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How to Improve Your ACT English Score

How to Improve Your ACT English Score

In this article, I’ll tell you how to get from 21 to 36 on the ACT English test.

Learn the grammar rules.

The first step is to learn both what is tested and what is not tested on the ACT English test. There are a finite set of grammar rules covered by the ACT English test, including punctuation (commas, semicolons, colons, dashes), sentence structure, tense, subject-verb agreement, and more. If any of these topics give you trouble, your first step is to review those rules and concepts. I offer a free video series, the ACT English Bootcamp, that can help you do just this. Click here to check it out.

Get used to the question types.

The ACT English test is a repetitive one – it uses the same question types, concepts, and rules again and again and again. Half of the ACT English test is made up of straightforward grammar questions (usage/mechanics); the other half covers rhetorical skills – the strategy, organization, and style of the passages. As you work through the study material and practice tests, you should begin to notice these patterns; familiarity with these patterns will allow you to more effectively attack the questions on future exams.

Learn the idiosyncrasies of the test.

The ACT English tests the concepts and rules in particular ways, so with experience (i.e. taking practice tests), you should begin to see the repetitive elements of the test. For example, the ACT loves to create answer choices that are redundant. These choices will always be wrong, so you should learn to recognize and eliminate these choices. Another example of common patterns can be found in the questions themselves: pay close attention to the wording of the questions because they often contain the specific requirements that must be satisfied by a correct answer. For example, if the question says something like, “Which choice best shows the specific countries Jane visited?”, then you need to find a choice that literally contains specific countries.

Again, all of this, and more, is covered in the ACT English Bootcamp. Don’t forget to download the Study Guide to use while you watch the videos.

Pick up specific strategies.

While the ACT English section is a bit resistant to test “strategy,” certainly moreso than the Reading and Science sections, there are still some “best practices” to follow to maximize your score. For example, a good general strategy is something I call “Circle & Return.” The point of this strategy is to ensure that you’re using your limited time to the best effect. Whenever you come upon a a) problem that is difficult and can’t be answered immediately, or b) a problem that you can answer but requires more time to confirm the answer, don’t spend the time during the middle of the test working that single problem. You don’t have the luxury to get bogged down in a single question, especially if it’s at the beginning or middle of the test. So bubble in the answer you have up to this point (if any), circle the question in your test booklet, and return to it after you’ve completed the ACT English section. This will ensure that you’ve completed all the other questions, and any other time you have remaining can be used cleaning up these circled questions. It may not sound like much, but trust me – too many students get stuck on questions before they’ve completed everything else. In the best case scenario, getting stuck like this can just throw you off your game and raise your anxiety level. In the worst case scenario, students spend so much time fiddling with a single question that they run out of time on questions later in the test, questions that might actually be easy to answer! This is a terrible trade-off and must be avoided at all costs. So circle…and return!

Note: Whenever you skip questions, be careful to bubble in your answers correctly. If you skip #56 but then bubble in the answer to #57 in the bubbles of #56, and then the answer for #58 in the #57 space, and so on…you’re gonna have a bad time. 🙁

Take practice ACT English tests.

The only reliable way to improve on this section is to work real ACT English practice problems. It’s best to do these questions as part of an entire section (or even an entire ACT test), and you must do them under the time limits (45 minutes). While time is usually not as pressing of an issue on ACT English, you’ll still need to get used to the time pressure that is put on you. You can download four real ACTs here in addition to learning more about the ACT Red Book, a source of another five real practice tests from the makers of the ACT. Video solutions for the four real ACTs can be found in the ACT English Bootcamp; you can also find question-by-question, choice-by-choice solutions to the five Real ACT Prep Guide (Red Book) tests here.

Get help.

The ACT can be self-studied, but many students find that getting some extra help from a knowledgeable teacher, tutor, or friend can make a big difference. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have. You also might be interested in becoming a member of Reason Prep for full access to all the ACT Study videos and resources. You can learn more about the Members Area here.

About the Author:

I’m Rob Schombs, the founder of Reason Prep, creator of these videos, and your test prep tutor. I earned a BA in Chemistry (2006) and an MA in Science and Technology Studies (2009) from Cornell University. In 2010 I started tutoring SAT, ACT, math, chemistry, and writing full-time, and Reason Prep followed shortly after!