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Four Types of ACT English Questions That Students Usually Miss

Some ACT English questions give students more trouble than others. In this lesson, we’re going to look at four types of questions that, in my own experience teaching, students consistently have difficulty mastering. These are questions that either involve grammar concepts rarely-used outside of the ACT or require a very specific kind of answer.


  1. Colon usage

There is only one situation where a colon is the correct answer: when the second clause describes the first. The previous sentence is a perfect example. The first clause tells us there is “one situation” where you can use a colon. The second clause explains exactly what that situation is. This rule also applies to lists:


I bought the following at the supermarket: bread, egg, and milk.


Only use a colon when there is a hard break. If the sentence contains liking words, use a comma instead:


A supermarket sells many food staples, such as bread, eggs, and milk.


  1. Different versions of the same clause or sentence

A few times per test, the English section will present four variations of the same clause or sentence. The correct answer for this type of question always has a clear subject at or near the beginning of the clause/sentence:


Mary and Liz studied for the ACT together.


Wrong choices will have the (intended) subject much later in the sentence or omit the subject altogether:


Studying for the ACT together were Mary and Liz

The ACT was studied together.


  1. Comma and Dash Consistency

ACT English test designers love grammatical consistency questions. This includes questions based on the consistent use of commas and dashes. Fortunately, comma/dash usage on the English section follows one of three rules:


  1. When framing a nonrestrictive (nonessential) clause, use comma-comma or dash-dash”:


The fundraiser, which collected over $100,000, donated all of its earnings to charity.

The fundraiserwhich collected over $100,000donated all of its earnings to charity.


Do not use comma-dash or comma-comma:


The fundraiser, which collected over $100,000donated all of its earnings to charity.

The fundraiserwhich collected over $100,000, donated all of its earnings to charity.


  1. If you are not offsetting a nonrestrictive clause, us a comma:


While the fundraiser collected only $100, it donated all of the proceeds to a local charity.


  1. If the information appears “tacked on” to the end of a sentence, use a dash:


My AP Lang professor was needlessly pedantic with English grammar rulesat least, that’s what I thought at the time.


(Note: A comma is occasionally an acceptable answer choice for tacking on an afterthought but only when a dash is not one of the other choices.)


  1. “Most specific information”

When a question asks for the “most specific information” about a particular detail in the prompt or passage, the question is really asking for the choice that provides an example of that detail. The correct answer will include names, dates, descriptions, or something else that helps paint a “real world” portrait of the abstract concept referenced in the prompt. Only one choice will provide such an example. The other three will be equally vague, albeit in sli

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