ACT English Practice, ACT English Test

6 Strategies to Master the ACT English Section

ACT English is definitely a TOUGH section to master. Don’t fear, however! In this article, we’ll review 7 unique strategies to tackle both the grammar and critical reading components during your ACT English practice. Let’s get started.


Strategy 1: Know the Difference Between SAT & ACT Reading

Before you can confidently tackle ACT English practice, you need to know the difference between its SAT counterpart (as they’re not the same!) The SAT measures a student’s ability to comprehend, analyze, and apply. Students must employ reasoning skills to answer these questions correctly, which means they must be able to read a passage, follow the flow of ideas, then assess and apply that information.  On the ACT, however, students must locate and comprehend information. Few questions require real synthesis or application. Instead, ACT Reading Test questions focus much more on the author’s craft and the passage structure.


Strategy 2: Know the Format & Structure

The ACT provides all of the difficulty a student can expect from a standardized test through the structure and format of the Reading section. Much of the ACT, however, is actually about understanding how the test is designed. What are the testers actually trying to test? Let’s take a look at how long you’ll have to answer each of the questions, how they’re ranked by difficulty, and how questions are arranged.


Students are only provided with an average of eight and half minutes per passage within the time limit.  Almost none of the questions include line number references, unlike the SAT, which makes it very difficult to know where exactly to find the answers in the passage.  More frustratingly, though, is the fact that the questions are not arranged in order of the passage.  Instead, the questions for each ACT Reading passage are jumbled.  These factors are often cited by students who state that they find the ACT Reading section harder than the SAT Reading section, even though it is technically true that the SAT Reading passages are rated at a slightly higher reading level.


Strategy 3: Use the Two Step Solution Strategy

So now that we know how ACT Reading is structured, let’s dive into a strategy for the grammar section. We’ll get into a strategy for reading passages after. One of our favorite ACT tips for the grammar section is to use the Two-Step Solution.  Here’s how it works:


Step 1: Start with the process of elimination. Students can often distinguish several wrong answers by sounding out the answer choices. Because of this, a quick read through and elimination of choices that sound obviously incorrect is quite effective. This way, if you do have to guess the correct answer and you’ve already eliminated two choices, you have a 50% chance of guessing the correct answer instead of a 25% chance.

Step 2: To then figure out the correct answer, students simply compare the remaining choices to identify the specific issue being tested. For example, if the two remaining choices are “having been” and “has been,” then it is clear that the verb tense is the issue being tested. Armed with that knowledge, a student can quickly determine which form fits the passage. Determining what is being tested helps to figure out what the right answer is.


Strategy 4: Find ‘the Spy’

Let’s look at another tip for the grammar section before moving onto the passage based question strategy. In every question, there will be a clue or hint as to what the error is and to what might fix that error. This clue or hint is called the spy. Does a word or phrase stick out or “sound” wrong to you? That is the spy. Listen to the sentences with your mind’s voice as you read them and try to silently sound out each one.


Strategy 5: Be an Active Reader

Now let’s move onto a strategy for reading passages. Remember, reading is a two-way street. Don’t expect the passages to automatically populate your brain for effective recall unless you approach the passages with a pro-active attitude. Don’t expect passages will make you want to read them. Don’t expect to love them. Don’t expect to be interested in their information. In certain cases, you will be engaged by the content. In most cases, however, you must artificially create that engagement. So do your best to actively take an interest in the reading material. When you are interested in something, you simply learn it better. So, get interested! Let’s take a look at a few tips to help you get interested even if a passage bores you.


Tip #1: Personalize

As you read a passage, place yourself in the action of the main character. In other words, pretend you are a character in the story! To do this, form opinions about other characters and think about how specific situations make you feel. How do the other characters feel about you? How do you feel about other characters? Do you agree with the way others are handling the situations presented?

Tip #2: Be Opinionated

Don’t read passively. Form opinions about the passages as you read them. How do you feel about decisions that were made in history? Does the conclusion of a particular event justify the means? Are the reasons for going to war valid? Let the ACT passages move you. Forming opinions will help you stay active and engaged with the material. It doesn’t really matter what those opinions are, as long as you have them!

Tip #3: Get Emotional

Countless research studies have provided overwhelming confirmation of the connection between emotion and memory.  Think about it…what do you remember from your early childhood—things you didn’t care about or things that provoked an emotional response? This is no different for tests like the ACT. Your brain prioritizes input that has emotional connections. If you don’t care about something, why would your brain waste time trying to process it? With so much data pouring in every second, you can help train your brain for success. All it takes is emotional activation.


Strategy 6: Practice Makes Permanent

Finally, you may see the ACT English section as a challenge to your intellect, as a gateway to college, or as a hurdle to overcome. Any view of the test is acceptable, as long as you pick the one that best motivates you to succeed. One thing you must never do is underestimate ACT English practice. You can learn to master the section, but first you must acknowledge that it is a difficult part of the test that requires your full attention both before and during test day.


Following each assignment or practice exercise, evaluate your own performance or have your tutor evaluate your performance. Dedicate yourself to reaching a point of desirable excellence and consistency. If you are not progressing or if your performance on any of the sections is inconsistent, figure out the factors that are preventing you from reaching your goal. Then, work to eliminate them. It is through this continuous cycle of work and analysis that you will see your scores improve with increasing regularity and consistency.


The vast majority of ACT English questions are not tricky or convoluted; the most obvious answer is generally the correct one. If a question really confuses you, analyze the answers instead! Look for strategic solutions. For example, if two answers are exact opposites, one of them is likely to be the correct answer. The ACT is a very logical test, and it is that very logic that can be used to help you make it more predictable.


More tips and strategies for the ACT.