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ACT English

Strategies for Success

EnglishOne 45 minute
section with 75 questions

Usage and
Mechanics
Punctuation
Grammar and
usage
Sentence
structure

Rhetorical Skills
Writing strategy
Organization
Style

Usage and Mechanics


Part 1: Punctuation

Usage & Mechanics Punctuation

Commas
Apostrophes
Semicolons
Colons
Parenthesis and Dashes
Periods, Question Marks, and
Exclamation Points

Punctuation - Commas

Commas separate Independent


Clauses (FAN BOYS)
Lesley

wanted to sit outside, but it


was raining.
Henry could tie the shoe himself,
or he could ask Amanda to tie his
shoe.

Commas In a Series

A series contains three or more


items separated by commas.
The items can either be nouns
(such as dog) or verb phrases
(such as get in the car).
The

hungry girl devoured a piece


of chicken, a pound of pasta, and
a slice of chocolate cake.

Commas Separate Adjectives

A comma separates adjectives


only if they can be in reverse
order and still make sense.
Rebeccas

new dog has long, silky

hair.
My mother hates noisy electronic
music.

Commas Set Off Clauses and


Phrases from a Complete
Sentence
Commas set off clauses and
phrases from a complete
sentence
After

preparing an elaborate meal


for herself, Anne was too tired to
eat.
Anne was too tired to eat after
preparing an elaborate meal for
herself.

Commas Set Off Nonessential


Elements

Nonessential elements
embellish nouns without
specifying them (Extra info).
Everyone

voted Carrie, who is the


most popular girl in our class,
prom queen.
The decrepit street sign, which
had stood in our town since 1799,
finally fell down.

Commas: Essential Elements

Essential elements are not set


off by commas because they
are necessary to the meaning of
the sentence.
The

girl who is sick missed three


days of school.
The dog that ate the rotten steak
fell down and died.

Commas: Appositives

An appositive is a phrase that


renames or restates the
modified noun, usually
enhancing it with additional
information.
Everyone

voted Carrie, the most


popular girl in school, prom queen.
The dog, a Yorkshire Terrier,
barked at all the neighbors.

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are the second


most commonly tested
punctuation mark on the English
Test.
Apostrophes primarily indicate
possession, but they are also
used in contractions.

Apostrophes: Possessive and


Singular Nouns

A singular noun can be made


possessive by adding an
apostrophe followed by an s.
Simons

teacher was in the room.


My mom forgot the dogs food.
We removed the bottles label.

Apostrophes: Possessive and


Plural Nouns

Most plural nouns can be made


possessive by adding only an
apostrophe.
The

boys teacher was in the


room.
My mom forgot the dogs food.
We removed the bottles lables.

Apostrophes: Plural Nouns

For plural nouns that do not end


in s, you should treat the plural
form as a singular noun.
The

womens locker room needs


to be cleaned.

Apostrophes: Possessive and


Multiple Nouns

Sometimes youll want to indicate


the possession of more than one
noun.
The placement of the apostrophe
depends on whether the
possessors share the possession.
Nick

and Noras dog solves crimes.


Dans and Joanns socks are dirty.

Apostrophes: Explanation

In the example of Nick and Nora,


the dog belongs to both of them,
so you treat Nick and Nora as a
single unit.
In the second example, both Dan
and Joann have dirty socks, but
they dont share the same dirty
socks, so you treat Dan and
Joann as separate units.

Apostrophes: Wrong Word

The ACT will test on your ability


to distinguish between its and
its.
Other commonly tested issues:
their/theyre/there
your/youre
whose/whos

Semicolons

Youll usually find several


questions dealing with
semicolons on the English Test.
The main functions of a
semicolon that you should know
for the test are its ability to join
related independent clauses
and its use in a series.

Semicolon: Independent
Clauses

Semicolons are commonly used


to separate two related but
independent clauses.
Julie

ate five brownies; Eileen ate


seven.
Josh needed to buy peas; he ran
to the market.

Semicolon: Explanation

In the previous examples, the


semicolon functions as a weak
period. It suggests a short pause
before moving to a less-related
thought.
Generally, a period between these
independent clauses would work just
as well, so the ACT wont offer you a
choice between a semicolon and a
period.

Semicolons: Independent
Clauses with a Transition

Frequently, you will see two


independent clauses joined by a
semicolon and a transitional adverb
(such as however, consequently,
furthermore, nevertheless, etc.)
Julie

ate five brownies; however,


Eileen ate seven.
Josh needed to buy peas; thus, he ran
to the market.

Semicolons: A Series

The semicolon replaces the


comma as a structural backbone
of a series if the items already
contain commas.

The tennis tournament featured the


surprise comeback player, Koch, who
dropped out last year due to injuries; the
up-and-coming star Popp, who dominated
the junior tour; and the current favorite,
Farrington, who won five of the last six
tournaments.

Colons

Colons are used after complete


sentences to introduce related
information that comes in the
form of a list, an explanation, or
a quotation.
When you see a colon, you
should know to expect
elaborating information.

Colons: Examples

The wedding had all the elements to


make it a classic: the elegant bride, the
weeping mother, and the fainting
bridesmaid.
The wedding had all the elements to
make it a classic: the elegant bride
beamed as her mother wept and as the
bridesmaid fainted.
The mothers exclamation best summed
up the wedding: If only the bridesmaids
hadnt fainted!

Colons: Problems

A colon should ALWAYS be


preceded by an independent
clause.
Wrong:

The ingredients I need to make a


cake: flour, butter, sugar, and icing.

Right:

I need several ingredients to make a


cake: flour, butter, sugar, and icing.

Colons: Problems

There should never be more


than one colon in a sentence.
Wrong:

He brought many items on the camping trip: a tent, a


sleeping bag, a full cooking set, warm clothes, and
several pairs of shoes: sneakers, boots, and sandals.

Right:

He brought many items on the camping trip: a tent, a


sleeping bag, a full cooking set, warm clothes,
sneakers, boots, and sandals.

Other ACT Punctuation

The English test rarely test punctuation


marks other than those already listed.
However, in the odd case that test writers
do throw in some other punctuation errors,
you should know what to expect.
The ACT officially states that it covers, in
addition the previously mentioned
punctuation, parenthesis, dashes, periods,
question marks, and exclamation points.

Parenthesis

Parenthesis usually surround


words or phrases that break a
sentences train of thought but
provide explanatory information
for it.
The

road trip (which was made in


a convertible) lasted three weeks
and spanned fourteen states.

Parenthesis

Similarly, parenthetical sentences


can be inserted between other
sentences, adding additional
information to them without
diverting their flow.
Their

road trip lasted three weeks and


spanned fourteen states. (The one
they took two years ago lasted two
weeks and covered ten states). When
they got home, they were exhausted.

Dashes

Dashes function similarly to


parenthesis.
Dashes indicate either an abrupt
break in thought or an insertion of
additional, explanatory information.
He walked slowly with his hurt leg he
couldnt go much faster that even his
neighbors toddler eventually overtook
him.
I dont have the heart to refuse a friends
request for help do you?

Periods, Question Marks, and


Exclamation Points

These are the least common


forms of punctuation tested.
The

sentence ends here.


Does the sentence end here?
Hooray, the sentence ends here!

Usage and Mechanics


Part 2: Basic Grammar and
Usage

Basic Grammar and Usage

Subject-Verb Agreement
Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
Pronoun Cases
Verb Tenses
Adverbs and Adjectives
Idioms
Comparative and Superlative
Modifiers

Subject-Verb Agreement

Singular verbs must accompany


singular subjects, and plural verbs
must accompany plural subjects.
The man wears four ties.
His favorite college is in Nebraska.
Matt, along with his friends, goes to Coney
Island.
The men wear four ties each.
His favorite colleges are in Nebraska.
Matt and his friends go to Coney Island.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a
simple idea, but ACT writers will
make it tricky.
Often, theyll put the subject at
one end of the sentence and the
verb a mile away.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Examples

An audience of thousands of
expectant people who have come
from afar to listen to live music in
an outdoor setting seem terrifying
to a nervous performer.
A.

No Change
B. seems
C. have seemed
D. to seem

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Explanation

To solve this problem, cross out the


junk in the middle that separates the
subject, an audience, from the
verb, seem.
Youre left with: An audience seem
terrifying to a nervous performer.
Now you can see what the verb
should be: An audience seems
terrifying to a nervous performer.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Collective Nouns

Collective nouns (such as


committee, family, group,
number, and team) can be
either singular or plural
It depends on whether the noun
is being treated as a single unit
or as divided individuals.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Collective Nouns

Singular:

Plural:

A number of people living in Florida with they had


voted for Gore.

Singular:

The number of people living in Florida varies from


year to year.

The committee decides on the annual program.

Plural:

The committee have disagreed on the annual


program.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Collective Nouns

Trick The

is generally singular
A is generally plural

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to


persons or things that have not
been specified.
These can be tricky because
some indefinite pronouns that
seem plural are in fact singular.
Indefinite pronouns are popular
with ACT writers, so youd be wise
to memorize a few of these.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Indefinite Pronouns

These are always singular, and


they tend to appear on the
English Test:
Another
Anybody
Anyone
Anything

Everybody Nobody
Everyone No one
Everything Somebody
Each
Someone

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Indefinite Pronouns

The most commonly tested are the


ones previously listed
You probably wont come across
more than a couple of indefinite
pronouns on the English Test you
take.
Examples:
Anyone over the age of 21 is eligible to vote
in the United States.
Each has its own patch of grass.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Compound Subjects

Most compound subjects


(subjects joined by and) should
be plural.
Kerry

and Vanessa live in


Nantucket.
The blue bike and the red wagon
need repairs.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Compound Subjects

There is or There are


Depends

on whether the noun is


singular or plural.
There are five grapes.
There is a cat

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Compound Subjects

Or or Nor
If

you have singular subjects


joined by an or or nor, the
sentence always takes a singular
verb.

Either Susannah or Caitlin is going to


be in trouble.

Subject-Verb Agreement:
Compound Subjects

Or or Nor
If

one of the subjects is plural and


the other is singular, the verb
agrees with the subject closer to it.
Neither the van nor the buses were
operating today.
Either the dogs or the cat is
responsible for the mess.

Pronoun-Antecedent
Agreement

ACT writers usually include several


pronoun-antecedent agreement
errors on the English Test.
An antecedent is a word to which a
later pronoun refers back.
Example:
In the sentence Richard put on
his shoes, Richard is the
antecedent to which his refers.

Pronoun-Antecedent
Agreement

Wrong:
Already

late for the show, Mary


couldnt find their keys.

Right:
Already

late for the show, Mary


couldnt find her keys.

Pronoun-Antecedent
Agreement

Sometimes the agreement error


isnt as obvious on the test.
In everyday speech, we tend to
attempt gender neutrality and
brevity by using their instead of
his or her.
People tend to say someone lost
their shoe rather than someone
lost his or her shoe.

Pronoun Cases

The ACT writers will definitely


include some questions on
pronoun cases:
Nominative
Objective
Possessive

You dont need to know the names


of these cases, but you do need to
know the differences.

Verb Tenses

You LIE down for a nap.


You LAY something down on the table.
You LAY down yesterday.
You SWIM across the English channel.
You SWAM across the Atlantic Ocean.
You HAD SWUM across the bathtub as a
child.
To lie and to swim arent the only tricky
verbs.
See provide handout for a list of more.

Adverbs and Adjectives

ACT writers will test you once or


twice on your ability to use
adjectives and adverbs
correctly.
To describe a noun, use an
adjective.
To describe a verb, adjective, or
adverb, use an adverb.

Adverbs and Adjectives

Examples
Wrong:

My mom made a well

dinner.
Right: My mom made a good
dinner.

Since dinner is the noun, the


descriptive word modifying it should
be an adjective (good).

Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverb/Adjective errors are


pretty common in everyday
speech, so dont rely entirely on
your ear. For example:
Wrong:

She shut him up quick.


Right: She shut him up quickly.
Wrong: I got an A easy.
Right: I got an A easily.

Comparative and Superlative


Modifiers

Comparative modifiers compare


one thing to another.
Examples:
My

boyfriend is hotter than yours.


That purple-and-orange spotted
dog is weirder than the blue cat.
Dan paints better than the other
students.

Comparative and Superlative


Modifiers

Superlative modifiers tell you


how one thing compares to
everything else.
Examples:
My

boyfriend is the hottest


boyfriend in the world.
That purple-and-orange dog is the
weirdest pet on the block.
Of all the students, Dan is the best.

Usage and Mechanics


Part 3: Sentence Structure

Connecting and Transitional


Words

Coordinating Conjunctions
(and,

or, for, nor, so, but, yet) connect


words, phrases, and independent
clauses of equal importance in a
sentence.

Words: you can hand the bottle to Mike or


Beth.
Phrases: To get there, you must drive over
a bridge and through a farm.
Clauses: Time can go to the store, or Jen
can go instead.

Transitional Adverbs

These adverbs can also join


independent clauses (however, also,
consequently, nevertheless, thus,
moreover, furthermore, etc.)
When they do, they should be preceded
by a semicolon and followed by a
comma.

Joe always raves about soccer; however, he always


refuses to watch a match.
If you cant go to the prom with me, let me know as
soon as possible; otherwise, Ill resent you and your
inability to communicate for the rest of my life.

Sentence Fragments

Incomplete sentences
Even

though the rain had stopped.


Having spent his last dollars on
sunglasses.
Always a bit shy.

Sentence Fragments

The answer choices on English Test


questions will often make clear whether
you should incorporate a fragment into a
neighboring sentence.
Example:

We didnt go outside. Even though the rain


had stopped.

A.

No Change
outside;
outside; even
outside, even

B.
C.
D.

Sentence Fragments

Other sentence fragment questions


will ask you to turn a fragment into
its own full sentence.
Example:

A.
B.
C.
D.

We didnt go outside. While the rain


continued to fall.
No Change
Although the
The
Since the

Comma Splices

A comma splice occurs when


two independent clauses are
joined together by a comma with
no intervening conjunction.
Bowen

walked to the park, Leah


followed behind.
Mary bought cookies for the party,
Johnny bought chips.

Run-on Sentences

Two or more independent


clauses joined together without
punctuation.
Joan

runs every day she is


preparing for a marathon.
John likes to walk his dog through
the park Kevin doesnt.

Run-on Sentences

Figure out where the sentences


need to be split and punctuate
accordingly.
John

likes to walk his dog through


the park. Kevin doesnt.
John likes to walk his dog through
the park, but Kevin doesnt.
John likes to walk his dog through
the park; however, Kevin doesnt.

Misplaced Modifiers

Does the following sentence sound


odd to you?

Having eaten six corn dogs, nausea


overwhelmed Jane.

Nausea didnt eat six corn dogs. Jane


did.
This is a case of a misplaced modifier.
The modifier must come directly before
or after the word it is modifying.

Misplaced Modifiers

Correct Answers to previous


sentence:
Having

eaten six corn dogs, Jane


was overwhelmed by nausea.
Jane, having eaten six corn dogs,
was overwhelmed by nausea.

Misplaced Modifiers

Wrong:
Bill

packed his favorite clothes in


his suitcase, which he planned to
wear on vacation.

Right:
Bill

packed his favorite clothes,


which he planned to wear on
vacation, in his suitcase.

Misplaced Modifiers

Other Examples:
Only

Jay walked an hour to the


store.

This means no one but Jay made the


walk.

Jay

walked only an hour to the


store.

This means the walk to the store


wasnt too bad; it took Jay only an
hour.

Parallelism

When you see a list on the


English test, look for a
parallelism error.
Parallelism errors occur when
items in a list are mismatched.
If you have a list of verbs, then
all items in the list must be
verbs of the same tense.

Parallelism

Example:
Wrong:

In the pool area, there is no spitting, no


running, and dont throw your cigarette
butts in the water.

Right:

In the pool area, there is no spitting, no


running, and no throwing your cigarette
butts in the water.

Parallelism

More Examples:

Wrong:

Right:

To grow tired of London is to grow tired of


life.

Wrong:

To grow tired of London is growing tired of


life.

Growing tired of London is to grow tired of


life.

Right:

Growing tired of London is growing tired of


life.

Rhetorical Skills
Part 1: Writing Strategy

Writing Strategy

Writing strategy involves


improving the effectiveness of a
passage through careful
revision and editing.
Choose the most appropriate
topic or transitional sentence.
Choose which sections of an
argument can be deleted.

Rhetorical Skills
Organization

Organization

Sentence reorganization
questions often invoke the
placement of a modifier in a
sentence.

Organization

Example:

A.
B.
C.
D.

Austen wrote about a society of


manners, in which love triumphs
over a rigid social hierarchy
despite confinement to her
drawing room.
No Change
(place after love)
(place after Austen)
(place after society)

Rhetorical Skills
Style

Style

Redundancy
Redundant

statements say the


same thing twice.
ALWAYS avoid redundancy on the
test.
Wrong: The diner closes at 3 a.m.
in the morning.
Right: The diner closes at 3 a.m.

Style

Appropriate Word Choice:


The content of a passage will
generally give you a clue about
the appropriate tone.
Tone is one of the most
important elements in correctly
answering word choice
questions.

Style

Word Choice Example:

A.
B.
C.
D.

During the Great War, the British


Public believed that Lloyd George
rocks! He was wisely admired for his
ability to unify the government and
thus to unify Britain.
No Change
rocked!
was an effective political leader.
had the ability to unify the government
and thus to unify Britain.

Question Types

The Question TypesThere are


three main question types youll
encounter in ACT English
Economy
Sense
Technicality

Economy
These questions test your
understanding of whether
material is strictly essential to
the passage, or whether it could
be said more simply or
economically.

Sense
These questions ask you to
identify and correct logical flaws
in the passagestatements that
just dont make sense.

Technicality
These questions check your
knowledge of key punctuation,
grammar, and usage issues.

Strategies

Suggested Strategies for


taking the English Test

Practice pacing yourself on the


test.

Taking a practice test will help


you feel more comfortable with
the pace at which you should
work. You should allow about
30 seconds for each question.

Strategies continued

Answer every question.


First do the questions that are
easy for you. Eliminate the
answers youre sure are
incorrect. Guess the answer
from the remaining choices.
You wont be penalized if your
guess is wrong (and it might be
right).

Strategies continued

Save the hard items for last.


If you find yourself spending too
much time on any one question,
circle it in the test booklet and
pass it by. Return to it if you
have time later.

Strategies continued

Notice that the directions ask for


the BEST answer. That means
that you cannot stop at the first
correct answer you find. You
must read all the choices and
select the one you think is best.

Strategies continued

Read the text before and after


the underlined portion before
selecting your answer.
The correct answer will be
consistent with the authors
intent for the paragraph and the
passage as a whole.

Strategies continued

Determine the best phrasing for


the underlined portion on your
ownthen look for it among the
answer choices.
Re-read the sentence you are
correcting, substituting your
answer for the underlined
portion to make sure it is the
best answer.

Strategies continued

Circle the letter for the answer


choice in your test booklet.
Going back and forth from the
test booklet to the answer sheet
can be difficult, takes time, and
may result in a mis-marked
answer sheet. When you have
circled the answers for each two
page spread, transfer the
answers to the answer sheet.

Strategies continued

All that matters is what circle


you fill in. If you get the right
answer but fill in the wrong
circle, it will be wrong!

Strategies continued

Keep it short. Almost a third of


all the English items test your
awareness of redundancy,
verbosity, relevance, and similar
issues. For these economy
questions, the shortest answer
is frequently correct.
Avoid wordinessthink short
and clear.

Strategies continued

Sentences must have fluency or


flowsay it to yourself in your
head to hear how it sounds.
When in doubt, look for the two
shortest options, and pick the
one that sounds the best.

Strategies continued

RELAX!!!

Realize that you will make


mistakes.

Remember that the average


score for the ACT is about 55%
correct.

Quick Summary

When in doubt, take it out.


Make sure it makes sense.
Use your ears.
Look for pitfalls.

Do you think youre


ready???
Lets practice!!!