Back To CourseACT Prep: Practice & Study Guide
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During any test, no matter how prepared you are, you're probably going to encounter questions that you don't know the answer to. And that's okay - it happens to everyone. When this happens on the ACT, you always want to guess because there is no penalty for guessing. If you guess correctly, you'll end up getting points you would have missed out on if you hadn't tried in the first place.
In this lesson, we're going to learn some strategies for how to make smart guesses on the ACT English exam.
Before we get started, a few words of warning.
First, these strategies work best for specific question types. Make sure to pay attention to which question types you should use the strategy for.
Second, these strategies are meant to improve your odds when you guess. They ARE NOT a substitute for making a good faith effort at figuring out the answer. Don't try to rush through the test by just using these guessing strategies. If you do, you'll dramatically lower your score. And don't skip out on the rest of your ACT English review because you think these strategies are the silver bullet to a high score. They're not. This lesson will help you out so you have a better chance of getting the answer right when you're forced to guess.
Okay, warnings are over! Let's move on to the strategies.
Answer length is a great clue for most usage and mechanics questions and some rhetorical skills questions. When in doubt, Choose the Shortest Answer. Why is this true? Well, written English is usually concise English. This is true when you're writing essays for English class, and it's also true on the ACT. Many of the incorrect answers on the test include extra words or awkward verb forms that increase the number of words in the sentence. Let's look at an example:
The store was opened by Sue at 10 o'clock.
Your English teacher has probably warned you against using the passive voice in your writing, and this is a classic example of a sentence in the passive voice. Using the passive voice makes it long and clunky. Let's rewrite it in the active voice:
Sue opened the store at 10 o'clock.
See how much shorter the active sentence is? Not only is it shorter, but it's more powerful and easier to understand because Sue is driving the action.
This rule also works for some rhetorical skills questions. It's easy to figure out which rhetorical skills questions this strategy works best for because the questions kind of look like usage and mechanics questions - they are usually indicated by underlining in the passage and don't have an actual question.
For example, you can use the shortest-answer strategy for questions that test you on your ability to spot redundancy, or when words with the same meaning appear more than once in a sentence. Let's look at an example:
Alex sprinted swiftly and won the race.
At first glance, this sentence doesn't seem all that bad. But if you read it more closely, you'll notice that sprint means to run as fast as you can. Doesn't swiftly also mean to move quickly? When we remove redundancy, we get:
Alex sprinted and won the race.
This strategy doesn't work for rhetorical skills questions that ask you to choose a sentence or phrase to add to a passage. For these questions, all of the sentences could be correct, and you want to focus on finding the most suitable answer rather than on answer length.
But, for all other questions, if you need to guess, you should choose the shortest answer because good writing is concise writing.
Our second strategy is sort of like process of elimination. Choose the answer that's not like the others. On the ACT, only one of the answer choices can be correct. So if you're looking at two answer choices that look like they could both be right, they're probably both wrong. Eliminate those answers and choose the one that's different. This strategy tends to work best for rhetorical skills questions.
This strategy can also be a little difficult to wrap your head around, so let's look at an example.
Take a second to try to answer question 1. Do you see the correct answer?
It's D: 'filled with pot-holed streets and abandoned houses.' How is choice D different from the other three choices? The main difference is that it's not in the first person. It's also the only answer choice that doesn't insert the narrator's experience, opinion, or perspective. Choice A tells us that the narrator hated the housing development, and choice B tells us that the narrator once got lost. In contrast, choice D is a straight-up description of the housing development without inserting the narrator's point of view. It's significantly different than the other three answer choices.
This strategy helps you rule out incorrect answers and isolate the choice that's most likely to be correct. So, if you're not sure, choose the answer that's the least like the others.
Take another look at question 1. The correct answer is the only one that doesn't have the first person 'I,' and it's also the only answer that doesn't insert opinion or extreme language.
This is actually a trend on the ACT - most of the time, the correct answer is a little more formal than the other answer choices. Most of the passages are written as a narrative or informative essay. They're not as casual as an email, text message, or conversation with your friends. Passages often include the first person 'I' or 'you,' but they are unlikely to include words like 'amazing,' 'crazy,' or 'ridiculous.'
This strategy works for rhetorical skills questions where you need to choose sentences or phrases to add to a passage. When answering these questions, you should read the surrounding paragraph to determine if an answer choice fits the style and tone of the passage. But if you're not sure, choosing the more formal answer will increase your odds of getting it right.
The next strategy only works for questions that include 'Delete' or 'Omit' as answer choices.
In the example, notice that choice K gives you the option to the delete the underlined portion rather than to change it in some way. 'Delete' and 'Omit' aren't answer choices that often, but when they are, I've noticed that they are usually the right answer. If you see one of these questions and can't figure out the correct answer, choose 'Delete' or 'Omit'.
In this example, it's redundant to list both runners and joggers since they pretty much mean the same thing. We need to delete one of them to reduce redundancy. Since 'runners' is the only part of the sentence that is underlined, you should choose the answer that lets you delete it. Note that this strategy doesn't work when 'No Change' is an answer choice. You'll see 'No Change' as an answer choice on many of the questions, and it's right about the same percent of the time as other choices.
You only have 45 minutes to answer all 75 questions on the ACT English exam, so time is of the essence. If you can't find the correct answer, don't get bogged down. Use a guessing strategy to pick the best answer and move on. We learned four strategies in this lesson:
Good writing is concise writing, and the shortest answer is often the best choice. Of all the strategies in this lesson, you'll probably use this one the most.
There's only one correct answer to each question, so if two answer choices seem too similar, they're both incorrect. This strategy works best on rhetorical skills questions that are asking you to select the best sentence or phrase to add to the passage. Rule out similar answer choices and choose the exception.
ACT English passages tend to be written as a narrative. They're not as formal as the writing in a textbook, and they're not as casual as a conversation with your friends. You're unlikely to see answer choices that are more formal than the passage, but you probably will see answer choices with slang or extreme words, and you can often rule those out.
There aren't that many 'delete' or 'omit' questions on the ACT, but if you see one, that's probably the correct answer. Many students are afraid to select 'delete' because it seems extreme, but remember - good writing is concise writing, and cutting sentences or phrases often makes a passage better.
Use these strategies to maximize your correct answers and boost your score.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to apply the above strategies to boost your score on the ACT English exam if you don't know an answer or are running out of time.
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Back To CourseACT Prep: Practice & Study Guide
43 chapters | 347 lessons