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.
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.
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.
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.
Most Grammar and Usage questions look like a typical Usage and Mechanics question. They can be pretty tricky, and we'll go over strategies that work well for these types of questions in another lesson. The most important strategy to use for Grammar and Usage questions is to read the whole sentence, not just the underlined portion. Let's look at an example.
Read the sample sentence and look at the answer choices. Do you see the correct answer? The correct answer is A, No Change. 'Uncle Mick taught me' is the correct choice because the passage is written in the simple past tense. This was a pretty simple example of a Grammar and Usage question. You'll also see more complicated questions on the test, and we'll go over how to solve these in other lessons.
Sentence Structure questions test you on concepts such as word order, conjunctions, transition words, run-on sentences, modifiers, and parallelism. Sentence Structure questions comprise about 24% of the test, which is about 18 questions.
Here is an example of a typical question.
Do you see the correct answer? It's choice H. This is a classic parallelism example - the verbs 'measure,' 'crack,' and 'whisk' should all be in the same form. Choice K also has all the verbs in the same form, but they're in the wrong tense.
We just took a quick tour of the three types of Usage and Mechanics questions you'll see on the ACT English. There are 9-10 Punctuation questions, 12 Grammar and Usage questions, and 18 Sentence Structure questions. Most of the Usage and Mechanics questions will share the same features, such as being indicated by underlining, including 'No Change' as an answer choice, and not having an actual question.
Now that you know what to expect on the exam, make sure to watch the lessons that review these concepts in more depth and provide extra practice.
After you have completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Highlight the focus of the questions on the punctuation section of the ACT
- Recall some hints for grammar and usage questions
- Understand how to attack the sentence structure questions
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