Top 3 ACT English Tips from an Expert Tutor

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Today’s post comes from Jerusha, a professional ACT and SAT tutor, as well as a high school teacher. Jerusha writes test prep advice on her blog prepACTSAT.com. She’s joining us as a guest blogger, so look out for more posts from her in the future!

One of the best ways to study for the ACT and the SAT is to take practice tests, then go over them in detail afterwards. This is something I do a lot with my students, particularly on real tests that they’ve actually taken. You can get your old tests back via the ACT’s Test Information Release Service – it’s a great strategy to take a look at exactly which questions you got wrong and analyze them in detail. After working with a few different students on the same test, I started to notice some patterns, especially in the English section! These ACT English tips are based on the questions that many of my students got wrong, on the most recent two tests.

Since ACT English is so repetitive, and the SAT Writing and Language has very similar questions, these ACT English tips should be applicable across the both tests.

Also, I’m going to discuss the began/begun question – one of hardest questions in ACT English – so pay attention!

Dictionary macro close up.
 

ACT English Tip 1: Inserting or Deleting Information

I’m sure you already know what this question is about. It’s very common, with usually at least 3 of this type per test. Here’s an example:

1. The writer is considering deleting the underlined portion. Should the sentence be kept or deleted?

A. Kept, it reinforces the main idea of the essay.
B. Kept, it adds relevant information.
C. Deleted, because its claim is too general to be relevant to the essay
D. Deleted, as it contradicts the idea that …

 
A lot of people have a tendency to think about whether they think the sentence should be kept or deleted, and then answer that way. The problem with this approach is that the reason has to make sense as well, and only one of the reasons is actually sensible. You should make a decision about your answer based on the reason, not what you would actually do if you were editing the passage. This way, you’re turning the question from a subjective one about your opinion into an objective one about whether the reasons make sense or not. It’s always better to be answering objective, right or wrong types of questions!

In this example, obviously I didn’t have an actual passage, so you won’t see those specific answer choices. However, phrases along these lines are quite common in the answer choices, so ask yourself “is the information relevant to the essay?”, “does it contradict the idea that … ” etc. This is the question you should be answering – not whether or not you think the sentence should be kept.
 

ACT English Tip 2: Modifiers

The tough thing about this question is that it’s hard to spot. Once you do, the rule is very easy to master. Here’s an example:

After cycling for 3 hours, Sabrina felt as though the road would never end.

2: Which of the following choices is NOT acceptable?
A. Sabrina had cycled for 3 hours, and felt as though the road would never end
B. After cycling for 3 hours, the road felt endless to Sabrina
C. After Sabrina had cycled for 3 hours, she felt that the road would never end.
D. The road felt endless after Sabrina had cycled on it for 3 hours.

 

Did you get it? The correct answer is B (meaning choice B is wrong). Notice how, in that sentence, there is no subject in the first clause “After cycling for 3 hours”? This means that you don’t know who or what has been cycling for 3 hours. Logic tells you it’s Sabrina, when you read the rest of the sentence. Grammar tells you otherwise! The rule is that when there’s a clause without a subject, whatever follows the comma is the subject of the clause. Choice B actually implies that the road had cycled for 3 hours! Clearly that sounds silly, but it’s what the sentence is telling you grammatically. Watch out for this, as it’s not obvious to spot!
 

ACT English Tip 3: Parallel Phrasing

This kind of question is easy to spot, but hard to answer! You’ll know because the answer choices are different forms of the same verb. Here’s an example:

Early in the morning, I opened the box, emptied the contents onto my desk, and begun to examine the detritus of my sister’s life.

A. NO CHANGE
B. began
C. beginning
D. had begun

 

The trick is to match the verb you’re being asked about with one elsewhere in the sentence. Sometimes this requires you to remove some of the extra information that’s in the sentence, but isn’t relevant (like an interrupting clause, for example). Here, the question is made harder because a lot of people get confused about the verb ‘to begin’. As a general rule, if you can’t remember which is present and past tense, test it out in your head with a different sentence.

Let’s take the answer choices one by one:

A. ‘begun’ always needs to be used with other verbs, as in ‘had begun’. It’s wrong on its own.
B. ‘began’ is past tense, like the rest of the sentence. It’s the correct choice.
C. ‘beginning’ would work if the sentence continued with a phrase like ‘beginning to examine the detritus of my sister’s life, I found…’. But it doesn’t, so it’s wrong here!
D. ‘had begun’ doesn’t match the tense of the rest of the verbs in the sentence (i.e. none of them are in the form ‘had opened’). It would work if the sentence continued ‘had begun to examine the detritus of my sister’s life when I noticed…’.

This is such a tough one – questions with the ‘to begin’ verb are always so hard. I hope this helps clear things up in your head!

 

I hope you find these ACT English tips helpful! This blog post arose out of a cue card that I was making with one of my students, the idea being that he read it right before going into the test. Sometimes this is good, especially with things like the modifiers question – it’s so tricky to spot that you might find it helpful to be thinking about it in the back of your head while you write the test.

Share your top ACT English tips in the comments below!