English Test

Words of “Wiz-dom”—This is the “easiest” test in the sense that the average percent correct is higher than on the other three tests. An average score of 20 means you got about 2/3 of the questions correct while on the other tests you only need to get slightly more than 50% correct to get an average score. Directions


As always, you need to learn them before the test. Open a sample test to the beginning of an English Test and review the directions.

Most commonly, you’ll find individual words or groups of words underlined with a number below the line. The number refers to the question number. You need to select the alternate word or phrase for the underlined material. For most questions, the first option will be “NO CHANGE.” So if you think the underlined material is better than any of the alternatives, select it. A test writer favorite is an answer that gives you the option to “OMIT the underlined portion.” A less common format is a number inside a box in the middle of the passage. The number refers to a question. These questions will refer to a section of the passage or the passage as a whole. Stop and do the following:

More words of “Wiz-dom” on directions

Beware the “NO CHANGE” response. Here’s a case where the right answer is to leave the original word or group of words just as you found it/them written. “NO CHANGE” is just a change in mind set. Normally, you expect to find an answer to a question. In this case, the answer is the question! That is, the underlined words are the correct answer. However, if you need to guess, “NO CHANGE” is a bad guess. It is the correct answer much less often than it would be based on probability. By contrast, “OMIT the underlined portion” is a good guess. It is correct more often than it should be based on probability. You’ll be practicing these and other techniques for identifying “dead ends” during the English Test lesson.

In the directions, the ACT test writer says, “Read each passage through once before you begin to answer the questions that accompany it.” This is ADVICE, not DIRECTIONS. Furthermore, I think it’s BAD advice. The grammar and rhetorical questions almost always refer to one sentence. A few require you to read adjoining sentences. The “big picture” questions ask about a paragraph or the passage as a whole. (For example, the sample question about the prom from Pillar IV is a “big picture” question.”) However, they tend to be placed so that you’ve already read the paragraph or passage before the question is asked! Some of you will have trouble finishing in time. Most of the questions have nothing to do with the passage as a whole, so it’s a waste of time to read it completely and then come back to the questions. The first paragraph is going to reveal the main idea of the passage. The rest will be simple details, examples, etc. I’ll be showing you a number of strategies for this section of the test. You need to try them all to find out which ones work best for you. In short, disregard the test writer’s advice about reading the passage before doing any questions.

Question Types

The English Test measures two areas: Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. You will notice that the sub-areas are all about equally represented except “sentence structure” which is larger than the others.  Be sure to go to the SAT Writing Test section of this website and review the grammar rules that show up consistently on the test.

Content Number (Percent) Content Number (Percent)
Basic grammar and Usage
Sentence Structure
40 (53%)
10 (13%)
12 (16%)
18 (24%)
Rhetorical Skills**
35 (47%)
12 (16%)
11 (15%)
12 (16%)


I like to view these ACT categories in simpler terms. About one third of the questions deal with the fixed rules of grammar, one third deal with writing succinctly (to the point), and the final third deal with analytical questions. Don’t worry about recognizing the categories as you do the questions. There aren’t any special strategies that deal with a special question type. I only mention them so that you know what you’ll be facing on test day.

English or Reading Test?

This is an English Test. You’ll get to the Reading Test later. However, understanding the main idea and whether it is formal or friendly writing will help you with some of the style questions. If it’s formal, you’ll need to choose formal phrasing. If it’s friendly or informal, then slang is okay. As I suggested above, reading the first paragraph will let you know whether it is a formal or friendly passage. Compare “Excuse me, Sir” with “Get outta da way!” Stop and do the following:

More words of “Wiz-dom” on English or Reading Test

Since this is an ACT prep class and not a grammar course, I’m not going to review all the grammar in detail. Your English teacher can refer you to some helpful resources at your school.

Here’s the punctuation you need to review:

  • Comma: items in a series, appositives, parenthetical expressions, special words beginning a sentence, nonrestrictive clauses and participial phrases, before conjunctions, between main clauses, after an introductory adverb clause, after an introductory participial phrase, after a series of introductory prepositional phrases. (You’ll also be tested on using unnecessary commas.)
  • Semicolon: between main clauses with commas, interrupters, and without conjunctions; between series items
  • Colon: before a statement or list; between independent clauses when the second one restates the first one
  • Apostrophe: possessives, contractions
  • Quotation Marks: direct quotation
  • Underlining: titles
  • Dashes indicates a break in thought; as a substitute for namely, in other words and that is before an explanation
  • Parentheses: explanatory matter within a sentence.

More words of “Wiz-dom” on punctuation

Here’s some of the grammar you’ll face on test day:

  • Verb Tense: Make sure the tense (present vs. past) is consistent.
  • Subject–Verb Agreement: Singular with singular and plural with plural are key.
  • Pronoun Usage: Agreement with antecedent (singular/plural, gender, proximity) and nominative case (he) versus objective case (him) are tested.
  • Adjectives and Adverbs: Their placement and appropriateness (adjective with noun; and adverb with verb, adjectives, and other adverbs) is on the test.
  • Sentence fragments and run-on sentences
  • Comparison: Unclear references such as, “Sarah likes the ACT more than Ray,” are tested.
  • Parallel Structure: (“I spent the weekend thinking, composing, and typed this document.” NOT! It should be, “I spent the weekend thinking, composing and typing this document.”)
  • Positive, Comparative, Superlative: Good-Better-Best
  • Exclamations: (Egad! The ACT is in two weeks.)
  • Confused Words:(affect-effect, its-it’s, lie-lay, etc.)

    The rhetorical items fall into the following categories:

  • Transitional words and phrases: (hence, in conclusion, nevertheless)
  • Sequencing: introduction—development—conclusion
  • Unity: Is it all related?
  • Passive vs. active voice
  • Redundancy: repetitive
  • Garrulous:too wordy, verbose, prattling, loquacious, talkative, chattering!

    Sample Passage

    Summer Disaster

    I’ll never forget one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It occurred when I was1four years old.I was spending the summer at my grandparent’s2 fishing resort in Minnesota. My grandfather and grandmother3had always warned me of the potential disasters that could happen during stormy weather. They told me that it could be especially disastrous when a thunderstorm would suddenly appear on the horizon.Just such a storm happened in July—the thunderstorm season in Minnesota. Several guests were out fishing on a bright sunny day. They4 got caught off guard by a sudden, violent storm. All but one made it safely to shore. One boat was caught in the heavy waves and he drowned.5

    A search party found him on the bottom of the lake several days later. After freeing his body from the bottom, they brought the corpse to the resort for transfer to the morgue. My grandfather made sure that I was waiting by the dock so that I witnessed his arrival at the dock and could see the corpse that was so badly deformed.6

    This incident has left the indelible mark that my grandfather desired. While I still enjoy a pleasant day fishing on a lake, I cautiously watched7 the horizon and head for home when a storm looks possible.

    1. A. NO CHANGE
    B. were
    C. am
    D. is


    2. A. NO CHANGE
    B. grandparents’
    C. grand-parents’
    D. OMIT the underlined portion


    3. A. NO CHANGE
    B. grand father and grand mother
    C. Grandfather and Grandmother
    D. Grand Father and Mother


    4. A. NO CHANGE
    B. day who
    C. day, who
    D. day and they


    5. A. NO CHANGE
    B. boat was caught in the heavy waves and it drowned.
    C. boater was caught in the heavy waves and he drowned.
    D. boater was caught in the heavy waves and he was drowned.


    6. A. NO CHANGE
    B. Grandfather made sure I witnessed his arrival at the dock.
    C. My grandfather had me wait at the dock so that I could witness the arrival of the body that was bloated.
    D. Grandfather had me witness the arrival of the corpse at the dock.


    7. A. NO CHANGE
    B. watch
    C. have watched
    D. will watch


    8. The writer wishes to include the following in the essay:and changed my outlook on boating and fishing forever.This phrase would most logically fit in Paragraph

    A. 1, after “years old”
    B. 2, after “stormy weather”
    C. 3, after “Minnesota”
    D. 4, after “the morgue”


    Here are some individual sentences with which to test yourself.

    We decided to go to the beach. Because9it would be more fun than hanging out at the mall.He decided to lay10down and take a nap.Sam, he11 was going to class.

    Other than Sue and Mike, Jim are12 the smartest student.

    To cool his soda, he put cold ice in the glass.13

    9. A. NO CHANGE
    B beach, because
    C beach because
    D beach although


    10. A. NO CHANGE
    B laid
    C lie
    D have lain


    11. A. NO CHANGE
    B Sam he
    C Sam
    D Sam, him


    12. A. NO CHANGE
    B Sue and Mike, Jim is
    C Sue, Mike, and Jim are
    D Sue, Mike, Jim is


    13. A. NO CHANGE
    B placed cold ice in the glass
    C put ice in the glass
    D put ice in the glass to make it cool

    Answers to English questions

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