The English Test Master List

of Tested Skills

from Dr. Chippendale's Focus on the ACT

available at 
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The most frequently asked questions on the English target the concepts below, so this will be our checklist of skills:

  • punctuation between sentences or ideas: periods, semicolons, and colons (with points of emphasis, lists, and direct quotations following colons).
  • punctuation inside sentences: commas, dashes, parentheses with commas for these:
parenthetical elements (transitions as well as phrases),
nouns of direct address,
dependent (subordinate) clauses,
and nonessential elements.
  • possessives.
  • correct pronoun use (I/me, its, who/whom, that/which).
  • subject-verb agreement.
  • parallelism.
  • misplaced modification. Put modifiers near the word they modify. The man chased the monkey wearing a farmer’s straw hat.  Placed where it is, wearing a farmer’s straw hat seems to modify the monkey, who could hide in a hat better than wear it.
  • modifiers with nothing to modify. Sometimes, modifiers don’t have a word to modify in the sentence.  Using his keen sense of smell, the rabbit was easy prey.  That sentence has no noun for the participial phrase (Using…smell,) to modify, and that’s called a dangling participle
  • eliminating wordiness.
  • omitting sentences or portions of sentences.
  • correct or best word choice.
  • adding on sentences or not.
  • rearranging sentences or phrases.
  • least acceptable answers.
  • coordinating conjunctions (like and), correlative conjunctions (either/or), and conjunctive adverbs (transitions) will be on the test.  
  • fragments, run-on's (or fused sentences), and comma splices.
  • parallelism—setting a pattern and following it.
  • appropriate subordination means that the less important idea is expressed in a subordinate clause or phrase while the most important idea is in an independent clause.  "Using a pen knife, she disarmed the bomb" versus "When she disarmed the bomb, she used a pen knife.
  • parentheses questions don’t appear often on the ACT, but when they do, parentheses set off explanatory comments or side remarks.  They downsize the importance of the information inside them. 
  • reflexive pronouns--like myself, himself, and herself—refer back to the subject of the sentence and can’t appear unless they do that.
  •  The test also targets noun-pronoun agreement, and they try to hide the noun with which the pronoun must agree.  Sometimes the pronoun needs replaced with a concrete noun.
  • who and whom
  • verb tenses
  • adjectives picking the correct form:
    • Positive adjectives are unchanged.  The brown bear…
    • Comparative adjectives have an –er added (or in some cases, more precedes them.)  The browner bear…
    • Superlative adjectives have an –est or most.  The brownest bear…
  • adverbs don’t have that degree of comparison variation.  They need to be placed next to the verb to which they add meaning.  The ACT will sometimes position them near a different verb and ask you if that’s a nice place for it to live.

Question types about Style aka Rhetoric

On wordiness questions, delete phrases that repeat or add nothing to the sentence.   Typically, choose the shortest answer.
Every ACT test includes some “omit the underlined portion” questions, and this response is the correct answer in about half the questions.  Watch out for the other half.
“Correct word” questions ask you to pick the word that matches the meaning in the sentence. These have no change as an option.  Don’t pick options with nonstandard English or clichés.
“Best word” choices have choices that all work to some degree, and you must pick the best one.  If the question has “example” or “illustrates” in it, you will need to pick a very specific choice.
"Best phrase or best sentence" questions call for the replacement of a phrase or the best version of a sentence.  Often, the sentences are topic sentences or a combination transitional and topic sentence.
“Add-on” questions ask what should be added to a passage to support a main idea or a specific example.
“Yes or no” questions have become popular on the ACT as “add-on” questions.  When in doubt, look at the no answers first.
Similar to the “yes or no” questions are the “keep or delete” and the “primarily lose” questions. These ask what would be lost if some words were eliminated.
“Least Acceptable” questions are often easy points, and there are five or six of them.  They ask which form of an underlined portion would be least acceptable (the worst) in a context.
"Best Placement of word, sentence, or paragraph" questions to achieve writer's goal.