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Avoid 3 Mistakes to Excel on ACT English Section

Success on the ACT English section requires efficient, accurate reading skills.


Use a timer to practice a sample ACT English section and learn the pace you’ll need on test day. (PETROGRAD99/ GETTY IMAGES)
The ACT English section consists entirely of multiple-choice questions that are based on several reading passages. This portion tests students in two main areas: rhetorical skills, such as style and organization, and mechanics, including syntax, punctuation and grammar.

The ACT English section can be daunting because it requires you to answer a wealth of questions in a short period of time and requires a different type of reading than you may be used to. To ensure your best performance on the ACT English section, veer away from these common traps.

[Find out how to avoid common SAT and ACT preparation mistakes.]

1. Overlooking “NO CHANGE” as a valid answer choice: To succeed on the ACT English section, you must read with a highly critical eye, much like that of an editor.

During this portion, you will be presented with short passages that contain underlined, numbered phrases. First read the passage closely.

Then read the question or statement that relates to each underlined, numbered phrase. For each, select the correct substitute for the section or select “NO CHANGE” when the original text is the best option.

While you may be tempted to suggest a correction for each underlined, numbered phrase, remember that a change is not always necessary. Each multiple-choice question is accompanied by four possible responses, the first of which is always “NO CHANGE.”

This implies that “NO CHANGE” is a plausible selection at least part of the time. A correction will be accurate in quite a few cases but not in all – don’t be afraid to choose “NO CHANGE” if it is the best answer choice.

[Learn college students’ best SAT, ACT test strategies.]

2. Working at an inconsistent or ill-timed pace: This section of the ACT can seem demanding when you consider you must answer 75 questions in 45 minutes. That gives you an average of 36 seconds per question. To account for unforeseen mishaps, round down and aim to answer two ACT English questions every minute.

Your timing is critical. For instance, if you spend almost a full minute on one particularly tricky item, you may fail to reach another question – one that may be far simpler. For this reason, it is essential that you monitor your timing.

This doesn’t mean you must glance at the clock every 30 seconds. In fact, such a habit could negatively affect your test performance.

Instead, practice taking a sample ACT English section with a timer. If you use a timer on every sample exam that you sit for, you will grow accustomed to the pace that is necessary on test day.

[Manage time wisely on the ACT writing test.]

3. Devoting attention to the wrong English elements: Again, to excel on the ACT English section, you must be able to read both efficiently and accurately.

Many high students unfortunately hold the mistaken belief that their reading level and style are unchangeable. As a result, they tend to devote their study efforts to other areas of literacy, such as spelling and vocabulary. While these aspects are certainly important in academia and the professional world, they are less central to this section of the ACT, which assesses items like organization and grammar.

Be aware that there are different ways of reading. In high school, you likely read to expand your knowledge – in other words, to absorb as many details about a topic as possible and to make sense of new information. On the ACT English section, your job is to find errors and question the author’s choices – you should not be concerned with taking in unfamiliar data.

When you prepare for the ACT, using sound study techniques is just as helpful as avoiding frequent mistakes. Now that you know common mistakes on the ACT English section, adjust your study routine accordingly.

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