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About the ACT English Test

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  1. About the ACT English Test

  2. The ACT English Test • On the ACT English Test students have 45 minutes to read five passages or essays on a variety of subjects and answer 75 multiple-choice questions about them, an average of 15 questions per passage. • The English Test is designed to measure ability to accomplish the wide variety of decisions involved in revising and editing a given piece of writing. An important part of revision and editing decisions is a good understanding of the conventions of standard written English.

  3. Categories of Questions on the ACT English Test The questions fall into two categories: • Usage/Mechanics (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure) • Rhetorical Skills (writing strategy, organization, style) Students will receive a score for all 75 questions and two subscores--one based on 40 Usage/Mechanics questions and the other based on 35 Rhetorical Skills questions.

  4. • Students will not be tested on spelling or on how well they can recall specific rules of grammar. • Grammar and usage are tested only within the context of the essay. They also won’t be tested directly on their vocabulary, but the better the vocabulary, the better they are equipped to answer questions that involve choosing the most appropriate word. • The questions and essays are side-by-side for easy reference.

  5. The Usage/Mechanics questions focus on the conventions of punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure and formation. Punctuation questions involve identifying and correcting the following misplaced, missing, or unnecessary punctuation marks: • commas • apostrophes • colons and semicolons • parentheses and dashes • periods, question marks, and exclamation points The questions address not only the rules but also the use of punctuation to express ideas clearly.

  6. Usage and grammar questions involve choosing the best word or words based on considerations of the conventions of grammar and usage. Questions will cover the following: • Grammatical Agreement * subject and verb * pronoun and antecedent * adjectives and adverbs with corresponding nouns and verbs • Verb Forms (principal parts, tense) • Pronoun Forms and Cases • Comparative and Superlative Modifiers • Idioms

  7. Sentence Structure questions involve the effective formation of sentences, including dealing with the relationships between and among clauses, placement of modifiers, and shifts in construction. • Subordinate or Dependent Clauses • Run-on Sentences • Comma Splices • Sentence Fragments • Misplaced Modifiers • Shifts in Construction Many questions about sentence structure and formation will ask about how clauses and phrases are linked. This means that punctuation or lack of punctuation should be considered.

  8. Rhetorical Skills Writing Strategy questions focus on the choices made and strategies used by a writer in the act of composing or revising an essay. These questions may ask students to make decisions concerning • the appropriateness of a sentence or essay in relation to a particular audience or purpose • the effect of adding, revising, or deleting supporting material • the effective choice of an opening, transitional, or closing sentence.

  9. Rhetorical Skills Organization questions deal with the issues of • order • coherence • unity. Style questions involve effective word choices in terms of • writing style • tone • clarity • economy Style questions require a general understanding of the essay as a whole.

  10. According to Sparknotes on Grammar and Usage • The passages usually cover a variety of subjects, ranging from historical discussions to personal narrative. • Ten (10) questions will be on punctuation. You will be asked to identify and correct any misplaced, misused, or missing punctuation marks. The most commonly tested on the ACT are, in order of decreasing frequency, commas, apostrophes, colons, and semicolons.

  11. According to Sparknotes on Grammar and Usage • Twelve (12) questions will be on basic grammar and usage. These questions usually target a single incorrect word that violates the conventional rules of English grammar. These questions test your knowledge of agreement issues and verb forms and cases. • Eighteen (18) questions are on sentence structure. These tend to deal with the sentence as a whole. They test you on clause relationships, parallelism, and modifier placement.

  12. According to Sparknotes on Grammar and Usage • Commas, apostrophes, semicolons, and colons are on every ACT English test. Sometimes parentheses, dashes, periods, question marks, and exclamation points are. • Many of the questions will ask you to correct phrases that are fine for spoken English but not for formal written English.

  13. According to Sparknotes on Grammar and Usage • Sentence structure is a BIG DEAL when it comes to usage/mechanics problems. You need to know * connecting and transitional words - coordinating conjunctions - adverbial conjunctions - subordinating conjunctions * subordinate or dependent clauses - knowing when to coordinate and when to subordinate ideas

  14. According to Sparknotes on Grammar and Usage • (continued) Sentence structure is a BIG DEAL when it comes to usage/mechanics problems. You need to know * sentence fragments * comma splices * run-on sentences * misplaced modifiers - dangling modifiers * parallelism

  15. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • Twelve (12) questions are on Writing Strategy. These questions are concerned with the effectiveness of a passage. The passages require that you understand the point, purpose, and tone of a passage. • When answering Writing Strategy questions, you must decide the best way to support a point with evidence, to introduce and conclude paragraphs, to make a transition between paragraphs, or to phrase a statement.

  16. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • Eleven (11) Organization questions can deal with individual sentences, individual paragraphs, or the passage as a whole. They will ask you either to restructure the passage or paragraph or to decide on the best placement of a word or phrase within a sentence. • Twelve (12) Style questions focus on effective word choice. They will ask you to eliminate redundancy and to select the most appropriate word or phrase.

  17. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • (Style) In order to answer style questions correctly, you need to understand the tone of a passage, and you need to have a good eye for clearly written English. • Rhetorical Skills tend to be more difficult than Usage/Mechanics questions. Usage/Mechanics require that you understand grammatical rules. The Rhetorical Skills questions require a sense of good writing, which must be developed through review and practice.

  18. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • In the English section, answer the questions in the order that they appear. There is NO order of difficulty. • The Usage/Mechanics questions appear beside the section of the passage that they refer to. For the most part, the Rhetorical Skills on the passage as a whole appear at the end of the passage.

  19. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • Guess! On the English section if you come to a question you can’t answer, simply guess and move on. • Don’t move on to a new passage without answering all the questions from the previous one. • Eliminate answer choices. Educated guessing is always better than blind guessing.

  20. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • • When you have a question with multiple errors, try to spot one error and use POE (process of elimination). • Cathys’ friends left they’re bags in the room. • Cathy’s friends left there bags in the room. • Cathys friends left their bags in the room. • Cathy’s friends left their bags in the room.

  21. According to Sparknotes on Rhetorical Skills • Don’t be afraid to choose “NO CHANGE.” This should be the correct answer approximately 20% of the time. • The answer choice “OMIT” means what is underlined should be removed. Use it when you know that the passage reads better with a redundant or irrelevant statement eliminated.

  22. According to Princeton Review—ACT English Test • Think of it as an editing test. Your mission is to make each passage as clear and as well written as possible. • There is no order of difficulty of the passages or the questions. • On this section, think four words: Complete, Consistent, Clear, Concise. • Spot the error and then eliminate the answers that don’t fix it.

  23. According to Princeton Review—ACT English Test • NO CHANGE is the correct answer about one-fourth of the time that it appears. • Choose a letter of the day. If a question is too hard or time-consuming, use your letter of the day and move on. • Always read to the end of the sentence before working the question. Otherwise, you cannot correctly judge whether the ideas are complete or incomplete. • Think of punctuation as traffic signals: stop and go.

  24. According to Princeton Review—ACT English Test STOP signals: • period • semicolon • comma + FANBOYS • question mark • exclamation mark FLOW without unnecessary interruption: • comma • NO punctuation

  25. According to Princeton Review—ACT English Test • If you cannot cite a reason to use a comma, don’t use it. • An idiom is a figure of speech that follows no rules. Most idioms on the ACT involve a preposition. • If you can count something (like dollars), use fewer, number, and many. If you can’t count something (like cash) use less, amount, and much. More works with both. • ACT plays favorites with verbs, pronouns, apostrophes, and transitions.

  26. According to Princeton Review—ACT English Test • OMIT is correct half the time it appears. If the underlined portion isn’t necessary to make the sentence Complete, Consistent, or Clear, get rid of it. • Questions with EXCEPT/LEAST/NOT are becoming increasingly popular, but they can also be one of the trickiest because the correct answer is grammatically wrong.

  27. Example: He returns with a dozen bagels and spreads them out • ceremoniously across the kitchen table while the house is still • 2 • as hushed as a whisper. • Which of the following substitutions to the underlined portion would be LEAST acceptable? • F. top of • G. on top of • H. on • I. over

  28. If your students are entering 11th and 12th grade without knowing basic grammar and usage, then consider establishing an English Vertical Team. The amount of learning that must precede the taking of a test such as the ACT cannot fall on one teacher or grade level. Examine all the skills on the various parts of tests and your school’s test scores. What are the weakest areas at your school? Consider where to introduce certain skills. You might even try to get your feeder middle schools involved.