a mix of grammar rule applications and rhetorical situations concerning placement of words, sentences, or paragraphs,vocabulary, and purpose. The concepts tested are generally less complicated than in the high school English curriculum and are specifically designed to follow rules that leave no room for choice. Every correct answer is provably correct and every incorrect alternative breaks an identifiable rule.
When using sample tests to identify concepts to study, notice recurrent errors and list the missed concepts as ones to study fully. Write out the grammar rule and highlight similar questions in subsequent homework assignments. Recognizing that a question relates to a rule you've studied increases the odds that you will apply the correct concept when selecting an answer.
Silly mistakes are those which occur only periodically. You've answered two similar questions correctly, but missed this one. Study these errors differently. They represent a point at which greater caution and controlled attention would have eliminated the mistake. Be aware of these points and guard against them.
GRAMMAR: Some grammar questions are frequently missed by even the highest ability students. A single "problematic" concept may appear several times on a single test. Watch for these:
- its/it's - "Its" is possessive. Think of the word "his" when deciding whether to use "its." "It's" is a contraction. Think of the two words "it" and "is."
- avoiding redundant words - As a general rule, reduce the number of words in a sentence. The ACT is looking for concise writing -- always. Plan to select the shortest response unless it's wrong for another reason like punctuation.
- subject-verb agreement - Identify the subject and verb in any sentence involved in a question about either part of speech. Reading only the subject and verb may allow you to rely on what sounds right.
- punctuating independent sentences - The ACT is not looking for creative writing and has ironclad rules for punctuating a sentence break. A period, semicolon, comma-conjunction, or colon may follow the full sentence. For the period, semicolon, or comma-conjunction, another complete sentence must follow the punctuation. Colons can can be followed by either a full sentence or a sentence fragment like a list or additional detail. A comma alone can NEVER separate two full sentences.
RHETORIC: Questions that have additional instructions in the stem provide clue words which make selecting a correct answer easier. Don't pass over these vital clues without reading them carefully:
- transition, introduce, connect - These key words tell you to pick an answer which relates both to the previous idea and the next.
- add/delete - Be suspicious. If the thought is not specifically needed to understand the topic, leave it out. Remember that the ACT is looking for concise written communication.
- sentence/word placement - Look for pronouns and chronology. If the sentence is "She came home," ask yourself who "she" is. Place the sentence after the person has been identified. If dates are give, put them in order. If relative timing is indicated, "Then this happened," think about logical order. Don't have the plane touch ground before the landing gear is down.
- NOT - Be aware when a question asks which alternative would NOT be satisfactory. If you are using a system of elimination, this question type will be obvious because you'll have 3 "good" answers and one "bad" alternative which will be the correct answer.
Knowing the rules that are acceptable for the ACT will improve your scores in two ways. You'll get more questions right on the English section and applying the same concepts in the Writing essay will increase your score.