The ACT English section is somewhere between a marathon and a sprint (maybe it’s a 5K, for those of you who run track). It’s long – 75 questions – and it’s fast – only 45 minutes. So how do you prepare for a comprehensive content test that whizzes by? Follow these steps for a better score:
1. Get to know what you’re up against. Take a timed practice test to identify if you’re having more trouble with content or time (or both). It may be that you answer all the questions correctly, but that you can’t do it within the time constraints of the test. Conversely, you may sail along with ideal speed but little accuracy content-wise. Taking a practice test at the start of your preparation will help direct your ACT English Test “training plan.”
2. The ACT English Test has 5 text passages in each test, all covering everything from misplaced commas to incorrect number agreement. After taking your initial assessment, go over the questions you got wrong and determine if there’s a pattern in them. Do you have trouble keeping pronouns straight? Do you know when to use “who” versus “whom?” Figuring out where you went wrong and then reviewing the pertinent grammatical rules will help you get those points back on future tests. If you find that you’re having trouble applying the rules you’re reviewing, do some grammar exercises (the online ones from Purdue are great) to make sure you know the rules solidly before applying them to a timed test.
3. If you’re having trouble with the timing of the test, practice an ACT English Time Challenge. Time the first passage of a practice test, going your “normal” speed, and then for each subsequent passage, try to beat your times. For example, if it takes you 10:30 to do the first passage, aim for 10:00 on the second, 9:30 on the third, and so on. Practice getting gradually faster while maintaining the accuracy you cultivated in Step 2.
4. Put it all together. Take another timed practice test, ideally at least two weeks before the real test, to gauge your progress. Are there any types of questions you’re still getting wrong? Go to a teacher, tutor, or English-savvy friend to figure out why one answer is wrong even though it may look or sound right. Check your time – have you gone too fast and missed questions in your haste? Or maybe you’re still moving too slowly through the questions – time for more speed work as advised in Step 3.
5. In the last two weeks before the test, take at least 2 timed ACT English tests, carefully going over any questions you got wrong. Remember, the more practice you have tackling the questions under strict time limits, the easier test day will be.
6. The night before the test, review any last grammar, style, and punctuation rules you feel you may forget. Don’t try to cram the night before, though – get a good night’s rest and be ready to answer those 75 quick questions in the morning.
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