I will be out of town from February 8 until the 13th, but for those of you staying in town to take the ACT, here’s some last minute advice. If you’ve read my other blog entries, this will seem very repetitive, because it is. I am not going to apologize for that.
First of all, make sure you know your grammar. When do you use dashes, commas, semicolons, and colons? What’s the difference between an adjective and an adverb?
Adjectives modify nouns (“the cool car” – “cool” is an adjective), and adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs (“The cool car moved quickly.” “Quickly” is the adverb.) Commas set off non-essential information from sentences. (E.g., "My car, which is black, is parked over there." The phrase "which is black" is not essential, since the sentence would still make sense if you took it out, so it is set off in commas. Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses; that is, two clauses that would be sentences on their own. Colons are used to set off lists or to emphasize a thought at the end of a sentence, as in "Remember the three important things in real estate: location, location, and location!" Dashes can work in the place of commas, semicolons, or colons, When they are used as commas to set off a non-essential clause, always remember that whatever you use to set off the clause at the beginning should be the same thing you use at the end. For example, "I liked candy when I was a child - I suppose saying I was obsessed with candy would be more accurate -so I spent my whole allowance on candy every week." Notice that commas could be used where the dashes are, but it would be wrong to put a comma before "1" and then a dash after "accurate."
If you’re having trouble remembering grammar and punctuation rules, don’t panic. Just use your common sense when you’re taking the English test, and you’ll do fine. If it sounds stupid, it’s probably wrong. Also, you should pick the shortest answer choice that makes sense. The old joke “The three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location” would be a wrong choice on the ACT, since it would be considered wordy and redundant, despite the obvious humor and style.
Make sure you read the questions carefully. I know that sounds obvious, but some of the questions have four answer choices that make sense and are grammatically correct, but the questions ask you which choice would best serve the a given purpose (e.g. “Which choice would be best if the author wanted to inform the audience about fire hazards in pine forests?”).
Finally, make sure you understand the structure of the passage when you read it – there will be at least one question that asks you where a sentence or paragraph should go, so ask yourself “Would this be a good introduction, body paragraph, or conclusion? Is there a sentence that leads into this one, or would this logically come first?” You might notice, before you even get to a question, that the order doesn’t make sense – for example, it discusses something as though you’ve already been introduced to it – for example “That’s the reason my brother doesn’t like peaches anymore” wouldn’t make sense as an introductory sentence.
Try looking at the questions, then looking for the answers in the passage. The ACT is a speed test, so it pays to “cut to the chase” and look only for the information they want. Scan the passage for the words in the questions and the answers, but look out for what I call “sucker punch answers.”
You may not be able to look at the questions first when you look at a prose fiction passage, since tone and attitude questions are harder to answer, and the main point is also harder to find, without reading the whole passage.
That brings me to an important point – read the passages that deal with things that interest you, or things you understand well, before trying to tackle passages about things you really don’t like or don’t understand. It only takes a few seconds to flip through the section to find a passage you like.
If you’re a little mischievous, take heart in the knowledge that someone else will freak out by seeing you flip through the exam as though it’s no big deal. Seriously, when I took one important multiple-choice test, another test-taker came up to me during the break and exclaimed “You could at least LOOK NERVOUS! You were just flipping through the test!” I was busy and nervous enough; I just figured it was a good idea to look for easy questions and do those first. I found an easy question at the very end of the test.
As I’ve posted before, you should know the basic formulas, as given in the SAT’s “Math Facts” at the beginning of each section. The ACT doesn’t give those to you. You should also know how to do right-triangle trigonometry (SOH-CAH-TOA or (sin) Oscar/Has (cos) A/Headache (tan) Over/Algebra) and how to figure out the amplitude and period of a trigonometric function. See, for example, https://www.mathway.com/examples/trigonometry/graphing-trigonometric-functions/amplitude-period-and-phase-shift?id=342 . It would also help to understand matrix multiplication and addition, although that’s not going to be in more than one or two questions on the test.
See my previous posts about the ACT for links to websites on that. You should also understand exponents (see my YouTube video “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Exponents”) and logarithms (see http://www.purplemath.com/modules/logs.htm for the definition of a logarithm and http://www.rapidtables.com/math/algebra/logarithm/Logarithm_Rules.htm for the rules of logarithms). You should also know the powers of i, the imaginary number (Hint : i4 =1, so for large powers of i, divide the exponent by 4, then take i to the power of the remainder), and how to multiply complex numbers.
Similarly to the reading test, you should do the sections covering familiar topics first, and you DEFINITELY should read the questions before reading the passage. Most of your answers will come from the graphs and charts in the passage, so reading the text outside the passage should be a last resort. Luckily, science reports are arranged in order to make it easy to get the information you need without reading the whole passage (e.g., there’s an introduction, a section describing the experimental design, and another section describing the results). Your outside science knowledge will help you here – while the ACT people have stated that you don’t have to know the science about which the passages are written in order to do well on the science section, you DO need to know some basic science to get all the questions right. Some questions will require you to know the charge of protons, neutrons, and electrons, what photosynthesis is, and so on.
The ACT essay will ask you to write on a topic given to you – usually a topic relating to current events. You will be presented with three perspectives on that issue, which you will have to compare and contrast. You will then have to write about your own perspective on the issue – do you agree with one of the three perspectives, or do you have your own perspective?
Given the current events of the last year or so (most notably the Presidential election), I wouldn’t be surprised if the essay topic involved the balancing of the policies of promoting free speech and limiting hate speech and threats – that is, while in the U.S. , the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from punishing pure speech, but “hate speech” laws prohibit language intended to harass people based on their race, sex, religion, and the like. How do we balance them?
One perspective might be “Free speech means just that. The government should not limit any speech, no matter how offensive or supposedly harmful an opinion may be. Bad ideas are sorted out from good ones all the time without any government action. Offensive or foolish speech can be counteracted with more speech that shows why the original speech is foolish.”
Another might read “Hate speech laws exist to protect minorities and other vulnerable segments of the population. Every genocide or similar atrocity has its roots in hate speech being aimed at that group, which makes the group appear subhuman, which makes it acceptable in the minds of the masses. Then the atrocities begin. Therefore, it is critical that hate speech be prohibited, even if that prohibition infringes on free speech in some way.”
The third perspective may be “Free speech requires that even hate speech should be protected up to the extent that it is not an incitement to violence against the group targeted by the speech. However, as soon as the speech becomes an obvious threat or an immediate incitement to violence, it can and should be stopped. As the old saying goes, my right to swing my fist ends where your jaw begins.”
You can practice with that prompt, or use ones from your ACT review book or from online ACT review pages. I’d suggest you do at least one essay in 40 minutes (i.e. under timed conditions) before the test. Ideally, you should take an entire ACT under timed conditions. Also, see my other blog entries for suggestions to prepare for the actual test day. Good luck!
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.