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What is Tested on the ACT English Section and How to Prepare for it!

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Preparing for the upcoming ACT test? Here are some important tips regarding comma usage and reading comprehension passages that will help you to approach the ACT English section with more confidence.

To begin with, the ACT tests English grammar, reading, math, and scientific data. It also contains an optional yet highly recommended essay section. Especially formidable is the English section which has 75 questions which must be completed within 45 minutes. The English section tests grammar, reading comprehension, and composition. The subject of grammar can be further subdivided into punctuation, agreement, verbs, modifiers, and idioms. In today’s article, we’re going to look at two common concerns ACT test takers have: comma usage and reading comprehension strategies.

First, let’s look at the comma and how to use it. This is with good reason, because, for instance, there is a big difference between saying, “Let’s eat grandpa” and “Let’s eat, grandpa”! The most important concept is that independent clauses (that is, clauses that could be sentences on their own) should not be merely separated with a comma. This is known as a comma splice or a run-on sentence. There are a few different ways to fix this problem. One way it can be fixed is if a connector word is added after the comma and before the new independent clause. Another way to fix the problem is to merely use a semicolon instead of a comma. Other functions of commas that show up on the test are the use of commas in lists, the use of commas to separate multiple nonessential adjectives from modifying nouns, commas to set off dependent phrases and clauses from the main clause of a sentence, commas to set off nonessential phrases and clauses, and the use of commas to set off appositives.

An appositive is a type of modifier phrase that names or restates the noun it modifies and usually enhances it with additional information. Of course, it is pretty obvious to many of us that commas may be used to set off items in a list but there are some other usually poorly understood functions, as well. One such function is that with adjectives. Take, for instance, the following: “Casey’s new cat has long, silky hair”. Here, long and silky are the adjectives. Neither of these adjectives is essential. Another poorly understood function of the comma is the use of it in dependent phrases and clauses. An example of this is the following: “Scared of ghosts, Jack always checked under his bed before going to sleep.” The first phrase is dependent on and would not make sense without “Jack always checked under his bed before going to sleep”. This first phrase needs to have a comma come after it.

Moving on beyond grammar, let’s consider the reading comprehension-type questions on the ACT English section. These are not too different from those on the Reading section. Just as they do on that section, these questions take a literalist approach. The famous American Judge, Judge Hand, once famously remarked that “There is no surer way to misread any document than to read it literally”, but it seems no one at the ACT ever heard this.

Such literalism means that reading comprehension-type questions will either directly restate or reflect the concepts and relationships from the relevant part of the passage. Wrong answers are usually reasonable assumptions not stated in text, concepts mentioned in the text but not accurately reported in the answer choices, anything that’s the exact opposite of what’s stated in the text, and anything irrelevant to the text and/or unmentioned in it. If you are asked in a question what is the most relevant information regarding something, you should pick the answer choice that mentions that thing and nothing else. If you are asked what’s the best conclusion for the passage, you should pick the answer choice that focuses on the main topic of the passage or on something that’s mentioned in the title of the passage itself. Questions about best introductions of a paragraph will have an answer that discusses the same topics that are discussed in other sentences in that paragraph. For questions about the most effective transition from one paragraph to another, the answer will mention or refer to something from each of the two paragraphs. There is the question about what the impact of adding or deleting a certain sentence would be. The correct answer would be whatever that was closest to what was in that sentence. If the question asks you if the essay fulfilled the writer’s goal, eliminate any answer that does not directly and literally describes the passage and is relevant to the goal mentioned in the prompt.

As you can see, the ACT English section could seem quite formidable, but at the same time, it is quite standardized and, in fact, somewhat predictable. With adequate preparation, you can know what to expect and be totally ready on test day! All the best!

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Applicable for ISAT/UKCAT/BMAT/MCAT courses