The Best Sources for ACT English Practice


Best Sources for ACT English Practice


If you have been studying concepts tested on ACT English for some time or are just starting out, you know that in order to see significant improvement, you must implement your new skills consistently by taking practice tests.

Before you grab the first practice test that draws your attention, make sure it’s the right one. Many popular and widely available tests are strangely formatted, ask the wrong types of questions, or are too hard. Taking these tests actually hurts student’s progress.  

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about choosing the right type of material. In addition, I will provide links to the tests published by the ACT.

Reasons You Should Be Using Only Accurate Practice Tests

Best Sources for ACT English Practice

I don’t think I will surprise anyone by saying that the best materials to practice with are actual ACT practice tests. The ACT exam is full of nuances and quirks that you can only learn by studying the actual test.

Ideally, your study plan should include official ACT practice tests along with supplementary material designed to help you fine tune specific concepts. Unfortunately, most unofficial ACT practice tests and questions don’t reflect everything that is actually on the test.

 Here is a list of the reasons why you shouldn’t use unofficial practice material.

#1. They Won’t Test Concepts You Really Need to Know

The ACT English section covers a finite number of concepts, but most unofficial practice tests will either include questions about other topics, or will explain the correct topics in wrong ways.

For example, the ACT English section considers that separating two independent clauses with a period, a semicolon, or a comma followed by ‘and or but’ is similar enough that you won’t ever be asked to choose between them. However, many of the unofficial test prep questions will ask you to distinguish between them. So, while you’re technically learning the concepts included on the ACT English section, you are not learning them in the correct way for the ACT English.

If you are using these kinds of materials, you’re learning the wrong way. You’re learning to look for errors you won’t see on the real test instead of becoming familiar with the types of questions actually included on the test.

#2. They Won’t Teach You How to Approach Big Picture Questions

Many of the worst practice materials don’t use the standard ACT English format passages. Instead, they drill grammar by testing your knowledge and understanding of grammar concepts. The ACT English is not strictly a grammar test, and as we discussed in our article about best ways to prepare, grammar questions comprise slightly more than 50 percent of all ACT English questions. Even if you learn how to answer 100% of these questions correctly, you will still miss out on 45+ percent of the questions on the real test because you wouldn’t be learning anything about how to handle the big picture and context questions.

If you use differently formatted practice material, make sure to do so sparingly.

#3: They Won’t Help You Understand the Logic of ACT English Test Questions

This advice is somewhat similar to the previous one, but I feel the need to stress the importance of this. The ACT English tests concepts in a way that is different from what you’ve been taught in your English class. If you take enough of the ACT practice exams, you will start to notice specific patterns that will help you answer similar questions on the actual ACT exam.

There is no substitute for the real thing.

#4: They Can Give You a False Sense of Success (or Failure)

Many of the unofficial test questions are either a lot easier or a lot harder than the official ACT exams. If you are working with easier tests, you might fall into the trap of thinking that you are extremely well prepared and then feel disappointment when you get your ACT test score. On the other hand, working with harder tests, you can easily become discouraged because the tests seem impossible.

Knowing what the real, official ACT test is like is one of the major aspects of studying for the ACT but using wrong study materials will not give you a clear sense of what to expect on test day.

What to Look for in Practice Material

Best Sources for ACT English Practice

Now that we’ve discussed what is wrong with most of the weaker practice materials, let’s talk about what you should look for in good practice tests.

The best place to start is with real ACTs. ACT, Inc. has released a total of 12 official tests that you can use (I’ll explain where to get them below). Hopefully, that is enough to carry you through all of your studying.

However, if you find yourself needing more practice, here’s what you should consider as you evaluate practice materials.

#1. Does the Test Use the Same Format as the ACT?

The first step in determining if a practice material is appropriate is checking to see if it looks like the real ACT. Are there 15 questions per passage? Is each passage approximately 300-500 words long? Are rhetorical questions included and are they worded similarly to the real ACT?

You might be surprised by how many practice tests don’t meet these criteria. If a practice test does not look and feel right, it will probably not include everything you need to know and practice. Do not use!

#2. Do the Materials Test the Same Concepts as the Real ACT English section?

This question is impossible to answer by just looking at these tests. If you’ve completed all of the available real ACT tests, you should have developed a ‘feel’ for what the ACT English section is like.

If you find un-official practice material that fulfills the criteria in #1, work through one or two passages on the unofficial tests to see if anything jumps out at you as Not ACT-like. Check if there are questions or topics that you’ve never seen on the real ACT, or if there are questions or topics that are obviously missing.

#3. Is the Difficulty Level the Same as Real ACT?

This question is also difficult to answer without working through at least one test.

Work through at least a couple of passages and compare the number of questions you got wrong with your per-passage average from official tests.

Is the number much higher? Or lower? If so, consider why – if you think the unofficial practice tests are significantly different than the official ones, don’t use them.

How to Practice ACT English in Your Prep

Best Sources for ACT English Practice

Everyone uses a somewhat different strategy to practice for the ACT English. Some students study independently, some with a tutor, and others with an online program. Whatever your strategy may be, there are three main types of ACT English practice: taking full tests, analyzing questions, and practicing with passages.

Here is some advice on how to get the most out of your ACT English practice:

#1. Take at Least 3 Full Practice Tests

The ACT is a marathon, and you have to build up endurance to be able to sit through a three-hour exam (longer if you include the writing section). The only way to do this is with consistent practice.

Regardless of what your preparation method is, it is important to take at least three full-length practice tests in as closely as possible simulated testing conditions. That means you should time yourself, stay at a desk in a quiet room, turn off your phone, and take the same breaks as allowed on the ACT.

The point of this exercise is to simulate test-day experience as closely as possible, so make sure you are using the official ACT tests for this practice.

#2.  Carefully Analyze the Questions

ACT English questions follow specific patterns. One of the most important reasons to use official ACT tests is because it can be extremely helpful to your prep to spend time analyzing how real ACT English questions work.

Try to identify what concept each question is testing, what kinds of different answer choices are you given, are there traps meant to trick you into choosing the wrong answer, and how can you avoid those traps in the future.

The better you understand the patterns of ACT questions, the easier it will be for you to answer them. For more helpful suggestions, take a look at the article about reviewing and correcting your mistakes.

#3. Practice – Timed and Untimed

Many students believe that the key to success on ACT English is to answer every single question. To achieve this, they practice numerous drills designed to increase their speed on the ACT English section. This strategy is a mistake.

Once you’ve identified your baseline time by doing a timed practice test, start with untimed practice and focus on getting a sense of the structure and patterns of the ACT English section. Do timed practice drills once you become familiar with the details.

The Best ACT Practice Tests

Best Sources for ACT English Practice

As mentioned several times before, the best practice material are the official ACT tests. Here is a list of all official practice materials that ACT has published.

Free ACT Practice

ACT, Inc. has published 5 official ACT tests online. To get a sense of passages’ format and question style. I recommend printing these out and taking at least one test under timed, test-like conditions. There are also helpful explanations for every answer.

Every two years, ACT, Inc. releases a real ACT test that students can use for practice. Here are the links to most recent test and 5 more that came before it.

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2018-2019) – form number 74F

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2017-2018) – form number 72C

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2014-2015) – form number 67C

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2011-2012) – form number 64E

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2008-2009) – form number 61C

ACT Practice Test and Answers (2005-2006) – form number 59F

ACT Practice Test to Purchase

ACT, Inc. published a study guide that includes real ACTs, as well as basic advice about the test. This book is called 3rd edition The Real ACT Prep Guide. The biggest benefit of the book is that it has detailed explanations of all the test questions. ACT, Inc. has also released 4th edition of this book. The 3rd edition is better because it has 5 tests instead of 3 available in the 4th edition. In addition, in May 2018, ACT, Inc will release a 2018-2019 version with 5 tests. These books can be purchased on Amazon or borrowed from a local library.

Next Steps

Now that you know where to find the best ACT English practice, make sure you make the most of it with consistent practice.

Another key part of preparing for ACT English is understanding big picture ideas – these 5 concepts will help you avoid some of the common misunderstandings about the test.

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