Topics Tested on ACT English Complete Review


Which Topics Are Actually Tested on ACT English?

Topics ACTUALLY Tested on ACT English Complete Review

If you are preparing for the ACT, you might be wondering what exactly is tested on the ACT English section. Would you be surprised to find out that it’s more than grammar and proper punctuation? In this article, we will discuss exactly what is tested on the ACT English section.

What is the ACT English Like?

Topics ACTUALLY Tested on ACT English Complete Review

The ACT English section is the first section of the exam. It consists of 75 questions that have to be answered in 45 minutes. If you are aiming for a perfect score, you have to answer every single one of these questions at an average rate of 36 seconds per question, so you will have to work quickly to make sure you don’t run out of time.


Because you will have to face the ACT English section early on a Saturday morning, I suggest you do a warm-up (maybe while standing in line to be admitted to the test) so that you don’t have to start this section cold.


The English section consists of 5 passages, each of which is accompanied by a series of multiple-choice questions. Some of the questions ask about punctuation, grammar, specific sentences or phrases in the passage, and some ask about paragraph or the entire passage as a whole. Let’s take a more detailed look at what these questions actually test.


What Content Does the ACT English Section Cover?


ACT English section covers two broad areas of content: Usage and Mechanics and Rhetorical skills.


  • Usage and Mechanics tests punctuation, usage, and sentence structure and requires detailed knowledge of grammar.
  • Rhetorical Skills tests strategy, organization, and style and tests your comprehension of the passage as a whole and your ability to understand and improve the passage’s organization and style.

Although you will receive a subscore for each category, keep in mind that your overall score is most important. So, rather than worry about the subscore you may receive for each category, focus on using this information in practice to help guide your studying.

Vocabulary and Spelling are not tested on the ACT English section. While grammar rules are tested, the grammar will be in context of the passage which you can use to help you find the correct answers. You will not be expected to know tricky or obscure grammar.

Subsection 1: Usage and Mechanics

Topics ACTUALLY Tested on ACT English Complete Review

This is the most detailed portion of the English section.  You have to know punctuation rules, grammar rules, and proper sentence construction rules to do well on this part. Remember that you should choose the answer that makes the sentence (or passage) as clear as possible.

Punctuation (10-15%)

These questions test conventions of internal and end of sentence punctuation, meaning you have to understand correct comma, apostrophe, period, and semicolon use.

Punctuation questions emphasize the relationship of punctuation to meaning, i.e. how can you use punctuation to make the meaning as clear as possible? One of the ways to do this is to answer each question in the context of the sentence (sometimes more than one sentence) instead of by just looking at the underlined part. This is true even if the question relates to punctuation of a short phrase.


Source: ACT Practice test

Although this question is asking about proper punctuation for the phrase “form from tiny water droplets”, you have to take the entire sentence into account to make sure you choose the correct answer. You know that commas are used to separate items in a list, and you do not need a comma to separate “tiny” from “water” because tiny describes the size of water droplets, so you can eliminate B and C. While looking at A, you notice that the underlined portion is followed by a participial phrase which, when used in the middle of the sentence, must be offset with commas, so you choose A. NO CHANGE.

Grammar and Usage (15-20%)

These questions test your understanding of grammar rules such as subject verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and agreement between modifiers and the words they modify. In addition, verb tense, pronoun case (singular and plural), and formation of comparative and superlative adjectives, as well as usage of idioms is also tested.

While this post will not contain explanations for each individual grammar rule, you can read our complete guide to ACT grammar to get a more detailed explanation of what you should expect to see in this section. Here is an example of a grammar question:



Source: ACT Practice test

This question is testing whether you can identify proper pronoun and verb usage. You have to decide which of the four answer choices are incorrect. One of the ways to do this is to plug each choice back into the sentence and see if they fit. By doing this, it is easy to identify that choice B correctly fits the meaning of the sentence, making it the right answer.

Sentence Structure (20-25%)

These questions test your understanding of the relationship between clauses, placements of modifiers, and shifts in focus. So, while the previous examples tested your understanding of grammar and punctuation within short sentences, these questions will test your ability to understand the relationship between parts within a sentence.  Here is an example:



Source: ACT Practice test

At first glance, this question asks you about just two underlined words, but in reality, this question is testing your ability to recognize how the two clauses on either side of transition phrase “for example” relate to each other. When faced with a transition question, the first thing you should do is physically cross out (in pencil), the transition word or phrase.

Then, look at the two clauses. How are they related to each other? Are they continuers (i.e. have the same point of view)? Are they contradictors (i.e. one of the clauses takes exception with the statement presented in the first clause)? Or is there a cause and effect relationship? The first clause states, “most people are there to attend a performance.” The word “most” implies that not all people are there for the performance. The second clause introduces another reason why people might be there – to admire architecture. The transition phrase “for example” does not work because the type of people described in the second clause (architecture buffs) are not an example of the type of people that the first clause describes (theater goers). Because the two clauses describe two different types of people, the transition word “however” fits best. The answer is H.

As you work through these passages, make sure to consider the sentence as a whole, not just the underlined part.

Subsection #2: Rhetorical Skills

Topics ACTUALLY Tested on ACT English Complete Review

This part of the test can be described as “big picture” part of the ACT English Test. Rather than correcting individual sentences, these questions will ask you to consider the passage as a whole. The correct answer choices make ideas presented in the passage as well as passage’s organization and style the clearest.

Strategy (15-20%)

Strategy questions test how well you understand the main purpose of the passage by choosing words or phrases that match the passage’s purpose and topic through deciding whether you should add, delete, or revise supporting sentences (or information). Having strong understanding of the ideas presented in the passage will help you get through this type of questions. Ask yourself, does the addition (or deletion) of extra material add to or clarify the passage or confuse it?

You have to take the entire passage into account in order to determine the relevance of statements in context and decide whether to include them or not. Here’s an example of such a question:


Source: ACT Practice test

The process for answering this type of questions is two-fold. First, from what you’ve read, you have to decide whether the additional statement will contribute to the information and detail of the passage, or confuse it. Once you’ve answered – yes or no, you can move on to deciding why the additional information should be added or not. Choose to add a statement ONLY if it ties directly to the information already in the passage. However, beware of the answer choices that restate the information from the passage in different words. Choosing to add such information would make it redundant, and you should avoid redundancy at all costs.

Organization (10-15%)

Organization questions test how well you can organize ideas and come up with effective paragraph introductions or conclusions. Because these questions test the beginning and the end of paragraphs within a passage, it is important to be able to follow the organization of ideas within the whole passage. Here is an example of what an Organization type question might ask:



Source: ACT Practice test

Your task is to find the choice that most naturally transitions from the first paragraph to the second. The first paragraph ends with Quezada wondering if he could make the pots like the Paquime Indians. The first sentence of the second paragraph describes the steps Quezada took when he started to work with clay. But we need a sentence that actually says that he started, and that is H.

For organization questions, make sure to consider both the paragraph’s overall point, but also think about how to make smooth, logical transitions.

Style (15-20%)

These questions test how well you select specific and appropriate words, maintain the level of style and tone in an essay, manage elements of the sentence for rhetorical effectiveness, and avoid ambiguous pronoun references, wordiness, and redundancy. As with organization and strategy questions, you must have a solid understanding of the passage as a whole to get these questions right.



Source: ACT Practice test

The question is asking you to choose a word or phrase that communicates the most intense way to describe the landscape. If you notice that the landscape is described as “severe” and “gray volcanic rock” you can probably imagine jagged edges of protruding rocks. What is the best way to describe the sun illuminating it? “Smothered” and “squelched out” are too negative, “went over” is too neutral. That leaves G, “shattered over”. You can just imagine something (in this case sunlight) shattering over the jagged rocks. G is the correct answer.

When attempting to answer style questions, make sure to focus on the passage’s tone and choose words or phrases that emphasize it.

Next Steps


Do you need to brush up on grammar rules? Here is an ultimate guide to all of the grammar rules you need to know for ACT English.

Official practice links for added practice

Want to get a perfect 36? Here is a list of strategies to achieve your goal (coming soon).

Previous Post
5 Most Important ACT English Concepts to Know.
Next Post
How Often is ‘NO CHANGE’ Correct on ACT English?