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  • Writer's picturePhilip Martin

ACT English Strategy...Only Read the Underlined?

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

You should know that the majority of ACT English questions require you to reference an underlined portion of a reading passage. Conventional wisdom would say that if you had only 45 minutes to answer 75 questions that you would eliminate reading any unnecessary material about which there were no questions. While reading through the English passages, for example, it is possible that there may be two or three or more sentences in a row in which there are no questions asked.

So you should skip over those sentences, focus in a more micro way on the underlined portions of the test, and save yourself valuable time, right?


This is so for two reasons, both of which deserve later posts of their own: context and comprehension.

Regarding context, some underlined questions require for you to have read the sentence or sentences previous to the question in order to select the best answer (that’s right, the BEST answer; ACT Math is the only section of the test that requires that you select the one correct answer, while all others require you to select the best of the choices).

Here’s an example from a recent ACT:

At first glance of course it appears that there is nothing wrong with the way in which the sentence is begun. A student moving quickly through the test might bubble in ‘F’ and carry on. However, the student who read the sentences prior would know that, based on the context of the entire paragraph, it is actually ‘G. Eventually,’ that fits the sentence best.

Regarding comprehension, we must first be rid of a myth. The myth is this: only English grammar rules (commas, clauses, semi-colon use, etc.) are tested in ACT English.

Again, wrong.

At the end of each of the five English passages that make up the ACT English test, there are most often 1 or 2 questions that require a comprehensive understanding of the essay (or, at a minimum, a greater understanding of the essay as a whole).

Here’s an example of such a question from a recent ACT:

While these kinds of questions usually make you want to guess or cry or sigh (or all three), I think there is a lot of potential for you to gain points relative to your peers here. These types of comprehension questions are, not surprisingly, the most missed of all English questions.

The moral of the story is this: do NOT skip from underlined portion to underlined portion, and do NOT skip sentences that aren’t directly asked about. Reading the entire passage and thinking about the bigger picture or story arc as a whole is a great way to gain points on your next ACT English test.


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