The ACT English Test Made Simple

Mar 2024

11 Minute Read

Tagged as: ACT

A discussion of the ACT English test and the content it covers

If you want a good ACT score, knowing the ACT English format is absolutely essential. The ACT is all about timing, and the ACT English Test is the section of the ACT that has the greatest overall number of questions and the least time per question.

It’s this simple: there are a lot of questions, you don't have much time to answer them, and your brain could easily become overloaded. Every little break you can give your brain is worth as much as gold. If you know the test layout — how much time you have, what the questions are asking you — then you can skip the directions.

Remember, your job is to answer questions. If you can avoid reading directions, you’ll have more time to do your job!

So what is the ACT English format?

The ACT English Test contains 75 questions, all multiple choice, with a 45 minute time limit. The English section is always first, and it is always followed by Math, then Reading, then Science (then the optional Writing). It contains five passages, and usually, there are 15 questions per passage (though every once in while, there is an additional question in one section, and one less in another). Like the Reading and Science sections, there are 4 answers choices per question (ACT Math questions have 5 answer choices). Most of the questions underline a portion of a sentence and ask you how it would be best to write the potion. For these questions, NO CHANGE (leave it the way it is) is usually the first answer option. For the all-important issue of timing, remember that you have 9 minutes per passage, and roughly 36 seconds per questions.

What does the ACT English Test measure?

Much like the ACT Writing section, the English section measures your understanding of "the conventions of standard English (punctuation, usage, and sentence structure), production of writing (topic development, organization, unity, and cohesion), and knowledge of language (word choice, style, and tone)." The ACT employs different passage types to provide a variety of rhetorical situations in the English section. Some of the questions will ask you about entire paragraphs or the passage as a whole, others will be based on specific phrases or sentences.

Passages are chosen not only for their appropriateness in assessing writing skills but also to reflect students’ interests and experiences.

NOTE: Spelling and vocabulary out of context are not tested. You do not need to recall grammar rules you probably learned before high school, but you do need to know what is considered grammatically correct to answer ~60% of the questions. This means knowing things like which verb tenses to use (pro tip: study the simple past, the present perfect and the past perfect tenses).

What content is covered by the ACT English Test?

The ACT English section addresses topics in 3 categories:

1. Production of Writing (29–32%)

The questions in this category require you to apply your understanding of the general purpose and theme.

  • Topic Development: The ACT wants you to demonstrate an understanding of, and control over, the rhetorical aspects of texts. Identify the purpose of a paragraph or passage; determine whether or not a passage has met its intended goal; and evaluate the relevance of material in terms of a text’s theme or focus.
  • Organization, Unity, and Cohesion: The ACT tests you on the use of  various strategies to ensure that a text has an effective introduction and conclusion, is logically organized, and flows smoothly.

For the sake of the logic and coherence of this paragraph, sentence 6 should be placed:

  • F. where it is now
  • G. between sentences 1 and 2
  • H. between sentences 2 and 3
  • J. between 3 and 4

These questions make up most of the Rhetorical Skills subscore of your ACT English score.

2. Knowledge of Language (13–19%)

The questions is this category require you to show effective language use through ensuring precision and concision in word choice and maintaining consistency in style and tone.

Born in Kansas in 1897,

  • B. Following being born
  • C. After her mother gave birth to her
  • D. After having been born

3. Conventions of Standard English (51–56%)

The questions in this category require you to apply an understanding of the conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics to revise and/or edit text.

  • Sentence Structure and Formation: The ACT expects you to have an understanding of sentence structure and formation in a text and to make revisions to improve the text.
  • Punctuation: The ACT asks you to recognize common errors in standard English punctuation and to make revisions to improve the text.
  • Usage: The ACT wants you to recognize common problems with standard English usage in a text and to make revisions to improve the text.

From her wooden seat in the cramped cockpit. Facing the fuel gauges and compass that helped her plot her course, Amelia Earhart was on top of the world.

  • G. cockpit; facing
  • H. cockpit. She faced
  • J. cockpit, facing

These questions make up most of the Usage/Mechanics subscore of your ACT English score.

Understanding the ACT English section format and structure is very important, and we hope we have helped. Preparing for the types of questions and what they evaluate will be the foundation of your ACT English section preparation, and we wish you all the best as you prepare for your ACT exam! Good luck!

What's next?

Read our Ultimate Guide to ACT Test Prep — it summarizes everything you’ll need to know, whether you are preparing to take the ACT next month or in a few years.

In need of more ACT English prep? Our new app Wend has over 450 free test prep questions for the SAT and ACT. Download Wend on the App Store for free test prep, essay writing tips, and more!

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