English is an area of the ACT that tends to intimidate students who are beginning their prep. After hearing what’s on the ACT English section, most students say some variation of “oh god, anything but grammar.” In reality, though, this section isn’t as scary as it seems, and in fact it’s generally one of the parts of the test that responds the most consistently to practice. The first step to conquering ACT English is understanding the structure of the section and what is tested. Fortunately, your favorite ACT test expert is here with an overview of what’s on the English section.
The Structure of the ACT English Section
ACT English is comprised of 75 questions, which students must complete in 45 minutes. If that sounds like a lot to do in relatively little time, don’t worry – this section is extremely repetitive, with a few key question-types that show up over and over again, and most students find that they’re able to finish within the time limit with some practice.
The questions in the English section are divided between five passages and can be separated into two general categories: answer questions and question questions.
What is an ‘Answer Question’?
Each answer question corresponds to a particular underlined portion of the passage, which can range in length from a word or two to multiple sentences. We call them answer questions because these problems don’t actually include any question text. Instead, they simply provide three options to replace the underlined portion of text and challenge students to select the best of those options or opt to keep the sentence as it’s currently written.
By and large, answer questions will test grammar mechanics. Punctuation, verb tense & subject-verb agreement, and pronoun usage are some of the most commonly tested concepts, and any review of material that’s on the ACT English section should include them. Other, less grammatical topics covered in answer questions include word choice, concision, and placement of modifier phrases.
What is a ‘Question Question’?
Question questions come in a variety of forms, but they all have one thing in common: they get their name from the fact that all problems in this category provide specific instructions regarding what the student is supposed to accomplish with the correct answer choice. Some question questions ask about a specific portion of the passage; for instance, one may ask whether the author should keep or delete a given sentence and why. Other question questions, however, will ask about the entire passage. One very common subtype is the ‘writer’s purpose’ question, which asks whether the passage accomplished a particular goal and why.
Regardless of the specific question, it’s important to remember that these problems require no actual writing skill. In fact, students generally have to pretend to be worse writers than they actually are (“dumb themselves down”, so to speak) in order to interpret the questions in the way that the ACT wants them to!
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And there you have your summary: the structure of the ACT English section, demystified. Of course, just knowing what’s on the ACT English section isn’t enough; you also have to learn the best strategies & techniques to tackle the questions and then practice them consistently. Fortunately, we know some people who can help with that. Head over to Inspirica Pros’ ACT headquarters to learn more about our ACT prep options. Our squad of ACT gurus would love to help you crush the test.