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ACT Exam | English Section Overview

An earlier post gives insight into the ACT exam as a whole. This post looks at the first section, the English section. The order of sections in the ACT exam is fixed. It goes English -> Reading -> Maths -> Science -> Essay (Optional)

English section overview


English section in the ACT has 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes. Speed is a key factor in scoring high on this section. On average, you would get about 36 seconds per question, including the reading time. Working fast through this section is critical.

ACT English section covers two different content areas further dividing into 6 total areas of testing. Let’s look at each of them in detail.

The two major areas are Usage/Mechanics(punctuation, grammar and sentence structure is tested), and Rhetoric (strategy, organization, style is tested).

Usage/Mechanics (40 questions)


Usage/Mechanics tests your ability to understand and find out errors (if any) in each of the questions in punctuation, grammar usage or sentence structure. It is critical to understand each of these concepts to be able to answer the questions accurately.

Punctuation tests you on your ability to add the right punctuation or identify if the right one is used. Understanding how comma, period, apostrophe, quotes (single and double), colon, semicolon works will help you find out the right answer. In these questions, it is important you look at the entire statement before answering it. The answer might change based on the context. Let’s look at an example to understand it.

Ex: A left out left-handed person will never think this.

If you see in the example above, there is a need for a comma after left out but not after left-handed to make the statement more clear

Grammar tests you on your ability to understand the right way of structuring sentences. Understanding subject-verb agreements, use of modifiers, tenses, parallelism to better answer this section. Let’s look at an example to understand it.

Ex: He wanted to run and also played at the same time.

In the example above, the played fails the rule of parallelism. Re-writing the same sentence, we get the following statement.

He wanted to run and play at the same time.

Sentence structure tests your ability to understand how to identify proper sentences and find out if there are any issues in the same.

Rhetoric (35 questions)


Rhetoric tries to test your ability on strategy, organization and style. This tests if you understand the given passage and answer questions on the same. It is important to read the entire passage and connect the ideas to be able to understand the core message, the tone, the style, organization or points in the mentioned passage.

Strategy tests your ability to add or remove a certain statement or leave without a change. This requires an understanding of the passage to recognize a lack or surplus of information mentioned.

Should you add, remove or let the passage be is determined by your ability to understand if the sentence provided adds more information or not. Often, each statement either presents a new idea or gives an example of the previous. If the given sentence is not doing either, it is better to leave it out. Again, this depends on your understanding of the given passage.

Organization tests your ability to see the flow of the passage, the relationships between sentences and subjects (if multiple). This requires an understanding of the passage to connect the dots between different ideas mentioned in the passage.

The ideas are presented in a certain order in a passage. Some ideas are pros and some are cons. Understanding which is which and why helps you to better understand the passage, helping you to answer questions accurately.

Style tests your ability to recognize the tone of the author. Be it caustic, laudatory, analytical or rhetorical, it is important for the reader to understand the tone of the passage as this determines the progression of the passage.

A good grasp of the English language is required to be able to answer this section better.

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