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English Test Description for the ACT

The ACT English test is a 75-question, 45-minute test that measures your understanding of the conventions of standard English (punctuation, usage, and sentence structure), production of writing (topic development, organization, unity, and cohesion), and knowledge of language (word choice, style, and tone).

The test consists of five essays, or passages, each accompanied by a sequence of multiple-choice test questions.

  • Some questions refer to underlined portions of the passage and offer several alternatives to the underlined portion. You decide which choice is most appropriate in the context of the passage.
  • Some questions ask about an underlined portion, a section of the passage, or the passage as a whole. You decide which choice best answers the question posed.
  • Many questions offer “NO CHANGE” to the passage as one of the choices.

The questions are numbered consecutively. Each question number refers to a correspondingly numbered portion underlined in the passage or to a corresponding numeral in a box located at the appropriate point in the passage.

Different passage types are used to provide a variety of rhetorical situations. Passages are chosen not only for their appropriateness in assessing writing skills but also to reflect students’ interests and experiences. Spelling, vocabulary, and rote recall of grammar rules are not tested. Four scores are reported for the ACT English test: a total test score based on all 75 questions, and three reporting category scores based on specific knowledge and skills.

Content Covered by the ACT English Test

Three reporting categories are addressed in the English test covering six elements of effective writing: topic development; organization, unity, and cohesion; knowledge of language; punctuation; usage; and sentence structure and formation. A brief description of the elements of effective writing and the approximate percentage of the test devoted to each reporting category are given below.

Production of Writing (29–32%)

The questions in this category require students to apply their understanding of the purpose and focus of a piece of writing.

  • Topic Development: Demonstrate an understanding of, and control over, the rhetorical aspects of texts. Identify the purposes of parts of texts, determine whether a text or part of a text has met its intended goal, and evaluate the relevance of material in terms of a text’s focus.
  • Organization, Unity, and Cohesion: Use various strategies to ensure that a text is logically organized, flows smoothly, and has an effective introduction and conclusion.

Knowledge of Language (13–19%)

Demonstrate effective language use through ensuring precision and concision in word choice and maintaining consistency in style and tone

Conventions of Standard English (51–56%)

The questions in this category require students to apply an understanding of the conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics to revise and edit text.

  • Sentence Structure and Formation: Apply understanding of sentence structure and formation in a text and to make revisions to improve the writing.
  • Punctuation: Recognize common problems with standard English punctuation and to make revisions to improve the writing.
  • Usage: Recognize common problems with standard English usage in a text and to make revisions to improve the writing.

See sample questions and test tips.