Types of Usage/Mechanics Questions on the ACT English

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Bayliss
Many colleges and universities require incoming students to take the American College Testing (ACT) standardized test, which covers four subjects, including mathematics, science, reading, and English. Learn about the types of usage/mechanics questions in the ACT's English section covering punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure. Review sample questions and practice techniques to do well on this portion of the ACT. Updated: 09/25/2021


On the ACT English, about 53% of the questions will be about punctuation, grammar, word usage, and sentence structure. These lessons are called Usage and Mechanics questions. The other type of questions test strategy, style, and organization and are called Rhetorical Skills. We learned the basic difference between these two question types in another lesson, but in this lesson we're going to go deep on Usage and Mechanics and see examples of the different types of questions you can expect to see.

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  • 0:07 Introduction
  • 0:36 Punctuation
  • 2:46 Grammar and Usage
  • 4:02 Sentence Structure
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Punctuation questions make up about 13% of the test. There are 75 total questions on the ACT English, so you can expect to see about 9 or 10 punctuation questions.

Comma questions are particularly common on the test and tend to trip students up more often than other types of punctuation questions. You can also expect to see questions on apostrophes, end punctuation such as periods, colons, semicolons, parentheses, and dashes.

Here's an example of a typical punctuation question. Notice that it has the typical features of a Usage and Mechanics question - the question is indicated by underlining, there is no actual question, and 'No Change' is an answer choice. Take a second to find the correct answer.

Sample question 1

Ready? The correct answer is D - 'When I was a child, I loved' because the comma is needed to separate the dependent clause at the beginning of the sentence from the rest of sentence.

Here's another example. This question is different from most Usage and Mechanics questions because it actually contains a question. You'll see this type of question occasionally on the exam. Students actually miss these types of questions pretty frequently. Can you guess why? This is a 'NOT' question, and many students overlook that key word. I recommend circling the word 'NOT' so you force your brain to acknowledge it.

Sample question 2

All right, take a second to find the correct answer to question 2. Ready? The correct answer is G. This question tests your knowledge of colon rules. If you're rusty on colon rules, a quick tip for this question is that the portion before the colon must be an independent clause, or able to stand on its own as a complete sentence. Choice F is grammatically correct because the portion before the colon is an independent clause, while Choice G is grammatically incorrect because the portion before the colon is not an independent clause. Since this is a 'NOT' question, the correct answer is actually the one that's grammatically incorrect.

Grammar and Usage

The next type of Usage and Mechanics question you can expect to see are the Grammar and Usage questions. This question type tests you on concepts such as subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and pronouns. Grammar and Usage questions comprise about 16% of the test, which translates to about 12 questions. If you grew up speaking English, correct answers to many of the Grammar and Usage questions will simply sound right. However, you should still watch our review lessons to make sure you understand the topics likely to appear on the test.

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