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Instant ACT Score Boosters   

A big part of doing well on the ACT is simply knowing the tested topics.  That's where the Test Analysis link comes in handy.  After looking at it, I want to point out some topics that don't take worksheet after worksheet to master and will boost your score in a big way in a short time just because you know to look out for them.

Wordiness and Redundancy Questions

Wordiness is just what it sounds like: using too many words when a few will do. 
Redundancy is wordiness created by repeating the same words or ideas.
Look for the answer that states an idea in the least amount of words and doesn't repeat information.
These are the easiest questions, and there's usually several of them.  Wonderful!

Maintaining Verb Tenses

When you write, it's important to use the right verb tense:  past tense and present tense are typically the only tenses the ACT targets with these questions.  They try to slip in a present tense verb right in the middle of a passage about something that already happened and requires past tense verbs or vice versa.  Keep your verbs in the same tense.

Use the Past Perfect Tense Correctly

Use the Past Perfect Tense to express a past action that occurred either before another activity or before a point of time in the past.

Examples:  Her friends had chatted until she came into the room.
I suddenly remembered that I had taken my pills.

Transitions Between Ideas

I have a page targeting transitions used to join ideas inside paragraphs that places them in categories and features a paragraph about transitions being used correctly.  Typically, using these properly comes naturally if you look at the ideas that the transitions are joining, but I reinforce this with a worksheet in class.

Transitions Between Paragraphs

Sometimes, the ACT tests your ability to pick a transitional sentence.  These are the sentences used to get from one paragraph's idea to the next paragraph's idea, a smooth bridge from one paragraph to the next.  They are part of a clincher sentence (the last sentence in a paragraph that gives in a good ending) or part of a topic sentence (the first sentence of a paragraph that tells what the paragraph will target).  There's nothing incorrect about having a stand alone sentence between to paragraph that serves as a transition.


This is a term the ACT people use to describe questions that require you to pick the word that best completes a phrase in the way common to Standard American English. If you've taken a foreign language, then you have learned idiomatic expressions that were oddly worded phrases or sentences unique to that language. On the ACT, idioms are typically prepositional phrases, and you're asked to pick the right preposition.  If English is your first language, these are easy questions.

Pronoun Maintenance

This doesn't involve a wrench.  It's all about using the right pronoun to refer back to a noun.  For example, if you used he or she will write a whole page, then later, you must use his or her page will feature adjectives not their page will feature adjectives.

Avoiding Fragments

Hopefully, you can recognize the difference between a complete idea (a sentence) and just a part of an idea (a fragment).  Knowing you're supposed to be on the lookout for fragments will boost your score.

Mental Dictation Mistakes

This is my term for what happens when you hear a word in your head that can be spelled in multiple ways and you use the wrong one. For example, consider there, they're, and theirThey're means they are, there means not here but there, and their means belonging to them. Consequently, when you write and hear the word in your head as you take mental dictation, you have three options to choose from.  Consequently, mistakes happen. The same holds true for these words:

Who's and whoseWho's means who is while whose means belonging to who.
It's and itsIt's means it is and its means belonging to it.  The ACT people like to put its' on the test, but that word does not exist.
Could of:  Could of is an incorrect replacement for could've, which means could have.  The same is true of should of, might of, etc.
Theirs and there'sTheirs means belonging to them, and there's means there is.
Then and than: Then is time-related, and than is used in comparisons.

Easy Comma:  Nouns of Direct Address

You don't have to know any parts of speech to use this comma rule that sometimes pops up on the ACT.  You just have to recognize names and name substitutes.  When you talk to your readers or when you have dialogue in your writing, you often use a name. Surround the name or name substitute with commas.

For example:  Johnny, I want you to make a 36 on the English ACT.  Note the comma after Johnny. 
If the name appears in the middle of a sentence, you use two commas to set it off:  The best thing about life, Johnny, is Chinese food.

Sometimes, you use a name substitute:  Okay, old man, show me what a nonessential participial phrase looks like and make it snappy!

Apostrophes to Show Possession

Yes, the ACT tests your knowledge of apostrophes to show possession.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezee!  Simply add an 's to nouns to show they possess something.

Larry's book lies on the shelf all day.

For plural nouns that end in s, just add the apostrophe after the s.

My sisters' weddings were much alike.

Possessive pronouns naturally show possession, so no 's is needed.

Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

Use a hyphen between compound adjectives that precede a noun. 

They are compound when neither adjective can modify the noun by itself. 
    The first-rate baseball player received a huge contract. 
Neither first nor rate modifies player by itself.  They function together, so they get the hyphen.


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.

Misplaced Modifiers

As a rule, put your modifiers near what they modify to prevent confusion.  Also, make sure they have something to modify in the sentence.  Your modifiers might include prepositonal phrases, participial phrases, subordinate clauses (adjective and adverb clauses), adjectives, and adverbs.