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Structure of the ACT English Section

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  • 0:06 Introduction
  • 0:30 English Test Length
  • 1:22 English Test Structure
  • 3:00 Question Types
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Bayliss
Learn the main features of the ACT English section, including the number of questions, the test organization, and the types of questions you can expect to see. Practice identifying different question types so that you can nail them on the exam!

Preparing for Success

The English section is the first part of the ACT. Getting a strong start on the English section sets you up for success on the rest of the test. To prepare for this section, you should review the content that will be on the test, such as punctuation rules and test strategy. But first, let's go over what to expect in the English section. In this lesson, we'll learn the section length, the structure, and the two main types of questions.

English Test Length

When you're managing your time on the ACT, the most important thing to know is the number of questions and how much time you have to complete them. The English section has 75 questions, and you have 45 minutes to answer them. 45 minutes for 75 questions - that doesn't sound like a lot of time per question. While it's true that you only have an average of 36 seconds per question, most of the questions in this section can be answered very quickly.

The exam tests your knowledge of grammar and punctuation that you've been learning and using since kindergarten. There are definitely challenging questions, but there are also many questions that you'll be able to answer right off the bat. For example, can you spot the error in this sentence: 'She have 10 toes?' I bet you saw it right away. When you're taking the test, you can answer these types of questions pretty quickly and then slow down and really focus on the trickier ones.

English Test Structure

The English test consists of five passages that have 15 multiple-choice questions each. You don't need to read the entire passage - skim the portions that don't have questions and focus on the portions that do.

Let's look at an example passage and learn how the questions are structured.

Sample passage

In this passage, notice that the first sentence is underlined, and there is a number 1 underneath the line. This indicates that question 1 is associated with this part of the passage. For this question, you'll be asked to correct the error in the sentence or indicate that no change is needed.

Now, look at the answer choices. Take a moment to pick out the correct answer.

Sample question 1

OK, ready? The correct answer is C, 'We arrived in London on a snowy Sunday in April.' This is an example of a grammar question, where you have to pick out the correct verb conjugation.

So, underlining part of the sentence is one way to find the question.

Let's go back to the text. Do you see the square box around the number 2? This indicates that question 2 is about that part of the passage. Let's read the question to see what it's asking.

Sample question 2

So, in this case, the square indicates that question 2 is referring to the spot between the two sentences. All right, take a second to answer this question.

The correct answer is G, 'We didn't let the cold stop us, though!' because it's the only answer choice that shows how the travelers felt about the weather.

Question Types

We've learned how long the English section is and what its structure is. Now, let's look at the two types of questions you'll see on the test. They are:

  • Usage and mechanics
  • Rhetorical skills

Usage and mechanics questions test you on punctuation, grammar, usage, and sentence structure. These types of questions might ask you if a comma is used correctly, if a verb is in the correct tense, or if the order of words in a sentence makes sense.

Rhetorical skills questions are higher level and ask you to think about the author's strategy and style. They also ask about the passage organization, such as paragraph and sentence order.

You're probably wondering, 'Why do I need to know this?' Well, the truth is, you don't need to remember the names of the question types. However, it's critical that you can look at a question and quickly tell which type it is because you'll use different strategies depending on the type of question it is. We'll learn specific strategies in another lesson. Right now, let's learn the difference between usage and mechanics and rhetorical skills by looking at a few questions.

The examples already provided above show the most common formats of these two question types. There are some exceptions, and we'll learn about them in another lesson.

Question 1 is a usage and mechanics question. Notice that the question is indicated by underlining part of the passage. All usage and mechanics questions use underlining to show you where the question is located. Some rhetorical skills questions use this too, but most of them use the number in the box instead. Also notice that there is no actual question - there are just answer choices. For these types of questions, you look at the underlined portion and answer choices to determine which one is correct. If the underlined portion is correct, just choose 'No Change.'

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