Two sections, two tests, one set of strategies? That’s right — the SAT Writing and Language section and ACT English section are virtually the same test. So what does that mean? If you’re still undecided between the SAT and ACT, know that you can still use our proven strategies and be confident that they will be put to good use, regardless of what testing path you take.
1. Learn and memorize the top grammar rules
An absolute must. In particular, those regarding the ways in which you join sentences are crucial. You may be concerned that your school didn’t focus on English grammar rules. It’s okay — at least in the early going, you will be surprised at how effective your ear is at identifying proper grammatical structure. However, make no mistake: there will be times when the test maker intentionally tries to mislead you. As a result, you can always plan to eliminate wrong answers based on those that “offend your ear,” but when it comes to selecting the right one, you’ll need those rules. Let your intuition guide the way, as long as you corroborate that innate ability with what’s proven.
2. Classify the questions into grammar categories
Maybe the most important strategy of all! Knowing the rules only goes so far — you have to know when each rule is being tested. Typically, the answer choices will be of help here. As you take initial practice tests, get in the habit of writing down the grammar category tested on each question, along with your answer. Just mark up the question types by the side of each problem. When you are finished with the test, look back through your notations. This will give you a good sense of how many questions are asked of each grammar type. The more you do this, the more you will start to see that each test has very similar proportions of question types. You will also probably see a pattern emerging. Pay attention to where your errors are and address this area. When you take subsequent practice tests, scan each section for this question type. Then go forth and conquer.
3. Don’t worry about terminology
You will not be tested on words like ”gerund” and “appositive.” If you know that an independent clause is just a full sentence, you are well on your way.
Pro Tip: In our experience, almost everyone is nervous about having correct grammar. If in doubt, ask yourself, how would I say it out loud? In general, our spoken English is usually more grammatically correct than our written English.
4. Read scholarly, copy-edited work
As you do, look to identify the proper use of grammar rules in action. “Why is that comma there? Is it separating an independent and dependent clause? Is it kicking off a nonessential clause?” Check out a few articles on the front page of major newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post) and look at how the pros handle commas — we know it’s painful, but it’s immensely helpful. Also, learn to trust your ear. As we mentioned at the beginning of this section, our spoken English is often more grammatically correct than our written English. If it sounds like you need to pause, you probably need a comma.
5. Beware of no change on rhetorical questions
The rhetorical questions, constituting 35 out of 75 ACT English questions and 20 out of 44 SAT Writing and Language questions, will ask you to evaluate the author’s ability to accomplish certain goals in his/her/their writing. It’s very important to note that most of these answer choices will be grammatically correct. As such, students have the tendency of picking NO CHANGE, even though it might not answer the question directly. Make sure your answer is very directly addressing the problem, and answer accordingly.
Note: This is not to say that the answer is never NO CHANGE, but rather that students tend to pick it disproportionately.
You may be wondering what exactly is a rhetorical question and how can I identify them on the exams? In short, any question that asks “the author wants to convey that….” or “the author is planning on adding the following sentence to the passage…” Basically, anything where the question is about the content of the passage rather than the mechanics of the question.