The ACT English section assesses test-takers in three areas of standard English conventions: punctuation, sentence structure and formation, and usage. For many high school students, these aspects of the English language are far from natural, and the necessary effort to improve your skill set can seem daunting. Luckily, there are easy ways to practice and hone your abilities in these areas this summer:
Edit any text messages you receive. Texting is an activity that many people do every day, so it can provide plenty of chances to sharpen editing skills, which is what ACT English is all about. Whenever you receive a text, scan it for potentially misused or missing punctuation marks.
A common mistake in text messages that also appears frequently on the ACT is misused apostrophes. There are two general instances in which apostrophes are used: in contractions and in possessives. Contractions are the shortened forms of two words, such as “didn’t” for “did not” and “they’re” in place of “they are.” Possessive apostrophes show who owns what, as in “Jim’s dog.”
You add an apostrophe and the letter “s” when there is only one owner, such as in the previous example of Jim’s dog. When there are multiple owners, like with “the girls’ cats,” only an apostrophe is added to the end. An exception to this rule is irregular plurals that do not end in s, as in “the children’s shoes” and “the people’s beliefs.”
When you edit others’ text messages, just remember to keep the corrections to yourself — unless you are communicating with a consenting ACT test-taker who wants to practice proper punctuation with you.
Edit a paragraph a day. Sometimes we mistakenly think that if we are not overwhelming ourselves with test prep, we are not studying enough. But this is not the case: The quality of your preparation trumps the quantity.
You can develop your punctuation skills this summer by editing just one paragraph per day. For instance, you can try these paragraph correction worksheets from English for Everyone, which are sorted by difficulty level and come with answer sheets to ensure you are on the right track. The advanced worksheets most closely resemble the nature of the ACT English section, but it is perfectly acceptable to start with the beginner- and intermediate-level worksheets.
As you edit, keep a keen eye out for comma splices or the use of a comma to separate two full sentences.
Comma splices are common mistakes in written English and are frequently tested on the ACT. However, they can be fixed in several simple ways: by changing the comma to a period; by changing the comma to a semicolon if the sentences are closely related; or by adding a coordinating conjunction or FANBOYS word (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Therefore, the comma splice in “You can stay, you can go” can be fixed by adding the word “or”: “You can stay, or you can go.”
Sentence Structure and Formation
Read and make observations about a canonical work. English conventions do not always have to be learned consciously. That is, you don’t need to memorize isolated grammar rules to become a better writer. On the contrary, you can perceive what makes for sound writing by critically reading renowned literary works.
If you are not sure what to read, browse Encyclopaedia Britannica’s list of 12 novels that have been described as “the greatest book ever written” and see if one piques your interest. Then, read the book over the summer. Do not rush through it, as the goal is to reflect critically at the sentence level. Take in the words slowly, observing the author’s writing style and what makes it so effective. For this exercise, you may want to have a pencil on hand to circle word structures that jump out at you as being powerful, concise or expressive.
Use an AI-based writing assistant. You will probably be writing at least a few emails this summer. When you do so, make sure you have downloaded an AI-based writing assistant like Grammarly to catch the weaknesses in your messages.
Products like Grammarly — which offers a free version — use artificial intelligence to pick up on redundancy, unclear referents, inconsistent verb tenses, colloquialisms, dangling modifiers and other blunders that can detract from the quality of your written work. If you subscribe to the paid versions of such software, which is not necessary but may be helpful, you often can view more detailed explanations of why the software’s suggestions are superior to your wording.
Pronoun and Other Word Usage
Listen carefully for pronoun usage during publicly aired events. Pronoun usage is a hot topic these days, with social movements prompting us to reconsider how we speak and write. For instance, feminist thought has called for the usage of the feminine pronoun in generalizations like, “Each citizen should take advantage of her right to vote.” Traditionally, the male pronoun was always used in such statements.
On the other hand, some individuals have defaulted to the singular they/their/theirs to promote gender-neutral discourse.
For the purposes of ACT test prep, it is key to recognize that the ACT currently recognizes only he/him/his and she/her/hers as the singular pronoun forms. For instance, the sentence “Each citizen should take advantage of her right to vote” would be corrected to “his or her right to vote” on the ACT. Other words that take a singular pronoun include every, either and neither.
Listen for pronoun usage on TV and elsewhere this summer, and see if you can identify phrases that would be considered incorrect on the ACT English section.
Correct the common mistakes in your speech. Even native speakers of English are known to make plenty of grammar mistakes when they speak. In fact, certain mistakes are especially notorious, making them easy to identify in speech once you know what they are.
Start by perusing Duolingo’s list of “10 Common Mistakes That Native English Speakers Make.” Notice the mistakes you are guilty of and try to make the suggested changes to your speech, which will transfer to your writing. Verb tenses — which should remain consistent from sentence to sentence — are an additional area to focus on.
Studying English conventions this summer does not have to involve a boring test prep book. There are plenty of dynamic ways to prepare for ACT English in everyday life.
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6 Easy Ways to Practice ACT English Conventions This Summer originally appeared on usnews.com