6 Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English


Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

The ACT English section covers a wide range of material (a lot of which has not been taught to you in school); the ACT format is different than any other test you have ever taken, so preparing for it can feel overwhelming.

If you look around you see a lot of options for ACT prep with a lot of confusing advise. How do you decide which approach is right for you? How do you efficiently spend your time to prepare for ACT English and reach your target score?

In this article we will discuss the best and most efficient approach to preparing for the ACT English. I strongly recommend that you follow the strategies below if you want to be fully prepared and feel confident on test day.

#1: Learn the Grammar Rules Tested on ACT English

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

ACT English section is broken down into two broad categories: usage and mechanics and rhetorical strategy. Usage and mechanics tests mostly grammar, punctuation, and other related concepts. Understanding these concepts and knowing how to apply them to sentences and paragraphs is essential to doing well on ACT English. The good news is that the ACT tests the same grammar rules over and over again; therefore, if you can master these rules you will be well prepared to reach your target score on test day.

List of question types you should expect to see on ACT English – grammar portion:

Subject-Verb agreement

Verb Tense and Forms

Comma Rules


Pronoun Agreement

Pronoun Case

Redundancy and Wordiness


Run-on Sentences / Sentence Fragments


Faulty Modifiers

Adjective and Adverb Errors

Relative Pronouns

Word Choice / Diction

The grammar topics listed above are varied, so my best advice is to find out the frequency with which question types appear on the ACT and focus your studying by giving your effort to the most frequent question types. Once you’ve mastered those, move on to the second most frequent question types, and so on.

Before you start studying, you should determine what your target score should be based on which colleges and universities you are going to apply to. Gauge your studying efforts to your target score.

#2: Learn the Types of Rhetorical Skills Questions Tested on ACT English

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

Rhetorical skills questions are different from grammar questions in that they test your ability to understand the reading material and analyze the passage. To answer these questions, you need to be able to understand each question and have strategies to approach each question to find the correct answer.

List of question types you should expect to see on ACT English – rhetorical skills portion:

Macro Logic

Transitional Logic



Author Main Goal

Author Technique


Solid understanding of the types and approaches to answer each question is crucial to your success on ACT English. However, if you want to fully prepare yourself, especially if you are targeting a 36, you must test your progress by repeatedly doing real ACT practice problems.

#3: Practice, Practice, Practice to Understand Your Mistakes

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

Consistently doing lots of practice problems will familiarize you, increase your confidence, and make you more comfortable with the material commonly tested on (as well as the format of) the ACT English.

Whenever possible, use official practice tests because the problems on those tests are most representative of what you can expect to see on you ACT test date. It is important to note that just doing practice tests is not enough.

Why Do You Need to Understand Your Mistakes?

Practice makes perfect, right?  Not exactly. Perfect practice makes perfect. Regardless of how much you are practicing, making the same mistakes and not reviewing your mistakes or learning from your mistakes will NOT give you a better score. In order to really improve, you have to know exactly what types of questions you are getting wrong and what you can do to improve your weakness and not repeat the same mistake again.

Students frequently neglect to review their own mistakes; therefore, they don’t understand their mistakes, continue making them over and over again, and never really see a significant improvement. Understanding your mistakes is the most difficult part of the study process, but it is necessary in order to learn the material and improve your score.

How to Understand Your Mistakes

Fully understanding your mistakes takes time and effort. Below is a review process that will help you recognize your deficiencies. Although it is somewhat tedious, it has been proven as the best way to prepare!

  1. Once you complete and grade a test or practice set, circle every problem you got wrong or guessed on (even if you guessed right).
  2. Identify and make a list of all the topics covered by each missing question.
  3. Determine exactly why you missed each question and what you will do to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Be as detailed as possible.

For example, don’t just write down that you missed a punctuation, or a comma, question. What kind of comma question was it? Did you add an unnecessary comma? Maybe you forgot that there should be a comma before and after an appositive phrase?  Did you separate adjectives with a comma? How are you going to make sure to answer this type of questions correctly in the future?

Also, remember to note whether you missed the comma because you were looking at the underlined portion rather than the context of the entire sentence, or because you didn’t consider all of the available choices and picked the first one that “sounded” right.

#4: Identify Your Weaknesses and Practice Them

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

If you carefully categorized your missed questions using the process described above, you can now look over all of the missed questions and determine if there is a pattern. For example, are most of your mistakes, comma errors, or pronoun errors, etc.? If so, it should be easy to improve your score by just fixing this one issue by spending extra time practicing the areas you are weakest at – because if you spend the majority of your time practicing things you already know, you’re not using your time efficiently or effectively.

#5: Determine if You Have a Timing Issue and Fix It

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

How to Determine if You Have Timing Issues

If you haven’t done so already, find an official ACT test and take the ACT English section. Time yourself and treat it like a real test. If time runs out and you are not finished, mark the place where you were when time ran out and keep going. Note the time it took to complete the whole section. Determine the difference between that time and the allotted time of 45 minutes.

Grade your test, but assign two scores: 1) Realistic Score – the score you would get if you stopped when 45 minutes ran out, and 2) Extra Time Score.

If the difference between these two scores is more than 4 raw points (i.e. you answered four more questions correctly with Extra Time), you have a timing issue that you must address.

How to Fix Timing Issues

Usually, timing of each section improves as you become more and more familiar and confident with the format and content of the test through consistent practice.  If time management is an on-going issue, you may have to change how you approach ACT English passages. For example, if you are a fast reader who reads each individual sentence, try reading the whole paragraph and answering questions that relate to it before moving to the next one and repeating the process. If you are a slow reader, try to focus only on the sentences that contain underlined portions and skipping the sentences in between.

Also, monitor your time per question rate. You have an average of 36 seconds per question on the ACT English section. You should be able to answer easier grammar questions in 15-20 seconds and leave up to one minute for the harder rhetorical strategy questions.

Some students might feel like they’re running out of time on the ACT English section, others find they have 15 minutes left. Rushing is an equally serious problem.

If you are finishing the section with more than 5 minutes left and you’re getting more than a couple of questions wrong, you need to SLOW DOWN.

Read the questions more carefully, take a closer look at the answer choices, and spend time reviewing your answers.

#6: Build Up Your Test Endurance

Best Strategies to Prepare for ACT English

The ACT is a marathon, not a race. It is an almost 4-hour exam that can be mentally draining. Because it is easy to lose focus during the test, you need to build up your test taking stamina.

Before test day, take at least 3 official tests imitating test-taking conditions. Simulate test taking conditions as much as possible. Time yourself. Bubble in answers. Take only the ACT allowed breaks. Turn off your cell phone – just like you would during the actual test.

If you consistently follow all of these strategies, you are guaranteed to be ready for the ACT English section on actual test day. You will be familiar with the format, know the content, and be confident in your abilities to complete the ACT English section.


Next Steps

As you continue practicing for the ACT English section, review the 5 most important concepts you have to understand about ACT English.

For more helpful advice, check out the article on top tips for ACT English Success.

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Most Important ACT English Grammar Rules
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