Strategies for ACT English: How to Crush the Section

Once students get a handle on the various question-types that show up on the ACT English section, the next step is mastering the best strategies for the section. Part of the shortcut to getting a good score on ACT English is realizing that this section is extremely repetitive, with a few major question-types that show up over and over again. I like to tell students that ACT English tests pattern recognition as much as any grammar concept; viewing the section in that way is key to maximizing your score. Here are some of the best strategies to help you get a great score on the ACT English section.

ACT English Strategy #1: Read for Context


No, this isn’t the Reading section. No, you’re not going to be tested on specific details from the text. But yes, it’s still important for you to read the non-underlined portions of the passage in addition to the underlined text.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, the English section typically contains one or two questions at the end of each passage that ask about the text as a whole; ‘writer’s purpose’ questions are one example. In order to answer these quickly and efficiently, you need to have at least a general sense of what the passage was about. So read everything, and if you need a quick refresher, check out the title of the passage. The ACT English section almost always crafts its titles to reflect the main theme of the passage, so you can use that as a helpful shortcut.

Another place where context is always important is in transition questions. If you’re trying to bridge two paragraphs with a sentence or link two thoughts with a word, it’s essential that you first understand the two things that you’re trying to connect. Read a little ahead of and a little behind the portion that the question is asking about and these problems will feel significantly easier.

English Strategy #2: Compare Your Answer Choices


Even though the questions in the ACT English section are very repetitive, there’s a still a fair amount of grammar content that can be tested. An individual answer question, however, won’t test more than one or two concepts at a time. To make your problem-solving process as efficient as possible, it’s important to quickly establish which topic(s) a given question is testing.

First, read the sentence containing the underlined portion from period to period; make sure you have a firm grasp on everything that’s included in the sentence. Then, “vertically read” your answers: compare the choices to determine what’s different between them. Once you’ve identified the concepts that are being tested, look over the sentence again, reading it through the lens of what you know about how the ACT tests those concepts. If you notice that the answer choices have different verb conjugations in them, for instance, you know that the question is almost certainly testing subject-verb agreement or verb tense. Look for clues in the sentence that tell you which tense the verb should be in and whether it should be singular or plural. Fortunately, your Inspirica Pros tutor will have taught you all about those things, so you should be fine.

English Strategy #3: Pay Attention to the Question Text


I shouldn’t have to say this. It pains me to even write it. But students have driven me to it, so here goes: read the questions.

Much of the ACT English section is comprised of answer questions, which of course don’t have any question text. But when a problem does have text, it’s important to read it! Wild idea, I know. But hear me out. Remember that the ACT is an absolutely awful writer, so you can’t saunter into a rhetoric-focused question with a nonchalant mindset of “I’ll just look for the answer that I would use in one of my essays.” Chances are, your essays are good; the ACT English passages… very much aren’t.

Remember: you’re never looking for a good answer, you’re looking for the BEST answer. And on question questions, the best answer is always the one that accomplishes the specific goal or answers the specific question that the problem is asking. If you don’t know that goal or that question… well, you’re going to have a bad time.

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If these ACT English section strategies seem basic, that’s because they are. This isn’t a section that challenges you to be a test-taking wizard; it requires you to be comfortable with a few key grammar concepts and then to “think like the test” to ensure that you’re approaching the question questions in the correct way. If you’d like more specific advice on how best to approach the ACT English section or strategies in any other area of the test, head over to Inspirica Pros’ ACT headquarters. Our squad of test gurus would love to help you crush the ACT.