ACT English

3 Easy ACT English Tips to Boost Your Score

The following tips offer strategic approaches to specific question types on the ACT English section. For more thorough explanations of these topics, reach out to your LogicPrep tutor!

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1. When choosing between who and whom, use prepositions as a shortcut.

Prepositions are words that demonstrate the relationship between two things such as with, to, for, in, and on. When you get to a question where you have to choose between options that use who and whom, just look at the word right before it. If it’s a preposition like those listed above, choose whom. Otherwise, choose who. This shortcut works more than 95 percent of the time, so make sure to ask your LogicPrep tutor for an explanation that will cover the other 5 percent of cases.

2. The period and the semicolon are used interchangeably.

The ACT English section considers the semicolon and period interchangeable. As long as you’re connecting what could be considered two separate sentences, either punctuation mark can be used. So if you get to a question that offers two options, one with a period and one with a semicolon —and all else is equal— you can immediately consider both incorrect; no question can have two right answers.

3. For transition word or phrase questions, be strategic and immediately eliminate any equivalent options.

Similar to the prior tip, you should be strategic and eliminate options with equivalent answers since it would be impossible to have two correct answers. Most of the transition words or phrases on the ACT can be categorized into a few broad categories: contrast (however, on the other hand, nevertheless, etc.), similarity (likewise, similarly, additionally, etc.), or consequence (thus, consequently, therefore, etc.). When you get to such a question, look at the options and if two of them fall under the same category, you can confidently eliminate both, even without analyzing the context.

A Letter to High School Students Who Don't Read

Dear High Schoolers,

Here’s the problem: you probably don’t read. Ok, actually, you don’t read at all. If you’re trying to get better at standardized tests, unfortunately, Instagram is not going to help you. Scrolling through nonsense on your phone does not count as reading, even if you’ve traded every spare minute of your life staring at Twitter.  

Here’s the solution: read something-- anything that’s more than one page long. I’m not asking for much, but let’s consider how much I’ve read this summer and then compare it to how much you’ve read this summer. We can then compromise on how many pages you are going to read so that you can become a faster reader and score higher on your tests. Perhaps they weren’t the best books I’ve ever read, but I’ll run you through them here just so you have an idea of what people who read, do. 

Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

The first book I read this summer was called American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. It is a quick novel, just 465 pages, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re into fantasy and nonsense. Not the kind of nonsense on Elliot Tebele's Instagram, mind you, but well-written nonsense. The story is one of the old gods vs. the new; the old Norse and native American gods are getting old and can’t compete with the new gods of media and television. A war is taking place in the American psyche and you are on the front lines. I will not mention that this is now a TV show because you’ll probably just stream it and continue to read nothing.

Next up was Love and Other Pranks, by Tony Vigorito. It's a silly love story nestled in a silly caper to expose the lies and deceit of a new-age guru charlatan. The guru is a horrible person and hoards money that he gets from his congregation. His former student decides to take revenge with a lot of laughing out loud along the way.  

And then there was The Dark Tower, by Stephen King, a modern-day Lord of the Rings epic. While a bit more R-rated, this story follows a cloaked mercenary through a series of adventures that are typically weird. These books are also well-written nonsense but in my defense, we are up over a thousand pages of nonsense that I’ve put on my summer reading list so far.

For the nerdist types, the last book I'll mention is The Dragons of Eden, by Carl Sagan. This book takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery beginning at the brains of the dinosaurs. Reptile brains are small and consist of a spinal cord and a small nub at the end called the R-complex (much like the human medulla oblongata). It is thought that much of our instinct is present in this area and only through the advent of the cerebral corpus have higher order animals developed the ability to think clearly. The problem is that having a cerebral cortex does not guarantee that you, my friend, are thinking clearly.

Please, I implore you, use your cerebral cortex for more than cat videos and learn something for crying out loud. Let's compromise on you reading more than a few pages of an actual book every day. If for nothing more than to improve your ACT or SAT score. But remember, Instagram and Twitter pages don't count.

Sincerely,

Roger, Instructor (and concerned citizen)

Advice for the ACT Reading Section

In his last post, Andrew provided some useful tips for the SAT Reading section. To balance things out a bit, I want to offer some advice for the ACT Reading section, where the time pressure (40 questions in 35 minutes!) is even greater than on the SAT.

When I meet with a beginning student to go over a practice ACT, one of the things that I look at, right off the bat, is the student’s note-taking, the markings they made on the reading passages. What phrases or sentences did they circle or underline? What marginal notations did they make?

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With these beginning students, I usually find that one of two scenarios holds. Sometimes, the student hasn’t made any markings at all. When I see that, it worries me. I wonder whether the student really read the passage. An unmarked page can be a sign that the student simply allowed their eyes to glide over the words and didn’t try to engage actively with the content of the passage. And even if that’s not the case—even if the student read the passage as diligently as they could—I worry that they’re trying to carry too much in their active memories. When they get to a question that stumps them, how are they going to find a way “back in” to the passage they just read?

Other times, I find that the student has underlined just about every word in the passage. This worries me, too. For starters, when the passage is all marked up, the whole purpose of marking the passage has been defeated. How can you find what’s really important when your markings suggest that everything is? And I haven’t even mentioned the time that’s wasted in all that pencil-dragging.

The key is to find a happy medium, and the way to do that is to know ahead of time what you’re looking for. Here are some things I tell students to look for, and to mark, as they read.

For every kind of ACT passage, circle any word you don’t know. “Serendipitous”? Circle it. “Solipsistic”? Circle it. Consider this: If you don’t know the word, chances are good that a lot of other test-takers won’t know it, either. That’s probably why the designers of the test included it there. And if it’s an unusual word whose meaning can be discerned from the context, then it’s quite likely that one of the questions is going to ask you to discern that meaning. If you can anticipate those questions as you read, you’ll save time later.

Relatedly, mark any language that stands out—any phrase that’s especially colorful, or unusual, or that makes you pause so that you can figure it out. Underline the phrase, and take those few seconds to think about what the author means. Again, it’s likely that one of the questions will ask you to do that. So why not get out ahead of the question?

For fiction and humanities passages, keep in mind that many of the ACT’s literary narratives are not linear; what happens in the first paragraph of the passage is not necessarily the first event in the timeline of the story. The ACT loves flashbacks, flash-forwards, and interspersed plot lines, and it loves asking you to put a story’s events in chronological order. When the time of the plot shifts in any of these ways, I put a big “T” in the margin, to mark the shift in time.

For fiction and humanities passages, I also pay attention to, and mark, any expressions of strong feeling. If the main character says that he is “insanely jealous” of something, or if an author tells you that a character clenched her teeth, mark that! The questions will often ask you about what’s going on, emotionally, in a passage.

Finally, for social science and natural science passages, underline any unanswered questions or any questions that are still awaiting scientific investigation. The ACT loves to ask about these; I guess they want to make sure that, once you’re done reading, you’re clear on what it is you DON’T know. I mark these unanswered questions with a big “U” in the margin.

Those are just a few of my suggestions. And they could all be summarized under a more general piece of advice: 

Read actively, and mark the passages selectively to help you in your active reading.

If you see me around, I’d love to hear what you look for and mark as you read. Are there other things I should add to my list?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writing Strategy Questions

In my experience, while students quickly become accustomed to correcting punctuation and verb errors on the ACT English section, questions about style and rhetoric can come across as much scarier. And indeed, many of the strangest questions on the ACT ask us to momentarily take on the perspective of a writer before going back to line editing comma splices and misused adverbs. Questions that ask about deleting or adding information, reorganizing the structure of a paragraph, or assessing the effectiveness of writing are all a bit foreign. But in a larger context, the apprehension that students have around acting like an author makes sense. Students are often asked in liberal arts classrooms to analyze the meaning of a passage or understand the argument of a historian. However, less time is dedicated to diving into the mechanics of how that meaning or argument is actually conveyed.

The ACT takes the opposite approach on the English section. Students will have the opportunity to show their ability to understand texts during the Reading Section. During the English section, it’s time for students to think like a writer!

Top 5 ACT Verbal Tips You Need to Know Before Test Day

With the ACT coming up this weekend, we've compiled a list of need-to-know Verbal tips to think about as you're getting ready for test day. 

1. Fail to prepare, and you prepare to fail

The day before the test is not the day to learn anything new. Test preparation is like preparing for a marathon: the work you do 2 months before is more important than the work 2 days before.

 

2. Read full sentences 

In the midst of the test, you can sometimes begin to get tunnel vision and break the test down into pieces that are too small. Tone and context are important, so if something doesn’t make sense, simply read it again as a full sentence.

3. Keep it simple

When in doubt keep things short and simple. Concise, clear writing is elegant writing. Remember, the ACT hates redundancy, loves clarity, and always tricks students by throwing in extra commas. 

 

4. Watch the clock

Have the confidence to stop one hard question from derailing your progress on the test. The Verbal section is a full 75 questions! So, if you aren’t 100% sure about one question you need to find a way to keep your momentum going.

 

5. Trust your gut

At some point you will have to rely on their intuition—that is perfectly okay. The hope is that all the practice you have put into the process has refined your intuition--even somewhat unconsciously. 

Top 5 Tips for ACT English

After weeks of hard work throughout your test preparation, it’s easy to lose touch with the core strategies that gave discipline to your work at the beginning. Though nothing can replace consistent and focused studying over extended periods of time, I’ve compiled a short list of tips that you can use to remind yourself of all the work you’ve accomplished on the English section before you head into the real ACT.

1. BE LITERAL

The unit of an answer of the ACT English section is a sentence – every correct response to a question has specific evidence within the passage to back it up, and everything you need to engage with and respond to these grammar and writing strategy-based tasks can be found within the sentence as you are reading. Be sure to read through to the end of the sentence to make sure you understand all the specific clauses within it, and remember to trust yourself – you are a native.

2. ALWAYS UNDERSTAND THE FUNCTION OF PUNCTUATION

If a punctuation mark is being used in a sentence, there’ll always be a specific reason for why it is there! Remember, commas are a change in thought, semicolons and periods both separate independent clauses/sentences, and finally, there are two main rules for colons: the colon must be preceded by an independent clause, and the information after the colon must expand or elaborate what came before, without a linking word.

3. CHECK QUANTITY AGREEMENT

When dealing with complex subject that uses modifiers to add details for the simple subject, selecting the proper verb form can be tricky. Subjects and verbs must agree in number; if the subject is singular or plural, then the verb must reflect that; the same goes for noun/pronoun agreement; if you are replacing a noun with a pronoun, make sure the pronoun agrees in quantity!

4. PAY ATTENTION TO SUBJECT/VERB AGREEMENT

When dealing with a conjugated verb in a sentence, make sure you know what the connected subject is! If you are stuck on what you see as being a difficult question, locate the conjugated verb in the sentence (the action of what is happening!) and figure out what is doing the action, then make sure the rest of the sentence’s punctuation/structure makes that clear!

5. KEEP RELATED CONTENT TOGETHER

This holds true for within both sentences and the larger structure of paragraphs within a passage: keep related conversations close to one another! When dealing with modifiers, make sure you keep the description as close as possible to what is being described. When dealing with organization, remember that arguments are established and then evidence is provided, so remember that the introduction of a term or idea will always come before its explanation. Remember that nothing beats consistent practice, but hopefully, these tips can up your intellectual game as you work toward your ACT English mastery!

 

-Ryan G, Instructor

How to Stay Sharp Over the Summer

As the school year winds down, students are understandably looking ahead eagerly to the summer break. Regardless of where you are in your high school career, keeping your mind sharp over the summer is essential.

For freshmen, your sophomore year will offer a more challenging course load, sometimes featuring your first AP classes. It is crucial to build on the success you established your first year or turn the page and start anew if you struggled.

For sophomores, junior year will be seen as the doorway to college acceptance since you will likely be taking ACTs and SATs for the first time, along with juggling your busiest course load of high school.

Juniors who have finished with the SAT or ACT still have the rigors of college applications and a challenging fall semester to look forward to, while those who have not finished with the tests will have to gear up again for the fall exams.

And even for the seniors who are already accepted into college, I would remind you that the level of comprehension necessary for college courses far surpasses that of high school classes.

With all this in mind, I recommend that students do their best to avoid the trap of summer complacency, which can make starting the new school year all that much more painful. You should all pursue intriguing, unique experiences over the summer, but there are simple steps you can take to keep your mind functioning at a high level.

For most students, the most important step is to read consistently at a high level. Some of you are ambitious enough readers to tackle full novels, in which case you should check out our summer reading list here.  For those of you who feel overwhelmed by the commitment of a novel, challenge yourself to read one article each day in a publication such as The Atlantic, Popular Science, Scientific American, The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. These publications are written at a level similar to or above that which you will usually find on the SAT or ACT.

For those of you trying to get ahead on your SAT or ACT prep or make a strong final push for the fall exams, I would strongly recommend a consistent review of the English rules and math equations, as well as steady practice with your past mistakes. Even 10 to 15 minutes of work each day can make a significant impact on your readiness at the start of the next school year.

So challenge yourself to stay sharp and keep yourself ahead of the curve this summer!

 

-Jamie K, Test Prep Advisor & Instructor