How to Make Smart Guesses on the ACT English

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  • 0:06 The ACT Test
  • 1:18 Choose the Shortest Answer
  • 3:28 Choose the Answer…
  • 4:55 Choose the More Formal Answer
  • 5:51 Choose Delete or Omit
  • 6:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Bayliss
Learn guessing strategies for the ACT English exam. There's no penalty for guessing incorrectly, and these strategies can help increase your chances of getting the right answer. Use these strategies to boost your score if you don't know the answer or are running out of time.


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.

Choose the Shortest Answer

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.

Choose the Answer That's Not Like the Others

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?

Sample Question 1

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.

Choose the More Formal Answer

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.

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