How to Approach ACT® English Questions with Examples

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Viewing how two independent clauses are joined by a comma on the ACT

Punctuation Questions

Punctuation questions require identifying and correcting misplaced, missing, or unnecessary punctuation marks. These include commas, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, dashes, periods, question marks, and exclamation points. Beyond testing punctuation rules, these questions also assess your ability to use punctuation effectively in expressing ideas. For instance, you may need to demonstrate how punctuation indicates possession or sets off a subordinate clause.

In many cases, the wording in all answer choices remains the same, while the placement of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, and other punctuation varies. It's important to carefully read each choice to discern the differences in punctuation, such as the presence or absence of commas or other punctuation marks.

Tricks and strategies to ace punctuation questions

The test creators have been known to trip up students by slipping in basic–yet easily overlooked–punctuation errors. So be extra careful, and don't be tricked!

  • Typically speaking, a comma should not precede a preposition. This rule has rare exceptions, but it is most likely an error if you see this on the ACT.
  • When using colons, always follow them with a complete sentence; avoid using them after a fragment.
  • If you want a simple way to fix a comma splice, swap it out with a semicolon.

Punctuation Question Examples

Entering a standardized test without preparation is taking a big risk. The more you're equipped with beforehand, the greater your odds of performing successfully.

Read Passage

The full use of intense, bright, and high-valued color, it is evident in Pollock's works.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. color
  3. color that which
  4. color, it is this which
Submit

Read Passage

In addition to Abstract Expressionist, the label Action Painter definitely applies to Pollock.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. Expressionist, the label Action Painter,
  3. Expressionist the label, Action Painter
  4. Expressionist the label Action Painter
Submit

Grammar and Usage Questions

At its core, grammar is the architect of sentences. When getting into ACT grammar practice, prioritize understanding sentence structure1 and sharpening your ability to spot syntax errors. Remember, one question can cover many grammar rules. For instance, a question about verbs might test when the action happened and if it matches the subject.

When answering a question, take a moment to understand what it's asking. Consider how the sentence with the underlined part fits into the sentences around it and the context of the passage. Understanding the context is key!

Tricks and Strategies to ace grammar and usage questions

Think of English grammar like a puzzle, like math. There's a certain logic to it, just like solving math problems. The more you practice with grammar, the better you get at it! For detailed help with the following tips, check out our 5 Grammar Rules You Need to Know to Ace the SAT® or ACT.

  • Verb Tense Consistency: Use only one verb tense throughout a sentence; mixing tenses, like past and present, is incorrect.
  • Apostrophes in Possessives and Contractions: Use apostrophes for possessives (before the 's' in singular, after 's' in plural) and contractions (where letters are omitted).
  • Comma and Semicolon Usage: Use commas in lists to join independent clauses with FANBOYS or to add nonessential phrases; semicolons connect related independent clauses.
  • Subject/Verb and Subject/Pronoun Agreement: Match verbs to the plurality of subjects; ensure pronouns accurately reflect the gender and number of their antecedents.
  • Sentence Ordering and Contextual Usage: Understand formal vs. informal vocabulary for context; practice logical sentence ordering in paragraphs by regularly reading non-fiction articles.

Grammar and Usage Examples

When tackling grammar questions, the answer choices can give clues about the particular grammar rule being tested.

Read Passage

Many of Pollock's paintings' exemplify his unique style and artistic vision.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. Pollocks' painting's
  3. Pollock's paintings
  4. Pollocks paintings
Submit

Read Passage

Pollock combines colors proportionally, joining them together naturally and comfortably creating a harmonious effect.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. as a creation of
  3. as creating
  4. to create
Submit

Sentence Structure Questions

Sentence structure questions explore how different parts of a sentence cooperate—figuring out where to add modifiers and how to connect various clauses. You may need to consider using commas or know when to leave them out, and decisions like this can create challenges like run-on sentences or sentence fragments. Let's address these challenges and refine your sentence structure skills!

Tricks and Strategies to ace structure questions

The ACT English often includes answer choices that are redundant or wordy. These options can be tempting because they may seem to provide more information, but they can be incorrect or weaken the clarity of the sentence.

  • Avoid choosing sentence fragments or run-on sentences.
  • Consider the entire sentence carefully.
  • Reread the sentence while plugging in your chosen answer. Does it fit well in the context of the passage?
  • Make sure any transitional sentences connect ideas from the current paragraph and the preceding/following one.

Sentence structure examples

These questions assess the entirety of a sentence, evaluating structural skills such as clause relationships, parallelism, and the placement of modifiers.

Read Passage

Pollock often talked about being "in" his paintings, he often actively handled the paint he used.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. paintings, and he
  3. paintings, which
  4. paintings,
Submit

Read Passage

Harmony refers to repetition, when Pollock repeats foundational colors (red, yellow, blue, white, and black) from which all other values and hues are derived.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. since
  3. whereas
  4. and
Submit
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Viewing how two independent clauses are joined by a comma on the ACT

Strategy Questions

Strategy questions evaluate your ability to refine a topic by selecting phrases or words that align with the passage's purpose and audience. Assess the impact of revising, deleting sentences, or adding new ones, considering how each sentence aligns with the audience, purpose, and focus of a paragraph in the essay.

Tricks and strategies to ace strategy questions

A frequently used tactic in ACT English is to rely on how the answer "sounds" correct, akin to "listening" for errors. While this method can help spot some apparent mistakes, the test may exploit this strategy with tricky answer choices that do not “sound” incorrect. Many questions involve constructions commonly misused in spoken English. Although they may sound right, it is important to approach them with intent and select the correct answer.

  • When dealing with "Yes/No" Questions, eliminate answer choices based on reasoning first.
  • Concentrate on whether the underlined text is relevant to the topic.

Strategy Questions Examples

Read Passage

Pollock combines colors proportionally, joining them together naturally and comfortably creating a harmonious effect.

The writer is considering revising the preceding part of this sentence ("Pollock combines color proportionally, joining them together naturally and comfortably") to read as follows:

Pollock uses colors,

If the writer did this, the essay would primarily lose:

  1. an indication that Jackson Pollock preferred color over creating shapes.
  2. a point of clarification because the proposed revision would not identify the colors being used.
  3. additional details about the colors that are provided by the current sentence.
  4. information that emphasizes abstract art's need for defined structure discussed throughout the passage.
Submit

Read Passage

Sometimes Pollock utilized a stick, one tool that at other times he carefully poured paint straight from the can to apply his paint with gesture: the tools he used were secondary to the result.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. and it would work so that
  3. while
  4. DELETE the underlined portion.
Submit

Organization Questions

Organizational questions assess your ability to arrange ideas effectively. The exam might ask you to determine the correct order for sentences or paragraphs, where to add a sentence or paragraph, or which sentence or paragraph to remove to improve a paragraph.

Tricks and strategies to ace organization questions

  • The best way to approach this type of question is to consider all the answer options.
  • Determine the most logical place for a sentence in a paragraph.
  • Coherence is about ensuring that each sentence builds on the previous one in terms of content.

Organization questions examples

Read Passage

Sometimes Pollock utilized a stick one tool that at other times he carefully poured paint straight from the can to apply his paint with a gesture: the tools he used were secondary to the result.  Likewise, he used a practiced hand to direct the paint, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two.

Which choice most effectively concludes this sentence and leads into the information that follows in the paragraph?

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. Pollock never worried about how people would judge his unusual techniques.
  3. usually, he did not use traditional paintbrushes to create his artwork.
  4. flicking it onto the canvas, Pollock allowed the paint to guide him.
Submit

Read Passage

Pollock's work will likely always be controversial.  Many people believe that anyone can throw paint on a canvas to make abstract art.  However, no one thought to throw paint on a canvas before Pollock and that makes him a pioneer.  The goal of these artistic works is to evoke emotion, and many of his paintings achieved this goal, capturing the spirit of exhilaration and intensity through his use of line, color, balance, and harmony.

If the writer were to delete the underlined sentences, the paragraph would primarily lose:

  1. a reference to the belief that Pollock's painting was not the result of any particular artistic skill.
  2. a description of the artistic elements that make Pollock's artwork unappealing to a wide audience.
  3. a contrast between a general belief about abstract art and a detailed analysis of Pollock's work.
  4. an explanation of how people misconstrue how difficult it is to create intensely emotional artwork.
Submit

Style Questions

ACT English questions also focus on selecting the optimal answer not solely based on grammatical accuracy but instead on style or tone.

On the ACT English test, you'll frequently encounter a phrase or sentence that isn't technically grammatically incorrect but is confusing, wordy, or poorly constructed. Your task in these situations is to assist the writer in refining their style. 

Tricks and strategies to ace style questions

Sometimes, you may need to change a word or phrase that clashes with the essay's tone. Or you may need to eliminate ambiguous pronoun references, redundant material, or awkward expressions.

  • Be aware of the writing style used in each passage.
  • Read the sentences before and after the sentence in question. Note the style and tone of the paragraph in question.
  • "Listen" to the sentence in your mind. When addressing style-related questions, concentrate on how the entire sentence flows. Pay attention to any unnecessary or omitted words, as well as the arrangement of the words.

Style questions examples

Read Passage

Also, he often intentionally keeps from creating shapes because, in his work, lines undoubtedly dominate over form.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. from
  3. on
  4. by
Submit

Read Passage

Pollock uses two main design principles to strengthen his paintings, balance and harmony ensure no one side carries greater weight than the other.

  1. NO CHANGE
  2. paintings: balance and harmony ensure
  3. paintings; ensuring balance and harmony that
  4. paintings, to ensure balance and harmony:
Submit

Key Takeaways

Mastering the ACT English section, with its 75 questions in 45 minutes, involves a strong foundation in grammar, punctuation, word usage, and sentence structure. Here are key points to remember:

  • A strong grasp of grammar, punctuation, word usage, and sentence structure is essential for success in ACT English.
  • Usage/Mechanics questions often present grammatical alternatives within longer passages, requiring careful consideration.
  • Rhetorical Skills questions delve into the deeper meaning of passages, demanding a nuanced understanding.
  • Practical tips and strategies, such as listening for errors and considering context, are valuable for approaching ACT English questions effectively.
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References

1(2024). ACT English Test Tips. ACT.org. Retrieved on January 04, 2024, from
https://www.act.org/content/act/en/students-and-parents/high-school-success/testing-advice-for-the-act/act-english-test-tips.html

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Passage

Abstract Expressionism centers on freedom of expression and excludes representational subject matter. Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Jackson Pollock is by far the most famous. Many of Pollock's paintings' exemplify his unique style and artistic vision. The full use of intense, bright, and high-valued color, it is evident in Pollock's works. Also, he often intentionally keeps from creating shapes because, in his work, lines undoubtedly dominate over form.

Pollock uses two main design principles to strengthen his paintings, balance and harmony ensure no one side carries greater weight than the other. Although his works are often not symmetrical, they almost always feel balanced. Harmony refers to repetition, when Pollock repeats foundational colors (red, yellow, blue, white, and black) from which all other values and hues are derived. Pollock combines colors proportionally, joining them together naturally and comfortably creating a harmonious effect.

[1] In addition to Abstract Expressionist, the label Action Painter definitely applies to Pollock. [2] Pollock often talked about being "in" his paintings, he often actively handled the paint he used. [3] Sometimes Pollock utilized a stick, one tool that at other times he carefully poured paint straight from the can to apply his paint with a gesture: the tools he used were secondary to the result. [4] Likewise, he used a practiced hand to direct the paint, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two. [5] He was actively involved in his paintings, laying his canvases on the ground to view his work from every angle.

Pollock's work will likely always be controversial. Many people believe that anyone can throw paint on a canvas to make abstract art. However, no one thought to throw paint on a canvas before Pollock and that makes him a pioneer. The goal of these artistic works are to evoke emotion, and many of his paintings modified this goal, capturing the spirit of exhilaration and intensity through his use of line, color, balance, and harmony.

1. This passage is from Jackson Pollock's White Light by Amberlee Clark (© 2017 by UWorld).