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ACT English Tips

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.

So usually when I want go somewhere I like to drive I feel a little bit more in control of the situation and it works great if I know the directions, if I feel really comfortable about where I'm going. But what happens if let's say I don't feel so great about how to get to where I want to go, or maybe there's just a lot of traffic on the way to my destination well in that case I usually take the subway it's this underground way to get to where I need to go, without the traffic and worrying about exactly what I need to do to get there. So how does this relate to the English sections, well hopefully we'll go over a lot of skills and you'll feel great about all the skills that are tested for English. But what if there are some things that you feel a little iffy about and you're not quite sure, well we've also got guides and great underground strategies to help you get the right answer even if you're not sure about the question.
In this episode we're going to take a look at six great strategies for the English section. Remember we did an overview of the English section where we talked about the format and the instructions and the different categories you'll see on the ACT English test. So today we're going to talk about six English strategies, great strategies to help you nail the English section on the ACT.
Here's the first one, skim the paragraph, now this is something that you're going to do if you have enough time so if you're somebody who really runs out of time on English section this is not absolutely necessary but it's certainly ideal and what you're going to want to do is before you even dive into the questions you're going to want to quickly just skim the paragraph and just look for things like what tense is it in, what's the tone, what's the general topic 'cause there are questions that actually require you to have that context of the passage. Let's look at an example so you see what I mean, here 'We find several large mushrooms growing out of a pile of mud.' And you're thinking cool we're finding mushrooms sounds great. but look at the next sentence, 'We scanned our field guide to determine if any of them were edible.' So if you had done a quick run through you would see that the tense right, seems to be past you know 'we scanned our field guide,' kind of in past tense whereas 'we find' is like you know 'we find several mushrooms,' totally different tense. Hopefully if you'd skimmed through quickly you would catch that. So that's the first strategy.
Let's look at the next one, anytime you see anything underlined ask yourself three things, first of all does this belong here is it really irrelevant is it redundant? Is it really wordy? Should this underlined chunk even be here at all? Next does this sound like proper English these are the ones that you really feel in your gut, there's something grammatically just terribly wrong, any really striking grammatical errors, that's the next category you're going to want to look for. And lastly does it make sense is this the most clear, concise way to say this, let's look at an example and you see how these questions come into play. We've got 'Growing out of a pile of mud, we found several large mushrooms.' And that's underlined, so we're going to look at the corresponding question but before we get to that let's ask ourselves the three questions, first of all does it belong here? Well in context we know it does, we kind of need this here because it goes on to say 'we scanned our field guide to determine if any of them were edible. 'So we care about these mushrooms not much you want to take out of this sentence so the sentence belongs here. Next is it grammatically correct, nothing really screams out at you, fix me right so it's grammatically correct. Last question does it make sense and these you guys are the really subtle ones, does this really make sense, is this the clearest way to say this? And if you look 'growing out of a pile of mud we found several large mushrooms.' It almost sounds like you're the one growing out of the pile of mud right? So this is actually a misplaced modifier question and this is how we use our three questions as a strategy.
Let's look at the next strategy now, when in doubt take it out this is huge on the English section and the English section is much more common to remove stuff than to put stuff in, remember this when you answer the question this is crucial if you're ever not sure you're asking yourself, this is redundant I'm not sure is it wordy maybe you're not, you're thinking is it wordy, is it not wordy is it relevant you're not sure there are very few times in the English sections where you're going to actually have to do any mental gymnastics, so don't think too hard if you're not sure when in doubt always remove it, take it out. Punctuation is a bigy too if you see commas, if you see periods any punctuation marks, you're not sure should they be there or not always take them out. Let's look at an example 'Jordan was furious, when he discovered his band's video had been wrongly flagged on You Tube. 'So here we go we've got a comma and when in doubt take it out let's say I'm thinking should it be there, should it not be there and commas take them out.
Let's look at the next strategy, choose the shortest answer, I'm going to tell you guys something really cool on the ACT English the shortest answer is correct a third of the time, so if you're ever stuck, don't even think just choose the shortest answer.
So here's the next strategy, don't be too influenced by the answers, this is really interesting actually the more an answer choice redoes the underlined sentence or phrase the more it kind of does stuff to it, the less likely it is to be correct. So you never want to pick an answer choice that completely does over the original so let's look at the example. 'Britney was angry and in a defiant mood when she realized how long it would take her hair to grow back.' So remember we're going to ask ourselves those questions right does this belong here, does it make sense right is it grammatically correct and it sounds like there's really a shorter more concise way to say it, right, it doesn't sound great the way it is, we need to revamp it a little bit, but remember you don't want anything that really totally overhauls the original. So we're not going to go for any of these answer choices that really redo the sentence too much and also by the way you guys remember shortest answer most often correct.

So let's look at the answers, we could choose not to change it but let's look and see if any of these sound a lot better, B 'Britney was angry and defiant when she realized how long it would take her hair to grow back.' Not bad what about C 'Britney was angry and in a mood of defiance when she realized how long it would take her hair to grow back again.' See how they just did a lot of that stuff to the original? Not necessary plus it's longer that's a bad sign. Last one 'Britney was angry and defiant when she realized the lengthy amount of time it would take her hair to grow back again.' Again too much stuff done to the original and really long, so that's an example of always choosing the shortest answer if you're not sure right? It's correct a third of the time. And lastly never picking anything that really over does the original too much.
Okay next strategy be comfortable with no change, this is a big one too I have a lot of students that actually have this fear of choosing no change really bothers them they feel like it's the English section this is all about the English errors and they just have trouble saying, ' Oh it sounds fine the way it is.' The no change answer is actually correct twenty percent of the time so then you should have about fifteen no changes that you circle in your answer booklet. So as you go through the test if you're realizing it's been a while since you picked no change, start thinking, maybe some of these should stay the same.
We talked about a lot of great strategies in this episode let's just recap first we talked about how to attack an English passage, we talked about things like skimming before hand, before you get to the questions, we also talked about those three questions you should ask yourself you know does this belong here, is it grammatically correct and does it make sense. Then we also talked about some sneaky things that will help you if you're not sure how to answer something things like you know pick the shortest answer 'cause it's correct a third of the time don't pick any of the answer choice that really overhauls the original underlined sentence too much.
Last we did some examples and practiced, so you'll know exactly what to expect on testing.