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ACT English Section

Teacher/Instructor Devorah Goldblatt
Devorah Goldblatt

Summa cum laude
Perfect scorer on the SAT & the ACT

Devorah is the founder of Advantage Point Test Prep and the author of the book “Boost Your Score” The Unofficial Guide to the Real ACT.

Now take a look at this sign over here, it says, 15 items or less. You've probably seen something like that in your local supermarket. It should actually say 15 items or fewer. You use the word fewer for things that you can count, and the word less for things you can't. Intuitively you actually notice, you know, you wouldn't, you would say I had less water today, because you can't count water, maybe you count cups of water. Can't count water but you would say I had fewer carrots, because you can account carrots. Cool random grammar fact. Well, that was the bad news, bad grammar, everywhere. But you know what, here's the good news, on the ACT, only very specific English skills are tested. So in this episode, we're going to do an overview and talk about exactly what's tested, so, you'll know what you're going to see on testing. First, we're going to take a quick look at the directions. Then we'll look at the basic format of the English section, and then we'll take at the usage mechanics questions on the English section. Last, we'll look at the rhetorical skills questions that you'll see.
So we've talked a lot about how important it is to know the directions ahead of time. So first, for the English section, let's talk about the instructions and the format. Here are the instructions, they're really complicated, but I'll go through, circle what's important, and then I'll show you some examples later of exactly what I mean.
So, let me scheme through this quickly. There are 'five passages' on the subject test. You should read each passage once before answering the questions. In order to answer correctly, you may need to read several sentences beyond the question. And there are 'two question' formats within the passage. In one format, you find words and phrases that have been underlined and assigned numbers. I'll underline that. So underlined and assigned numbers, that's the first format. So you'll see something in your passage, it's underlined, there will be a number underneath it and will match to a question that corresponds with that number. And let's see, so these numbers correspond with sets of alternative words and phrases. And then from the sets of alternatives, you need to choose the answer choice that works best in context, keeping in mind whether in a [IB] underwritten English, whether it gets across the idea, whether it's just the tone, things like that.
Second format, you're going to see box numbers, referring to sections of the passage as a whole. And then you'll need to answer a question based on the entire paragraph or passage. So, just to summarize; Always five passages, and you've got underlines and boxes that are numbered. Let's look at an example, because I'm sure you're thinking, 'what's she talking about?' Here it is. So, here's an example paragraph from an English passage, and you see how we've got our first line here, 'That day my best friends give me my first pet-Charlie, a red tailed boa constrictor.' And you've got a word underlined. Sometimes it's a whole sentence, you know, sometimes it's a whole phrase. And you've got alternative choices here, and you see how the number corresponds to the underline. And you can choose, you know, is there a better word, that should be here, or a better phrase or, you know, no change, maybe it should say the same. Now we're not actually going to answer this question now, we'll do it a little later; this is just so you see an example.
Okay, next, so that was the underline questions. Next we've got the box questions, right? We talked about those too. You see how at the end of this whole paragraph, you've got a box, and it's numbered, here we have number 18, and it corresponds to a number 18 question. That's going to ask you about the entire preceding chunk, you know, whether it's the passage, whether it's the paragraph, they'll tell you in the question. So here, which of the following provides the most logical ordering of these sentences in paragraph three? And you see how, you've got some choices here, and you can actually reorganize these sentences, to make them more organized. So, that's what the two formats look like. You'll have the underlines which are an underlined sentence or word, and you need to change those. Or you'll have the boxes, which are about paragraphs or the whole passage. You need to reorganize them or change them somewhat.
So, previously when we talked about how the ATC is scored, we talked about how on the English section, there are two categories of questions, there's usage and mechanics and there is rhetorical skills. So first, let's take a look at usage and mechanics questions, you know exactly what to expect on the ACT. So, the cool thing about the ACT is that like we said, really really predictable, so you'll always know exactly what to expect from this. So you got to always 10 punctuation questions, 12 grammar questions and eighteen sentence structure questions, and that's always exactly what you're going to see. This is really powerful stuff you guys, because, let's say you're running out of time, right? For studying, how cool is it to know that there are 18 in sentence structure questions always, 18 out of 75 questions, that's a lot of questions are going to be testing sentence structure, so, it's really neat to know just how many times this question types are going to appear. Let's take a look at each of the types, so you'll know what to expect.
So first, let's look at punctuation. Now, punctuation questions are going to ask you to correct misplaced, misused, or missing punctuation marks. Things like commas and apostrophes, those are overwhelmingly the most common punctuation marks they'll test, and we'll that's usually eight out of the ten actually. And then you have one or two questions about colons, semicolons and maybe an occasional dash. Okay, let's look at it in an example. So here; 'As a general rule, when handling a snake longer than eight feet please make sure to have a second person present.' Now we're not actually going to answer this question, we're just looking at it as an example of a punctuation question, but you see how you got your underline, and then your corresponding answer choices to choose from. And you see how you can choose, should there be a punctuation mark in there or not. And if there should be, you know, should it be a colon, should it be a comma, things like that. That's an example of a punctuation question that you would see on the ACT.
So, we took a look at punctuation, now let's take a look at grammar, these are the ones that target a single incorrect word, that violates the conventional rules of English grammar. And these are the ones that you guys, usually, you're going to feel them in your gut. You're going to read it and think, 'ouch!' All right, let's take a look and see what I mean.
So, here we've got; 'The gleaming Manhattan skyscrapers rise over the Hudson River.' This is a subject verb agreement question. So here we've got a verb underlined, and then you have to think to yourself, you know, would I say, 'The skyscraper rise over the Hudson river,' or maybe I would say, 'the skyscraper rises over the Hudson river?' That's the kind of thing that you would have on a grammar question.
Next, let's talk about sentence structure questions. So, these questions tend to deal with the sentences as a whole. And they talk about things like clause relationships, you know things like, wrong sentences, fragments of sentences, parallelism, you know, list of things and you know, if they are formatted correctly in a sentence, and things like placement of modifiers. Let's look at an example. So here; 'Alex could not pay for his dinner. Having spent all his money on an iPhone.' So here, you kind of know right. It doesn't look great in two sentences. Probably, the best way to have it, would be as a complete sentence. And here you've got your answer choices, having you, you know, figure out which way is the best way to restate the sentence. So that's a sentence structure question.
We talked about the usage and mechanics questions. Now, let's take a look at the rhetorical skills questions. So, once again, really really predictable, always, 12 strategy questions, 11 questions testing organization, and 12 questions testing style. And let's take a look and we'll talk about exactly what those categories are.
First; writing strategy. Now these questions ask you things about revising a passage to improve its effectiveness. You know, how to make it sound better, how to have more powerful strategic writing. Let's look at an example. Here, we've got a paragraph. The need to provide services to tourists creates new jobs in the community, with a box, so you know it's going to be talking about the preceding chunk probably. You know, although they may not be high-paying employment opportunities, these jobs satisfy the needs of students, okay we don't want to read the whole thing, we're just going to look at it as an example of a strategy question. So the question says, 'The writer wishes to add information here that will further support the point made in the preceding sentence.' So you see how we need an answer, we need a sentence rather, that actually put further kind of give an example, make it more powerful writing of what we saw in a previous sentence about creating new jobs in the community. That's an example in the strategy question.
Let's take a look at the next category. Organization questions, what do they ask about? Well, they ask about things like rearranging the sentences, paragraphs or actually the whole passage to maximize their effectiveness. Let's look at an example of that. Here we've got a passage and actually when they ask you to rearrange the questions, they'll number the sentences. So, you'll know, which sentences are attached to a number. And here you see that the question, organization question actually asks you, what order should these sentences be in so that these passages sound the best.
Style questions. That's the last category of English questions that you'll see. These test how well you can choose the most appropriate word in terms of tone, in terms of clarity, things like that. Here's an example, this is actually a redundancy question of type of style question. 'During her highly publicized breakdown last year, Britney Spears supporters were surprisingly few in number.' And you see how the answer choices here, have you, have to pick. You know, is there a better way to say this, just stylistically. And probably if you're thinking about it, you could just say few. You don't have to say fewer in number.
So just a recap, we talked about the instructions and format, we talked about the underline questions, the box questions, we looked at an example so you'll know what to expect. We talked about the usage and mechanics questions, we went over punctuation, grammar and usage and sentence structure and how many times these questions will appear, and we looked at examples of each question type. And last, we talked about rhetorical skills questions; we talked about the strategy, the organization and the style questions and looked at some examples. Now in next episodes, we'll talk about all these different question types and really get into them. You know, so you'll feel really really good about the different skills that are tested in each of these categories.