ACT English Practice: Style

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  • 0:03 Style on the ACT
  • 1:29 Question 1
  • 2:43 Question 2
  • 3:48 Question 3
  • 4:38 Question 4
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Learn what the style questions on the ACT English test are really looking for and how to answer them objectively instead of just trying to guess or read the test writers' minds.

Style on the ACT

On the ACT, the style questions aren't about the technicalities of grammar. Instead, the style questions test your rhetorical skills with questions about word choice and sentence structure. Can you pick the right words to express what you mean? Can you keep a consistent tone throughout the essay? Are your sentences wordy and redundant, or crisp and clear?

You might think these are impossible things to measure on a standardized test - after all, who's in charge of objectively saying that one adjective is better than another? Actually, the ACT test writers do a pretty good job of setting up questions with one clearly correct answer. Once you know what they're looking for, there's always a logical explanation for why an answer is correct.

To help you find the right answer, it helps to approach each underlined portion of a sentence with these questions in mind:

  • Can I make this shorter or more concise without losing detail? Redundancy and wordiness are huge on the ACT, so if you can get rid of a word or three without losing anything from the sentence, do it!
  • Is the tone consistent and appropriate? Different word choices will be appropriate for different passages.
  • Is there anything ambiguous, awkward, or unclear? If the sentence is confusing, it should be revised.

These three questions will help you spot a lot of the style issues on the ACT. So bearing them in mind, take a look at four practice questions to get a feel for what you'll see.

Question 1

Ready to start? Here's Question 1:

My brother, Eric, has always been a snappy dresser, and it was around the period of time when he was beginning high school that he first thought of starting his own male fashion magazine with practical advice for his friends.

(A) (no change)
(B) and during the years when he was beginning high school,
(C) and around that time, when he was beginning high school,
(D) and around the beginning of high school,

Remember the questions that you learned about earlier in the lesson? Use the questions like a checklist to evaluate the underlined portion of the sentence, and pick the answer choice that best improves the sentence. Is it wordy? Is there a tone mismatch? Is it confusing or awkward? Remember that you can't just like the sound of it better; you have to be able to justify your choice.

Did you figure out that the underlined portion of this sentence is wordy?

Even if the sentence itself didn't tip you off, looking at the answer choices should have, because (D) says exactly the same thing more concisely. So, (D) is correct. Remember that wordiness is a big deal on the ACT; in general, if you can say the same thing in fewer words, you should.

Question 2

Ready for another try? Here's Question 2:

Eric enlisted his friend Brandon as an illustrator; he quickly found a graphic designer to make the third member of the team.

(A) (no change)
(B) Eric, and his friend Brandon, as an illustrator, they
(C) After enlisting his friend Brandon as an illustrator, Eric
(D) Eric enlisted Brandon as an illustrator, and he

What's wrong here?

It's not wordiness this time; it's ambiguity. Who found the graphic designer: was it Eric or Brandon? You don't know from the sentence. It could be either. So your job is to pick the answer choice that clarifies which boy found the designer.

That makes (C) the correct answer. Choice (B) would clear up the problem of who found the designer, but it contains several comma errors, so it causes as many problems as it solves. Choice (D) just takes out the explanation of who Brandon is, without fixing the ambiguity. Choice (C) makes it clear that Eric was the one to find the designer, without introducing any additional problems, so (C) it is!

Question 3

Eric initially began producing the magazine in his bedroom, but as his readership grew, he started looking into more professional options.

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