Your Guide to Nailing the ACT English Section

Girl studying for the ACT English exam.

Do you want to nail the ACT English section? This post has you covered! We’ve got tips for the ACT English section that will help you boost your grammar, punctuation, and rhetorical skills. Doing well on this section can significantly improve your overall score, so don’t miss out on these valuable ACT test tips.

We’ll discuss how to avoid common mistakes, recognize sentence structure errors, incorporate transition words, and brush up on grammar rules and rhetoric. Plus, we’ll shed light on crucial grammar skills and why understanding the author’s intention is so important. Let’s get started and unlock the keys to a high ACT English score!

Breaking down the ACT English section

So, you’re thinking about taking the ACT? Great! Whether you’re taking the SAT or ACT, a plan for tackling each section is important.

A breakdown of the ACT English section
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To summarize, the English section on the ACT is part of the test with five passages and 75 multiple-choice questions that measure your understanding of grammar, punctuation, and rhetoric.

  • 5 text passages
  • 75 multiple-choice questions (fifteen per passage)
  • 45 minutes total (30 seconds/question)

6 tips for the English section

1. Focus on each passage individually

During ACT reading, approach each passage on its own and not bring any information from one to the other. Doing so will help keep your attention where it needs to be and avoid any misunderstandings during the ACT.

2. Be mindful of “NO CHANGE” answer choices

Here is one of the most important ACT tips: don’t assume that the original phrasing is right because “NO CHANGE” is an option for a question. Analyze each choice carefully and pick the one that makes the sentence clearer, more precise, or better from a grammar perspective.

Historically, the test has included between 15 and 18 questions that are correct, just as they are in the text. So the odds of the “NO CHANGE” option being correct are less. Be more mindful of this to get a good English score.

3. Spot sentence structure errors

Gain the skills to detect sentence structure errors like subject-verb agreement, parallelism, misplaced modifiers, and run-on sentences. During your ACT prep, closely examine each sentence and inspect its structure to locate any irregularities or grammatical goofs.

4. Utilize transition words

Pay close attention to transition words like “however,” “therefore,” and “on the other hand” – they’re essential for keeping your ideas connected and organized. They offer clues to the relationship between sentences and paragraphs, so make sure to take them into account while selecting your answer. This will greatly enhance your English score.

5. Brush up on grammar skills

By brushing up on the basics of grammar, such as punctuation, verb tenses, pronoun use, subject/verb agreement, and parallelism, you’ll be better equipped to recognize mistakes and choose the right answers with certainty. These core grammar rules are essential for performing well on the English test.

6. Watch out for idioms and tricky language

Pay close attention to the idioms and phrases that show up in the passages or options. Lots of idioms have rules and conventions that you should be aware of. So, brush up on the most common ones and learn how to identify them correctly to score high.

Key grammar skills to focus on

Here are some useful grammar tips for your ACT prep. They will help you score well on the final ACT test:

Idioms and word choice

Familiarize yourself with common idioms and make sure you recognize them correctly. Pay attention to the word choice too, and select the right words or phrases for your context.

Verb tenses and conjugations

It’s important to get a handle on the various verb tenses – past, present, and future – and all their forms – simple, continuous, and perfect. The ACT English section is always trying to confuse you by messing with the tenses. So, mastering verb conjugations is key to making sure you pick the right answer.

Pronoun usage

Using pronouns correctly is really important for writing clearly, without causing any confusion. It’s all about ensuring the pronouns agree with the nouns they’re replacing in terms of number, gender, and case. Pay attention to how pronouns have been used to choose the correct answer.

Here’s an example of a question where you need to identify the correct usage of pronouns.

An example of an ACT English question.
Source: ACT

The correct option here is “for us.” Your first instinct may have been to write it “for me.” However, in this case, that is not a given option. If you’re unsure why this is the case, check out this video about pronoun agreement.

Subject/verb agreement and pronoun number agreement

Practice the subject/verb agreement in a sentence and the number of the pronoun and its antecedent. That way, you can easily identify any subject-verb and pronoun number agreement errors in the options. Remember, the ACT English section likes to trick you by separating verbs and subjects in sentences.


Pay attention to parallel structure when creating sentences or a series of sentences. Lists, comparisons, and correlative conjunctions should be used consistently to ensure a balanced and clear flow of grammar.

Modifier agreement and placement

Adjectives and adverbs serve as modifiers, giving more information about nouns and verbs. They must agree in number and should be close to what they’re modifying so that the sentence makes sense and the relationship is clear.

Comparison and description

Gaining the ability to make clear and logical comparisons between different elements using the correct comparative forms is essential. You should also learn how to write descriptively to accurately recognize characteristics, qualities, or attributes in the given options.

Master rhetoric skills

Transitional logic

Grasping how various thoughts connect and link to each other is key for creating a logical flow between sentences and paragraphs. Look for proper transitional logic when selecting your answer.

Relevance and wordiness

Identify unnecessary details to make your choice as precise as possible among the given options.

Macro logic

Understand the point the author is trying to make and how each sentence and paragraph fit together to make it. Think about how the writing style comes off and whether it achieves the desired effect.

Author’s intention

To truly understand the passage and select the right answers related to the author’s point of view, it is important to examine the author’s purpose, tone, and writing style. The overall tone of the passage is casual.

Formality and tone

Understand the proper degree of formality and the tone of various passages, then select answers that are consistent with the author’s desired style.

The big picture

The ACT English section can seem intimidating, but you can score well with the right strategies and preparation. To up your accuracy, do not misjudge paragraph boundaries, focus on each passage, and be aware of the “NO CHANGE” answer choices. Also, brushing up on grammar and mastering rhetoric will boost your understanding of English.

Remember to pay attention to the key grammar skills and identify them effectively. Try to understand the author’s purpose and rhetoric. With these helpful tips, you’ll confidently go into the ACT English section and get the best score you can. If you’re still wondering whether you should take the ACT or digital SAT, read a few more of our blog posts to get an idea of which you might do better on.

Then, if you need more help preparing for the ACT or digital SAT, Lessonpal is here to help. It is easy to find great online Test Prep tutors on Lessonpal, and that too at affordable rates.

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