8 MOST Important ACT English Prep Tips


8 MOST Important ACT English Prep Tips

To do well on ACT English, you have to answer 75 questions in 45 minutes (average of 36 seconds per question); you have to know, understand, and apply grammar rules; you have to analyze sentences, paragraphs, and full passages to determine logic, relevance, and placement, so it’s no wonder that it can feel overwhelming.

Whether you are diligently studying for the test or start your preparation the night before the exam, you can simplify and streamline your progress by following just a few simple steps that will prove beneficial on test day.

In this article, we will provide 8 most important tips for ACT English success. If you learn to apply these tips, you will be much less likely to make careless mistakes and much more likely to improve your score.

  1. Read the WHOLE sentence
  2. Do Not Be Afraid to Pick NO CHANGE
  3. Take Your Time – Don’t Rush
  4. Rely on Rules, Not Your Ear
  5. Be Sure to Know the Easy, Commonly Tested Rules
  6. Eliminate Identical Answers
  7. Consider all Choices and Pick the Clearest Answer
  8. Answer the Question You Are Asked

 Overall ACT English Tips

Let’s start with the tips and suggestions that apply to the ACT English section as a whole.

8 MOST Important ACT English Prep Tips

#1. Read the WHOLE Sentence


This tip is crucial to your success on the ACT English section. Most questions will ask you how to change the underlined word or phrase within a sentence. Do NOT just read the underlined portion. The questions are designed to be answered in context which you can get only by reading the entire sentence. The parts of the sentence that are not underlined provide essential information you need to determine if there is an error in the underlined word or phrase.

For example (from Real ACT):


At first glance, if you just look at the underlined portion of question 19, you probably won’t think there’s anything wrong with the phrase ‘in under a half an hour.’ However, when you read the entire sentence, you should notice that ‘under a half an hour’ is redundant due to a phrase ‘twenty-six minutes.” In this case the phrase ‘in under a half an hour’ describes the approximate length of time the first train took to complete the route and the phrase ‘twenty-six minutes’ describes the exact length of time the train took and means “less than a half an hour”. Therefore, the phrase ‘under a half an hour’ is unnecessary.

The correct answer to this question is D, but if you do not read the whole sentence, you might not notice the error and most likely select A.

In addition, some questions require you to read several sentences to answer the questions correctly. For example, in order to answer some verb tense or paragraph (or sentence) order questions, you need the context provided by multiple sentences.

#2. Do Not Assume Every Question Has an Error

Do not be afraid to pick NO CHANGE. If you have read the whole sentence and it seems fine, consider the differences between answer choices to understand what concept the question is testing and determine if an error is present in the original sentence.

You may be surprised to learn that the NO CHANGE option tends to be more common than expected.

#3. Don’t Rush

Rushing is actually the opposite side of the same problem as running out of time. This advice may seem obvious, but if you are finishing the ACT Reading section with 5 minutes or more left, it is important to slow down and make sure you understand the sentences and questions before marking your answer. It is better to guess at the end or skip the more time-consuming big picture questions than to rush through the questions and make costly careless mistakes.

For example (from Real ACT):


If you are going too quickly, you might miss this relatively easy question. Maybe you would think that ‘trails’ is a plural noun and pick NO CHANGE, or you may not recognize that this question is asking about singular possessive pronoun.

If you read the passage carefully, you would know that the sentence is referring to one trail that the author finished riding for the day. Therefore, the apostrophe should come before -s to indicate singular possession. The answer is G.

This question is testing a somewhat basic rule, but if you are rushing, you might miss the question that you should be getting right.

Make sure you identify the type of question being asked and go thru the steps necessary to find the correct answer.

Grammar Tips

Let’s look at some suggestions that focus exclusively on grammar questions.

8 MOST Important ACT English Prep Tips

#4. Rely on Grammar Rules to Answer Grammar Questions

On the ACT English section, you should rely primarily on your knowledge of grammar rules to answer grammar questions. Except for idiom questions, do not rely on your ear for what sounds right. The ACT English section tests rules that are often broken in spoken English, so many correct sentences may sound wrong to you if you rely on your ear.

For example (from Real ACT):


If you rely solely on what sounds right, you probably won’t notice the error. The sentence sounds correct, but if you rely on grammar rules to answer this question, you should notice that the underlined word is a pronoun. Whenever you see an underlined pronoun, you should check to see if there is pronoun agreement.

In this case, pronoun ‘them’ doesn’t have a clear antecedent (i.e. it could relate to calculations or to celestial bodies). The only answer choice that corrects the error is G.

#5. Easily Fixable Common Mistakes

If you are able to identify the most common errors, you can correct them relatively easily.

Redundancy / Wordiness

Redundancy and wordiness errors can be easily corrected by removing words or by making sentence more concise. If the sentence makes sense without some of the underlined words, get rid of them.

Let’s look at an example:



Just by looking at this question, you should be able to determine that this is a redundancy question because ‘peril’ means serious and immediate danger. In addition, ‘dangerous,’ ‘hazardous,’ and ‘risky’ are synonyms, and therefore, these can all be eliminated.

The correct answer is J.

Unnecessary Commas

Sometimes students think that there should be a comma every time there is a pause in a sentence. Some of the comma usage questions on ACT English can be tricky and require you to know comma rules well, and some comma questions simply require you to remove unnecessary commas. If you are not sure if a comma is needed, the general rule is to go without.  

Let’s look at an example:



This sentence works fine without the comma. In fact, commas aren’t necessary because they surround the name of the main character in the passage.

On the ACT English, if the sentence doesn’t require a comma, there shouldn’t be one. All you have to do to fix the error is remove the unnecessary comma(s). The correct answer is B.

Dangling Modifiers

If a sentence starts with a descriptive phrase, the word following the comma must be the noun the phrase is describing, i.e. the described noun should come right after a comma which follows the descriptive phrase.

Here’s an example of a dangling modifier:


The introductory phrase, ‘cheek to cheek’ refers to the way partners dance, not to the dance itself. Since the modifier must always be next to whatever it modifies, the correct answer is G.

#6. Eliminate Identical Answers

If two answer choices are functionally identical, they can both be eliminated. For example, if there’s a question about transitions and two of the choices are “likewise” and “similarly,” you can confidently eliminate both of them because there is no way to differentiate between these two choices.

On the other hand, if you notice that more than two options are functionally identical, you are most likely dealing with a “Which of the following would NOT be acceptable” question.

If you can recognize the redundancy error, eliminate redundant answer choices and compare the remaining two choices. Pick the one that is more concise, maintains the meaning of the original sentence, and grammatically correct.

Rhetorical Skills Tips

Let’s look at some suggestions that focus exclusively on rhetorical skills questions. 8 MOST Important ACT English Prep Tips

#7. All Prose Should Be as Clear as Possible

Remember that shorter is better if, and only if, the shortest choice provides only the necessary information in the most straightforward way possible.  

Let’s look at an example (from Real ACT):


While the phrase ‘being the place in which’ is not grammatically incorrect, it is unnecessarily wordy. Every word and phrase in an ACT English section should have a purpose, so this sentence can be more concise and straightforward.

If we change the original option with “in which”, the meaning of the sentence would stay the same and the prose is clearer. The correct answer is C.

#8. Answer ONLY the Questions Being Asked

This tip may seem obvious, but it is important to think about this when answering rhetorical skills questions. Make sure you focus on picking an answer choice that best answers the questions, not the one that sounds right. Note that the correct answer to this question could have the longest word count, but you can select it confidently if it answers the question being asked.

Let’s look at an example (from Real ACT):



Most students will be confused by a question like this. Since all the choices are true, they will randomly pick the choice that sounds the most formal and complex. Focus on the wording of the question. The correct answer should illustrate (i.e. describe) what dress code means. The answer should be the most vivid and specific.

By focusing on what the question is specifically asking, you would be able to recognize that the correct answer is C. All the other choices mention clothing, but don’t describe the type of closing that was prohibited.

 Next Steps


Make sure to take the time to review the articles about 5 most important concepts you must understand in ACT English and most important grammar rules on ACT English. Both of these articles will help you improve your score and strategy.

Make sure you have a systematic approach to the ACT English passages that works for you and helps you reach your target score.

To watch a video where I explain these concepts, please follow this link: https://youtu.be/65mBZUdBKzY

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