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McGraw –Hill’s Top 50 Skills for a Top Score
by Brian Leaf (2010)
This is a great book with much more useful information and practice than is presented here. It's purchasable on Amazon.com.
The first test given on the ACT is a 45-minute English test.
The test targets 15 kinds of grammatical errors.
For subject-verb agreement questions, identify the subject(s) and verb(s) and apply the rules you know. Remember that subjects are not
found in prepositional phrases. Sometimes when the verb is
underlined in the passage, the question targets the correct tense, not
Some questions test your ability to use the correct transition. Check out the transitions page and its paragraph at the bottom to see transitions in action.
This book thinks these are the comma rules that will be tested:
- parenthetical elements (transitions as well as phrases),
- nouns of direct address,
- dependent (subordinate) clauses,
- and nonessential elements.
Commas, dashes, and parentheses are used interchangeably to set off interrupting elements.
The ACT will ask you to pick the correct preposition,
which they inaccurately call “the correct idiom.” Choosing the correct
one will come naturally to you if English is your first language.
You are tested over the proper use of I and me as well as it’s and its.
To show possession, you add ’s or s’; the first for single nouns and the second for plural nouns.
Sometimes, you will need to delete an unnecessary adverb suffix -ly when it's added to a word.
When beginning subordinate (dependent) clauses, use which for clauses about things and who for people.
You will also have to show you know which correlative conjunctions go together: neither—nor, either—or, not only—but also.
Active voice verbs have the subject doing something. Active voice: Johnny hit the ball.
Passive voice verbs have something happening to the subject. Passive voice: Johnny was hit by the ball.
Active voice is the preferred option with rare exceptions not seen on the ACT.
Remove unnecessary words to avoid redundant language.
A descriptive phrase should
always be near the word it describes. Otherwise, it's a misplaced
modifier. If you leave out a noun for a participial phrase to
modify, you have a dangling participle.
You will have to pick a better word
than the one provided. The ACT doesn't directly test you on
vocabulary words, but if you want to pick a better word, it's easier to
do if you know what the original word and the options mean.
“Flow questions” ask about the logical progression (order) and organization of the passage.
Several questions will ask you to choose an answer based on its ability to help you accomplish a very specific goal.
Some questions will ask you to decide if a passage accomplished a certain intention. Make sure the answer applies to the entire question and not just part of it.
The Reading Test
Be sure to read the few lines in bold that introduce each passage on the test.
The Four Types of Reading Passages
1. Prose Fiction—short stories or portions of them.
2. Social Science—history, psychology
3. Humanities—art, music, philosophy, etc.
4. Natural Science—science, naturally! ;)
- None of the questions on the reading test will measure your knowledge of the subject, only your ability to find the answers in the passage or make inferences about what is not spelled out.
- Look at the passage’s title and any brief summary if one is there.
- Read the passage in a relaxed yet focused way—like meditation.
- Don’t read to memorize details. Read to figure out the main idea and tone (what it’s about and how the author feels about it). Circle parts that help you discover these terms.
- Passages that look long still just typically take three minutes to read, so don’t stress about speed.
- You will have “line number” questions and detail questions.
- You will have to decide on a definition for a word based on the context (words around it).
- Direct info questions won’t ask you to guess about anything: the answer is right there. Easy!
- On others you will have to decode what the author “suggests” or “implies” or what you can “infer.”
To infer means to make a smart guess based on the information before
you. (It’s also what one ISS kid asks another at lunch: “So
what are you infer?”) The author implies (hints) at something, and you
infer (guess intelligently). The correct answer might have
different language, but it should be close.
- You will have to decide what the author’s attitude toward his topic
is based on his choice of words and punctuation. (Using quotes
around a word sometimes means so called. He used his “skills” to
fail again.) Forget your attitude toward the topic and focus only
on the writer’s. Re-read the bold intro and first and last sentences of
the passage for help.
- Reading those lines also helps with the main idea questions. Typically, that’s where you will find the topic sentence and clincher sentence that state the main idea of the paragraph.
- Some questions will ask about a writer’s choices: a certain word, punctuation mark, or passage development strategy.
- You will have a few vocabulary questions
to answer. If you know prefixes, roots, and suffixes, you can
decode words you’ve never used. Otherwise, remember when you’ve
heard or seen it before or see how similar it is to a word you do know.
- Some questions will ask you to pick the best paraphrasing of a sentence.
Paraphrasing is putting a passage into easier to understand language.
(Summarizing is simply shortening the passage; paraphrasing focuses on
rewording the passage.)
- Remember that while you can’t mark up your answer sheet, the test booklet is your notepad. Circle, underline, take notes, etc. Do whatever it takes.