How to Prepare for the ACT English Test

Picture of a young high school student sitting at a desk and using her laptop to prepare for the ACT exam
November 11, 2022
ACT English Section FormatACT English Test Scores7 ACT English TipsReview Basic Grammar and Other Key Concepts ACT English Test: FAQs

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/6/22

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

The ACT English test contains passages that students should be able to edit correctly. The test is multiple-choice, but each question will require understanding grammatical rules, style, and tone. Let’s explore everything you need to know to prepare for the ACT English section.

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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 that may feel like little time, 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 will provide 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

7 ACT English Tips

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 that 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

Students should take the ACT English test after completing a few ACT English 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. 

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 along with the answers. Even if you get a question correct on the practice test, you’ll receive an explanation as to 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 that is technically the correct answer, how does it sound when you read it together?  

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 that the question is asking about.  

Even if you feel that there is a grammatical option that may be correct, ask yourself if that is 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.  

Review Basic Grammar and Other Key Concepts 

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 grammatical 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 or semicolon. It is often better to split the sentence into two separate sentences.  

Agreements 

Agreements in grammar occur when a word changes its form depending on other parts of the sentence. A sentence is grammatically incorrect when there is 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. 

Ambiguity 

It’s essential to avoid ambiguity when taking the ACT English Test. 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. 

ACT English Test: FAQs

Still have questions about the ACT English Test? 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 Section? 

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 English test 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).

Final Thoughts 

Preparing for the ACT English test 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! 

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