Types of Questions and Related Skills Tested on the ACT® English Test

Types of ACT English Learning Language

The first section of the ACT test is English. The questions throughout this section will assess a variety of skills that are based on your high school curriculum. This means that you should have been exposed to the necessary concepts at some point within your high school career. So a large portion of your prep for the test would involve simply revising these concepts.

The ACT test categorizes questions on the English section into three categories:

  • Production of Writing
  • Knowledge of Language 
  • Conventions of Standard English 

Each of these question types will focus on specific skills. Throughout the ACT English test, you will read five passages and answer 75 questions. After each passage, you can expect to answer about four Production of Writing questions, two to three Knowledge of Language questions, and seven to eight Conventions of Standard English questions.

Let’s take a look at the types of ACT English questions and the skills they test:

Production of Writing

These types of questions account for 29%–32% of the test. They are designed to check your understanding of the passages and your ability to check whether the passage is able to effectively communicate its purpose. 

The types of ACT English skills tested through these questions are: 

  • Topic development 
  • Organization of ideas
  • Unity of text 
  • Cohesion of the passage

To do well on these questions, practice pinpointing the purpose of a given line, word, or phrase. You should also be able to state whether a portion of the passage is successful in accomplishing its purpose for the larger text. If the information in a given line is not functional to the development of ideas, then you should be able to determine its relevance (or lack thereof). 

Also practice evaluating the structure of the passage. Pay attention to the flow of ideas, and ensure that there is a beginning, middle, and end. You should be able to determine any structural errors that impact the logic of the passage.

Knowledge of Language

These types of questions account for about 13%–19% of the test. While spelling isn’t tested on the ACT English test, vocabulary is, but not as direct questions. Vocabulary is tested through word choice, meaning of a word or phrase in context of the passage, and so on. 

The types of ACT English skills tested through these questions are:

  • Understanding of writing styles and tones
  • Word choice
  • Comprehension of words and phrases in context 

To do well on these questions, you should know that good writing is concise and to the point. Practice recognizing when the text in question is unnecessarily wordy or redundant. You should also be able to pinpoint variations in style or tone. In addition, reading passages to practice the understanding of overall ideas and how best to lay them out in a passage will help you identify passages that are not efficiently communicating the purpose of the text.

Conventions of Standard English

These questions make up 51%–56% of questions on the ACT English test. They test your knowledge of standard English grammar: rules, its usage, and mechanics used to edit and revise text for improvement. While the questions do not expect you to know the nitty-gritties of grammar rules, you would need to have a basic understanding of them to iterate sentences, correct word usage, and change punctuation as directed in the questions. 

The ACT English skills tested via these questions include:

  • Sentence structure
  • Sentence formation
  • Punctuation
  • Usage of standard English in the text

To do well on these questions, practice making improvements in sentence structures. You should also review punctuation rules and have a strong understanding of how commas, colons, semicolons, apostrophes, and hyphens are used. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at the types of ACT English questions that can be expected, be sure to dedicate time to studying and practicing each of the skills listed above. The best way to prepare for these questions is by gaining realistic experience with their styles and levels of difficulty. Pick up passages from books and newsletters, and read them to gain a better understanding of sentence structure, word choice, tones, and styles. It would also be helpful to practice some basic grammar exercises to get used to how and where punctuations are used.

During your practice work, pay attention to the formatting of Production of Writing questions, Knowledge of Language questions, and Conventions of Standard English questions. By building a strong understanding of the format for each question type, you may be able to predict which skill is being assessed.

As you prepare for the ACT English test, try out UWorld’s ACT Prep Course. You can find thousands of realistic sample questions, detailed question explanations, and performance tracking tools to ensure that you have a strong understanding of your weak points and plenty of resources to work on your skills. Try it out to perfect the skills outlined above and reach your full scoring potential on the English section of the ACT test.

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