How to Prepare for the ACT English Test

Effective tips to prepare for the ACT English test
April 25, 2024
12 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Preparing for the ACT English test? We’ll review study strategies, key concepts, ACT English section tricks, and more. Keep reading for everything you need to know!

The ACT English section contains passages for students to edit. The ACT is multiple-choice, but each question requires understanding grammatical rules, style, and tone. Let’s explore everything you need to know to prepare for the ACT English section.

ACT English Section Format 

The ACT English test has a total of 75 questions. Students will read five passages and answer 15 multiple-choice questions per passage. The test is 45 minutes long. The timing of the ACT English section means you’ll have approximately 36 seconds, on average, to answer each question. 

While how many questions the ACT English section has and the time limit can make students nervous, becoming more familiar with the ACT English format can help you gain speed and accuracy. Most questions relate to underlined (or highlighted, if you’re taking the test on a computer) questions. These visual cues make information easier to find. 

You’ll never have to write your own answers; you’ll always be given choices. Your job is to select which answer is correct! 

ACT English Test Scores 

Each section of the ACT English test provides four scores. The first score is an overall score for the section. The test covers three categories, each carrying a different weight.

Table outlining the weighting of each section of the ACT English section

Common ACT English Grammar Rules

Common ACT English grammar rules

A crucial part of preparing for the English test is being familiar with ACT grammar rules. The test requires a working knowledge but won’t require you to state the rules themselves. Even if you have an excellent command of the English language, being aware of ACT English grammar rules will help you achieve better results. 

Run-On Sentences 

A run-on sentence fuses two ideas. Their length can sometimes identify them. Run-on sentences are often long and can feel like a mouthful when spoken. Correct a run-on sentence by adding punctuation, like a comma, semicolon, or period. It’s often better to split the sentence into two separate sentences.  


Agreements in grammar occur when a word changes its form depending on other parts of the sentence. A sentence is grammatically incorrect when there’s no agreement, even if it doesn’t necessarily change the sentence's meaning. 

Subject-Verb Agreement 

Subject-verb agreement refers to the rule that a noun or subject in a sentence must match the form of its relative verb. For example, if a noun is singular, the verb form must also be singular. 


It’s essential to avoid ambiguity in the ACT English section. It may be a clue to the answer if it’s unclear who or what is being referred to in a writing sample. Even if you can decipher what the passage refers to, note any ambiguity. 


Knowing your punctuation rules is crucial to performing well on the ACT – you’ll need to know when and what punctuation marks to use. Common punctuation marks you’ll work with include: 

  • Commas 
  • Semicolons 
  • Colons 
  • Apostrophes 
  • Dashes 
  • Question marks 
  • Exclamation points 
  • Periods 

Ensure you understand when to use punctuation! 


Wordy sentences often say the same thing twice. For example, “We circled around the parking lot” can become “We circled the parking lot.” Identify whether words and phrases are adding something new to the sentence/passage or if it’s repeating what’s said. 

Parallel Constructions 

Parallel constructions ensure that items in a list follow the same word structure. For example, “She moved quietly, gracefully, and with tact,” would not be as effective as “Show moved quietly, gracefully, and tactfully.” 

Pronoun Agreements 

Similar to subject-verb agreements, the ACT may try to trick you with pronoun agreements. Look for pronoun-antecedent agreements. For example, “everybody” is always singular. That means “Everybody wants their friends to succeed” isn’t correct. “Everybody wants his or her friends to succeed” is the correct answer. 


Idioms are common English phrases that can be especially tricky for non-native speakers, such as “keeping someone at bay” or “giving someone the cold shoulder.” There is no one rule for handling idioms; your best bet is to explore and memorize as many as you can. 

ACT English Practice Questions 

To help you better understand ACT English’s content, here is a practice passage: 

Sample ACT English Passage
Source: ACT

These are three accompanying questions referring to the underlined portions in this passage: 

3 ACT English practice questions

The correct answer to the first question is A. The “phrase ‘waiting by the back door’ describes the noun nets and is essential because it tells which nets the narrator ‘grew up with.’ Semicolons to indicate items in a list are correct here, too, since the items contain commas. 

The correct answer to the second question is G. Notice that this is a parallel structure – “sitting” makes the most sense when we evaluate the other verb forms in this list (“waiting” and “covering”). 

The correct answer to the third question is D. It’s the most concise option that avoids ambiguity and wordiness.  

7 ACT English Tips

Tips for the ACT English test

Preparation is important for any test, and your strategies should be effective. The ACT English section doesn’t quiz students on their ability to memorize facts. Students’ comprehension of rules and the ability to apply them is essential.

There are many study strategies you can use when studying and during the test. These will help you put your knowledge to the best use. These ACT English tips can help you get better results! 

Take Practice Tests

Perhaps the most useful ACT English tip is to take practice tests. Baseline testing allows students to take a practice test to understand their proficiency. A practice test is a great way to understand where to focus your efforts. 

The ACT offers a practice test with sample test questions and answers. It has five passages with five multiple-choice questions for each passage. The answer key on the ACT English practice test is a great resource. 

We recommend taking your first ACT English practice test after a fair bit of studying. Review the ACT English practice test answers to understand where you may go wrong. This will help you see what you need to look out for. 

The ACT English practice test provides clarification and answers. Even if you get a question correct on the practice test, you’ll receive an explanation for why that answer is correct. Read the explanations for all your correct and incorrect answers and use them as study material. 

Don't Rely on What Sounds Right 

Language is very intuitive, and it can be easy to rely on our gut when making grammatical and stylistic judgments. This isn't entirely helpful in the ACT English test. Be sure to understand the writing sample and review all the multiple-choice options. Pay attention to ACT grammar rules!

Read the Whole Text 

The underlined portions of the writing samples are the most crucial part of that question. Your answer will be directly related to the underlined part. However, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to skip the rest of the text.  

It may be tempting to read only the underlined portion to save time, but the context of the section is equally important. Read the whole text, even if the question only relates to a small part. The context will likely be an essential part of the answer. 

Practice With a Timer 

The ACT English practice test gives students 45 minutes to answer 75 multiple-choice questions. We recommend completing a practice test with a timer to give you an idea of how long it will take you. Depending on your tendencies, you can record how long each section takes and work on increasing your speed or taking your time. 

Reread the Sentence With the Answer You Selected  

The multiple-choice questions give alternative answers for an underlined sentence. When you select an answer, reread the sentence in your head with the answer you selected. If you believe it’s technically the correct answer, how does it sound when you read it?  

Consider What the Question Is Asking. 

Some questions reference a specific writing element, like tone or emphasis. Pay particular attention to the multiple-choice answers offered. Some may be answers that have nothing to do with the element of writing the question is asking about.  

Even if you feel that there’s a grammatical option that may be correct, ask yourself if that’s what the question asks.  

Consider the Most Concise Option

The most concise sentence will often (but not always!) be the correct option on the ACT English test. After reading the passage, consider what the text is trying to say. Which multiple-choice option delivers the message in the most concise way? 

The option you select must be conducive to a complete text. It should make sense and contain all the information, but avoid wordy sentences and phrases.  

ACT English Test: FAQs

Still have questions about the ACT English section? Keep reading to find out more!

1. Does the ACT English Test Ask About Grammar Rules?

While having a grasp of grammar rules can help you during the ACT English Test, you won’t be asked any questions that require you to memorize and recall these rules. 

2. How Long Is the ACT English Test? 

The ACT English section is 45 minutes long.

3. Can I Take the ACT English Test More Than Once?

Yes, you can take the ACT (and therefore the English section) more than once. 

4. How Many Practice Tests Should I Do Before Taking the ACT English Test?

We recommend completing at least two ACT English practice tests before taking the ACT. We highly recommend looking over the explanations of each answer, even your correct answers.

5. How Many Questions Are on the ACT English Test? 

There are 75 questions for you to answer in the ACT English section. 

6. Is ACT English Hard? 

The English test may be harder for students whose first language isn’t English or those who don’t have an excellent command of grammar and punctuation rules. However, practice makes perfect! 

7. What Are the Three Types of Questions You’ll See on the ACT English Test? 

The three question types you’ll see include production of writing (topic development and cohesion), knowledge of language (concision), and conventions of standard English (sentence structure, punctuation, and usage). 

8. How Should I Study for the ACT English Test?

Studying for ACT English involves practicing with question types, learning grammar rules, and taking practice tests to gauge your progress. If you notice your score isn’t improving with regular studying, you may not be spacing out your sessions enough, taking enough practice tests, or aren’t using effective study strategies. 

9. What is a Perfect Score on ACT English?

A perfect ACT English score is 36. Scoring high on the English test boosts your composite score.

Final Thoughts 

ACT English test prep can be a unique challenge for most students. The test doesn’t evaluate your ability to memorize and restate information. Instead, it requires understanding grammar rules and an eye for detail. 

Take ACT English practice tests to build your confidence and understanding for test day. Remember to review our study test-taking strategies and the key concepts we’ve outlined if you’re looking for somewhere to start. Good luck! 

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

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