A List of the Basic Skills That Are Tested in the ACT English Test

by Nadia Archuleta
The ACT English Test assesses students' understanding of grammar, punctuation and rhetorical skills.

The ACT English Test assesses students' understanding of grammar, punctuation and rhetorical skills.

The ACT, or American College Testing, assessment is composed of four mandatory tests. The ACT English test contains 75 questions that candidates have 45 minutes to answer. This multiple-choice test assesses basic skills related to usage and mechanics, as well as rhetoric. The usage and mechanics questions cover punctuation, sentence structure, and grammar and usage. Rhetorical skills questions test students' understanding of strategy, organization and style.

Sentence Structure and Punctuation

Within the usage and mechanics category of the ACT, there are questions related to sentence construction that test students' understanding of the various relationships within a sentence. Questions are based on the relationships between clauses, placement of modifying phrases and shifts in construction. For example, teat-takers are given a sentence with a descriptive phrase and then must choose whether it is correctly placed or, if incorrectly placed, how to change the sentence. Similarly, students answer questions related to punctuation: internal, end of sentence and the relationship of punctuation to a sentence's meaning.

Grammar and Usage

Questions related to agreement between elements in a sentence are found in the grammar and usage category. With grammar, subjects and verbs need to "agree," meaning, for example, that plural subjects take the plural form of the verb. Likewise, pronouns must agree in both number and gender with their antecedents, or the noun they are replacing. Students also answer questions about adverb versus adjective usage. Questions requiring them to choose the correct form of a verb as related to tense come up in this category as well.

Strategy and Organization

Questions in the rhetorical skills category test students on organization and development of a topic. Within this category, they must demonstrate their ability to use transitions and effective openings and closings, as well as identify when to start a new paragraph. For organization, students make decisions about order, cohesion and unity; they decide if connectors or other transitions are needed. They also demonstrate their ability to arrange ideas according to a pattern such as cause and effect. Within strategy, students evaluate the appropriateness of passages as related to the author's purpose. They also identify evidence that best supports a topic.


Questions in the rhetorical skills category also test students' understanding of style in writing. Students answer questions related to word choice that test their ability to choose precise vocabulary. Furthermore, they choose ways to avoid wordiness, ambiguity and redundancies. They also demonstrate their understanding of diction and tone by choosing options that maintain the passage's tone. For instance, they are given examples that offer less formal word choice for a formal essay. Finally, students demonstrate their ability to manage sentences to maintain rhetorical elements. Essentially, they are asked to analyze sentences and choose the most effective and appropriate way for getting the point across.

Photo Credits

  • Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images