9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section


9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section.

The ACT English section can be intimidating. You have to know grammar and punctuation rules that may or may not have been taught to you in school. You also have to know how to analyze a passage, understand its main point and organize it for logical flow. Not only do you have to answer a wide variety of questions, you have to do so in a very short amount of time (an average of 36 seconds per question).

In this article, I will list top 9 strategies to help you succeed on the ACT English section. These study tips will require time and diligence, and the most important ACT advice I can give you is to practice consistently. Identify areas that need improvement and focus most of your attention there. If you can successfully implement the following strategies, I guarantee that your score will increase.


  1. Know the Format
  2. Determine YOUR Best Way to approach Passages
  3. Learn the Grammar Rules
  4. Use Official Practice Tests
  5. Identify Missed Question Types
  6. Carefully Review and Analyze Real ACT Questions
  7. Simulate Test Day Conditions
  8. Use Your Target Score to Focus Your Study Plan
  9. Think About What Makes Answer Choices Different

#1. Become Familiar with the Format of ACT English


Knowing the format of the ACT English section will not only help you become more comfortable but will also help reduce test day anxiety. The ACT English section consists of 5 passages and 75 questions that have to be answered in 45 minutes. These questions are broken down into two broad categories: Usage and Mechanics which test your knowledge of standard English and Rhetorical Skills which test your ability to analyze and organize a passage.


Most ACT English questions refer to an underlined word or phrase within a passage and you have to determine how to correct the underlined portion. Here is an example:



In addition, you should be aware of the content distribution to prioritize your studying, i.e. focusing more time on questions that are tested more frequently and less time on questions tested less often.


Usage and Mechanics


Punctuation (10-15%) – Commas and other punctuation


Grammar and Usage (15-20%) – Subject Verb agreement, Faulty modifiers, Verb Tense and Forms, Pronoun Agreement, Pronoun Case, Adjective and Adverb Usage, Idioms


Sentence Structure (15-20%) – Word Choice and Diction, Pronoun Agreement, Wordiness and Redundancy, Formality


Rhetorical Skills


Strategy (15-20%) – Add / Delete, Relevance, Author’s Main Goal, Author Technique


Organization (10-15%) – Macro Logic, Transitional Logic


Style (15-20%) – Word Choice and Diction, Pronoun Agreement, Wordiness and Redundancy, Formality.


If you are wondering why concepts such as Word Choice and Diction, Pronoun Agreement, and Redundancy, etc., are included in both categories – it is because these concepts can be tested in a variety of ways. For example, a question testing tense of a certain word would be a grammar question, while a question testing usage of a word within context is a style question.


It is important to remember that since most of the writing style questions are related to grammar concepts, the majority of the ACT English section is based on specific rules that you can learn and master before you take the ACT.


Organization and Strategy questions test your reading comprehension and ability to analyze parts of a passage or the entire passage.


It is extremely important, before you take the ACT, to know the types of questions you should expect, become comfortable with the format of the ACT, and be able to complete the ACT English section in less than 45 minutes.



#2. Determine YOUR Best Way to Approach ACT English Passages


There are several ways to approach ACT English passages and you must determine the best way that works for YOU. The possible approaches you can use are:

  • paragraph by paragraph – read each paragraph and answer only the questions that relate to that paragraph before moving on to the next paragraph.
  • answer as you go – every time you encounter an underlined word or phrase, stop and answer the related question. This approach could be good if you are a slow reader, involves skipping sentences that don’t have any underlined sections, but you run a risk of not grasping the main idea of the passage which makes answering Strategy and Organization question difficult.
  • sentence by sentence – similar to paragraph by paragraph, but you would read each sentence as a whole and answer questions related to each sentence, or
  • passage first – this strategy is self-explanatory in that you would read the entire passage and then go back and answer all questions.


Make sure you identify and use your favorite approach in practice to fine tune it and capitalize on its effectiveness. Using the same approach maximized your efficiency; therefore, you should use the same approach consistently.


If you are not achieving your required results on practice tests and questions, you can consider changing your approach. However, once you decide on YOUR best strategy, use it consistently and practice it enough that you don’t even think about strategy on test day.


#3. Know What Grammar Rules are Tested on the ACT English


Because the ACT Exam is constrained by time and space, it tests the same grammar rules over and over, so knowing these rules is crucial to your success on ACT English. It is also helpful to understand how the ACT structures the questions because the tested concepts tend to appear in the same ways.


Here’s a list of grammar concepts tested on ACT English:


Subject-verb agreement


Commas – very frequently tested




Pronoun Agreement


Pronoun Case




Word Choice and Diction


Run-On Sentences and Fragments


Parallel Structure


Faulty Modifiers


Adjectives and Adverbs


Verb Tense and Forms – very frequently tested


Wordiness and Redundancy – very frequently tested


Relative Pronouns


You will increase your ACT English score dramatically if you understand these grammar rules and know how to apply them.


#4. Use Real Practice Tests to Study


The best practice tests to study with are ones that are published by the ACT. These tests are most representative of what you should expect to see on your ACT test date.


Unfortunately, many of the widely available unofficial materials are not true to the test. Many are too easy and give you a false sense of confidence, and some are too difficult and cause you to become frustrated and give up. Some of them


Make sure you are using the best resources for ACT English practice. If you are using wrong materials, you are likely not using your time effectively and your efforts are less likely to produce desired results.


#5. Identify and Review Missed Questions


This strategy is extremely important. As you are practicing ACT English (as well as other sections) keep track of the questions you don’t know or unsure about. After grading the test, make a list of questions you missed or guessed on (even if you guessed correctly), identify what grammar or rhetorical skill category each question pertains to, and learn from your mistakes.


Why Do You Need to Categorize Questions?


You should categorize missed questions because they will help you identify and pinpoint exactly your weakest areas that need the most improvement. Check out our blogs for grammar and rhetorical skills rules and strategies.


Additionally, the ACT website has free English practice and answer explanations. If you like working with a book, The Real ACT Prep Guide has 5 official ACTs with detailed explanations of every test question.


#6. Review Examples of Questions Related to Each Grammar Rule and Rhetorical Skill

9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section.

This strategy will help you increase your familiarity and comprehension of the different types of questions that you should expect on the ACT English.


After identifying and categorizing missed questions, create a study guide of real ACT question for each grammar rule and rhetorical skill, and organize them by question type (e.g. punctuation, pronoun agreement, relevance, etc.).


For each question type you should be able to understand and explain how to find the correct answer (and why the other ones are wrong).


If you spend enough time reviewing these questions, you will strengthen your understanding of the concepts, increase confidence and test-taking speed and accuracy during the ACT English section.


#7. Understand What Makes Answer Choices Different from Each Other

9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section.

The answer choices for various grammar questions can provide clues indicating the specific grammar rule being tested. If the only variation in the answer choices is the tense of the same verb, then it’s a verb tense question. Here’s a real ACT question example:



Just by looking at the answer choices, we can tell that this is subject-verb agreement or verb case question that can be approached in two ways. In case you’re wondering, the correct answer is J. First, subject-verb agreement: the subject of the sentence is plural (water vapor molecules); therefore, the corresponding verb must be plural. Plural verbs do not end in s, so answer is J.

Second, verb tense: verb tenses of the first and second sentence must match; therefore, the underlined verb must be in the same tense as ‘form’ and ‘bond’, so the answer is J ‘bump.’



#8. Take Practice Test Under Test Day Conditions

9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section.

Taking a full ACT exam can be a mentally draining experience. To build up endurance and reduce test-day anxiety, you should take a minimum of 3 full-length time practice tests before your test day.


Use a timer and only take the allowed ACT breaks. It is important to build endurance by practicing to maintain focus for such a long period of time.


Timing is a real issue for many students taking the ACT. Even if you are familiar and confident with all of the grammar rules and rhetorical strategies, you are not going to get a high score if you cannot complete each section within the time allotted. Taking timed practice tests will let you determine if you have timing issues.


If you run out of time on ACT English section, monitor how much time you spend per question while doing practice problems.  The ACT English section allows an average of 36 seconds per question; therefore, you should spend less than 1 minute on each question and less than 30 seconds on the easier questions.


If you finish with more than 5 minutes left and consistently get more than a couple of questions wrong, slow down. Read the questions more carefully and look at the answer choices more closely. Review the questions you are unsure about during the time you have left over.


#9. Identify and Use Your Target Score to Guide Your Studying

9 Must Know Strategies to KILL the ACT English section.

Knowing your ACT English target score can give you a good idea of how and what to study. Composite ACT score is an average of your section sores, your ACT English score should generally match your target ACT composite score.


If you are especially good at English or applying to a humanities program, your ACT English target score can (or should) be slightly higher. If math or science are your strongest areas, and you are applying to a STEM program, your ACT English score can be slightly lower than your ACT composite target score.


Depending on what your ACT English target score is, you can determine exactly how many questions you need to get right / or can miss to reach your goal. If you want more information on how ACT is scored, refer to this article.


Generally, if you want a perfect score of 36 on ACT English, you must answer each and every question correctly.


If your goal is 25, you have to answer approximately 58 out of 75 questions correctly. To reach this target score you should focus your studying on the most frequently tested rules. If you can master the answers to the most common types of questions, you should not have any trouble reaching this goal. Review the article about most important grammar rules and question type distribution.



Next Steps


In addition to understanding and implementing information presented in this article, make sure to read these 8 tips for ACT English and 5 most important concepts you need to know to ace ACT English.


Also, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of the 8 most common ACT English mistakes.

To watch me explain everything that was said here, follow this link: https://youtu.be/jvqK_YtO5y4

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