Types of Questions on ACT English Test

The ACT English test is designed to measure your 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.

You may not always use standard written English in casual writing (for instance, when you are e-mailing a friend) or in conversation. In casual writing or conversation, we often use slang expressions that have special meanings. 

Questions on the English test include the following:

  1. Usage or Mechanics: punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure
  2. Rhetorical Skills: writing strategy, organization, style

You will not be tested on spelling, vocabulary, or on rote recall of the rules of grammar. Grammar and usage are tested only within the context of the essay. Likewise, you won’t be tested directly on your vocabulary, although the better your vocabulary is, the better equipped you’ll be to comprehend the reading passages and answer questions that involve choosing the most appropriate word.

English Usage, Grammar and Punctuation

Usage or 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, semicolons, and dashes
  • Periods, question marks, and exclamation points

These questions address not only the rules of punctuation but also the use of punctuation to express ideas clearly. For example, you should be prepared to show how punctuation can be used to indicate possession or to set off a parenthetical element.

In many punctuation questions, the words in every choice will be identical, but the commas or other punctuation will vary. It is important to read the choices carefully in order to notice the presence or absence of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, and other punctuation.

Grammar and usage questions involve choosing the best word or words in a sentence based on grammar and usage conventions.

Sentence structure questions involve the effective formation of sentences, including dealing with relationships between and among clauses, placement of modifiers, and shifts in construction. Many questions about sentence structure and formation will ask you about how clauses and phrases are linked. This means that you may have to consider punctuation or the lack of punctuation, which can create problems such as comma splices, run-on sentences, or sentence fragments.

Conventions of Standard English Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation questions test knowledge and skills such as the following:

  • Determine the need for punctuation or conjunctions to join clauses or to correct awkward-sounding fragments, fused sentences, and faulty subordination and coordination of clauses
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense
  • Recognize and correct disturbances in sentence structure, such as faulty placement of adjectives, participial phrase fragments, missing or incorrect relative pronouns, dangling or misplaced modifiers, faulty parallelism, run-on sentences, and weak conjunctions between independent clauses
  • Maintain consistent and logical verb tense and voice and pronoun person within a paragraph or passage

Rhetorical Skills

Rhetorical skills questions focus on writing strategy, organization, and style.

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 you to make decisions concerning the appropriateness of a sentence or essay in relation to purpose, audience, unity, or focus, or the effect of adding, revising, or deleting supporting material.

Knowledge of Language: Knowledge of language questions tests your ability to clearly and succinctly express yourself in written English. Knowledge and skills tested include the following:

  • Revise unclear, clumsy, and confusing writing
  • Delete redundant and wordy material
  • Revise an expression to make it conform to the style and tone used throughout the passage
  • Determine the need for conjunctions to create logical connections between clauses
  • Choose the most appropriate word or phrase in terms of the sentence content

Organization questions deal with the order and coherence of ideas in an essay and the effective choice of opening, transitional, and closing statements. For example, you may be asked about the organization of ideas (the most logical order for sentences within a paragraph or paragraphs within an essay) or about the most logical transitional phrase or statement.

Style questions involve effective word choices in terms of writing style, tone, clarity, and economy. Sometimes, a phrase or sentence that isn’t technically ungrammatical is nevertheless confusing because it’s poorly written. Sometimes, a word or phrase clashes with the tone of the essay. Good writing also involves eliminating ambiguous pronoun references, excessively wordy or redundant material, and vague or awkward expressions.

Organization, Unity, and Cohesion

  • Determine the need for transition words or phrases to define relationships in terms of time or logic
  • Determine the most logical place for a sentence in a paragraph
  • Provide a suitable conclusion for a paragraph or passage (for example, summarizing the main idea)
  • Provide a suitable introduction for a paragraph or passage
  • Rearrange sentences in a paragraph or paragraphs in a passage to establish a logical flow
  • Determine the most logical place to divide a paragraph to achieve the stated goal

Topic Development in Terms of Purpose and Focus

  • Determine the relevance of material to the topic or the focus of the passage or paragraph
  • Identify the purpose of a word or phrase (for example, identify a person, define a term, or describe an object)
  • Determine whether a passage has met a specific goal
  • Use a word, phrase, or sentence to accomplish a specific purpose, such as convey a feeling or attitude or illustrate a given statement