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The Juggling Act Required by the ACT English Test

The ACT opens with students taking the English portion of the test. On the ACT English test, students are given 45 minutes to answer 75 items. Not only does this section have more items than any of the other sections, but it also allows students, on average, the least amount of time per item: 36 seconds. However, neither endurance nor a quick pace is the most needed skill.


The Structure of the ACT English Test

The 75 items are divided over 5 essays, each with 15 items. The structure for each set of 15 is basically the same. Most of the first 12 to 13 items ask students to fix local issues, those pertaining to one or two sentences. Three to four of the questions, most of which are likely to be found at the end of the set of 15, ask students to evaluate a larger portion of the passage.

On the local issue items, students are tested on a wide range of concepts like subject-verb agreement, modifier placement, punctuation usage, etc. Below, we’ve placed a couple of examples from ACT Inc’s Preparing-for-the-ACT Guide (2015-2016). Both items can be answered correctly by using only the sentence in which the underline is contained.

act-english-local-questions 16 17

The final two to three items, and sometimes an item or two found earlier in set of 15, test students’ understanding on a broader scale. Notice how the items below require students to understand the structure and purpose of the entire passage.

act prep English Global Questions 29 30

act prep English Global Questions Item 26


The Most Critical Skill

As you can see, there are two distinctly different types of questions: ones that require students to evaluate on a local level and ones that require evaluation of the entire passage. Students who expect to score in the 30s must be able to handle issues within individual sentences while assessing the structure and meaning of the entire passage. This juggling act is the most critical skill needed to ace the ACT English test.


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