This video shows you ACT Test Taking Strategies to do well on the ACT Test. To find an ACT Tutor, search below.
ACT Test Taking Stragies [Video Transcript]
Hey, hi there. My name is Jim Jacobson. Welcome to Grockit.com and the ACT video lessons. I don’t know if you’ve been watching the rest of these in the series, but this is the first of the lessons on the ACT English test, as opposed to the reading, the math or the science.
The ACT English is a little bit different. Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself. My name’s Jim Jacobson. I’ll be the person talking to you and helping you through the rest of this particular test. I’ve been teaching test prep for about 10 years now, helping people with various tests, including the ACT, helping them get higher scores with the skills that they already had, and a few more strategies and some little background, depending on what information they still needed.
We’re just going to dive right in. Today’s lesson, as you can see from that title page, “Punctuation, Grammar and Usage”. It does also cover some background on the test itself. I figured that it would be useful for you to know some general information about the test and this particular part of the test so that you can fit it into a framework of what you should be studying, and to help decide how to prioritize. Not all topics are equally important.
If you still have trouble identifying nouns and verbs in sentences, those should be a higher priority than your ability to use participles and gerunds or something like that, just to use examples from the English section. It would be like on math, don’t bother with trigonometric functions is you still need some work on your algebra. There are some things that are simply more likely to show up on the test and are more important to more parts of it.
The good news on the English section . . . I guess there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, more so than some other sections of the test which are much more about what you can figure out, for example science, you don’t necessarily have to know a lot of science to do well on that section, the English you do need to know the correct answer. It needs to be already in your head. It’s not something that you can puzzle out just by looking at the answer choices.
Your secret weapon, though, is the fact that you’ve been speaking English for awhile. If you haven’t, you probably don’t understand anything I’m saying, so I guess the rest of the video won’t be much use to you either. Sorry about that. But if you have, and if English is a language that you’re comfortable with, whether it’s your first language or not, the knowledge that you’ve built up to this point will help you on the exam. So even if you don’t remember all the grammar rules that you’ve learned in your various classes, some things will actually just sound right because you’ve been hearing people use correct English and you yourself have been speaking it.
Know that even though there’s more that you’re expected to know, and less that you can just kind of figure out, it is stuff that you’ve been learning and studying without even meaning to. Good, you’ve been studying for years. Congratulations.
What is the English section? The course schedule, first off, we are going to cover grammar, punctuation and usage. That’s one subset of the information that you’ll have on the test. Lesson 2, we’ll be covering sentence structure. We’re basically moving from small units to big. Strategies and organizations, so you are actually asked to manage not just a given clause or a given sentence, but also an entire passage and manage what goes where, what can be used effectively, could this sentence be written better? Could the idea that’s being expressed be expressed better?
Then finally in lesson 4, style, which goes beyond simple grammatical rules and what’s “right” and what’s actually simply preferred or better or clearer. So we’ll be covering all of these topics in the course of these lessons and giving you strategies and practice questions. Also, at the end of every lesson, there will be homework assigned to you that you can practice whatever topic.
Note that we will have these topics tagged as we go through them in the lessons. So if there’s a particular one that strikes you as being something that you as being something that you want additional practice on or enjoyed and want to perfect your skills, those same tags can be used to create custom games on Grockit.
The English section, 75 questions in 45 minutes. That’s not a ton of time and you do actually have to cover a wide range of topics. Punctuation, 10 questions, that’s 13% of the test. I went ahead and did the math for you since calculators are not allowed on the English section. Grammar and usage another 12 questions. That’s 16%. Then sentence structure, which we’ll get into next time, is 18 questions, which is probably the single biggest section of the exam. The writing strategy, what should you write in a certain place, organization of passages and sentences within them, and then style issues are all more on the order of the grammar and usage section.
You may be wondering what’s the deal with this line across the page. Well, you do actually have two subscores on this section of the test. Not all sections of the ACT have subscores but sometimes when skills can be divided into sub areas where someone might care how you do on one certain type of problem versus some other type, they create these subscores so that people can see where your strengths or weaknesses are.
Everything above this line goes into the usage and mechanics subscore. Everything below this line goes into the rhetorical skills. What they mean by this, usage is the English language as it’s used correctly. You can express and give an idea multiple ways and grammatically correct ways and this section tests your ability to identify the correct ways. Note that they may actually give you more than one grammatically correct answer. It will still be your job to decide on the best one, and those reasons why an answer might be best over some other grammatically correct answer lie in the area of rhetoric and stuff like that.
Mechanics then, of course, are the nuts and bolts of the language. Did you use the right verb form with your subject? So if the subject is singular, did you use a singular verb? Or did you correct them when they incorrectly used a plural verb with a singular subject? So usage and mechanics, did you use the right word in the right place, do you have grammatically correct formal written English in your stuff?
Rhetorical skills are more about how messages are conveyed, so writing strategy, organization and style. This is definitely the territory of there is no one right answer. There is one right answer on the ACT, let’s just be clear about that. We will talk about the principles of what goes into a right answer on the ACT, but in English you can have more than one grammatically correct answer that is not necessarily the best way of expressing something.
Overall, your overarching principles should be concision . . . when you write things as concisely as possible, you don’t put in extra words, and you also want to be as consistent, so consistency is the other aim. These are the two aims for differentiating those two areas, and of course we’ll get to that when we get to those sections. But just know that that will still come up in some of the parts that we’re doing today.
Again, 75 questions in 45 minutes. You don’t even have two minutes per question. You are expected to move fairly quickly through these through your native English ability. And by “native” I don’t mean that you were born with it. I guess that’s what the word means. Your native ability in terms of the innate skill that you already have. There’s no problems to figure out.
Here’s a good example of a problem. There are a total of five passages, so you can expect five passages every time, and two types of multiple choice questions. This is the first type and this is the more common of the two where anything from a word to a longer phrase will be underlined. A number will appear underneath that number and that will correspond to a particular question on that underlined bit.
It’s not always easy, though, because one of the options will always be that you can just not change it, that you can leave the answer as is, that it’s correct as written mechanically. Again, since we’re dealing with mechanics and usage today, that’s what we’re dealing with on those. You’ll choose from one of four things. For example, this one’s on number 4, so it’s not the first one, it’s this one here.
Because these appear in passages, you usually have to have an idea of the context. The numbers will be in order, roughly. I’ll though of course note that 5 and 15 both go here. The underlined ones will be in order. “He wasn’t always so resistant to flying, although he has always been afraid of it. As to the former, when he was 11 years old, my parents took him on a trip to Disneyland. He got on the plane without incident, but as soon as he heard the engines start up he covered his ears with his hands and kept them there for the duration of the three-hour flight. On the way home, he did precisely the same thing.”
We have to determine what, if anything, is wrong with this sentence when we read it. It helps to have some idea before you even hit the answer choices whether you think it’s wrong, and if it is wrong, what should the right answer look like? We have something here about “he got on the plane, but,” so we’re talking about a guy’s fear of flying, or a kid’s fear of flying. “He got on the plane with no trouble but . . .” so we are expecting then for there to be some trouble.
Our choices are leaving it as it is, “as soon as he heard the engines start he covered his ears” or “owing to the fact that he heard the engine start he covered up his ears”, “because of his hearing the engines start up he covered his ears”, or “since he will have heard the engines”. We can get rid of the “since”.
We have to decide between these three and, again, we’ll get into the details on this, but both of these have extra words in them. “Owing to the fact that” – do we need to say that? It is grammatically correct, but it’s simpler just to say that “as soon as he did it”. It also gives us a time reference that choice B doesn’t have, and then while C has a “because”, “because of his hearing the engines start up”, we really want it to be a time thing rather than a reason. So here we would choose choice A.
This is just an example. The underlined type of question could be grammar, style, organization, any of the types that we’ve seen could be an underlined passage. But just know that that’s how these are going to work.
Knowing the directions beforehand for those is pretty handy. The words and phrases will be underlined and numbered – we talked about that – and they’ll correspond with sets of alternative words and phrases given in the right-hand column of the test booklet, again, in order. You need to choose the answer that works best. I’ve mentioned this a couple times before – there will be answers or sets of answers that include more than one grammatically correct answer.
This is somewhat disturbing only in the sense that if you simply were obeying the grammar rules, you could get these questions wrong, because there are other principles, other things that they’re aiming for in the correct answers on the test. If more than one is “correct”, you need to choose the one that is best. This is different from simply choosing the only right answer. There is still only one right answer, one best answer, but there may be more than one, strictly speaking, grammatically correct one.
You’ll usually be offered the option of “no change”. Every once in awhile you’ll get one where they want you to replace something to perhaps change the direction of the sentence or the passage to have it say something else, or they just have one more wrong answer choice that they want to tempt you with that somebody wrote and they want to use it. “No change”, it’s as valid and as frequently right as any of the other answer choices, so don’t dismiss it just because it’s the first one. Sometimes it’s going to be right.
Okay, so then the other type that we talked about and I alluded to them and pointed to them before, here we have the exact same passage and it’s even the same section, these are these box questions – like that, there’s a box around something. Anyway, that’s that section down here where we have a 5 and a 15 in a box. Those will very often go to . . . because you’re not changing a section of the passage that already exists, they need to in the spaces between paragraphs. Sometimes they will relate to the overall organization. Other times they will simply be adding one more sentence, as is the case with this one.
“If all of the following are true, which one would be the most relevant addition to the final sentence of the paragraph?” We’re replacing “thing.” with “thing,”. Every one of these starts with “thing,”.
Just to remind us, “On the way home, he did precisely the same thing.” What thing did he do? He covered his ears as soon as the engines started because he didn’t like flying. That’s okay. Then he kept his hands on his ears for three hours straight and on the way home he did precisely the same thing. So we need to continue the thought that he demonstrates a fear of flying.
He did precisely the same thing “and this time the weather was clear and the flight was smooth”. “This time the weather was clear and the flight was smooth” implies an opposition to perhaps the weather not being clear and the flight not being smooth, but there’s nothing like that in the passage we just read. While A is totally grammatically correct, it’s completely contrary to what the passage is about, so this can’t be right.
“On the way home he did precisely the same thing, except this time he put his hands over his ears as soon as he sat down in his seat.” So this is continuing the idea that the kid is afraid of flying. On that note, we can put a little smiley face next to this one as a possible keeper. We’ll check the other answers, though, because, again, we need to choose the best answer. Again, just because we found one that fits doesn’t mean it will be the best one. We always need to check all of our answer choices.
“He did precisely the same thing because my mother had a seat two rows behind him.” Well, he’s afraid of flying, not afraid of listening to his mother, so he wouldn’t be putting his hands on his ears because his mom was there. Maybe in a different story where he wasn’t always so resistant to his mother’s talking, but that’s not what this passage is, so we can get rid of this one.
“Then on the way home he did precisely the same thing, and he also did not eat any of the airplane food.” Well, again, possible in a different story he wasn’t always so resistant to airline food, but that’s not what this one is about, so we can pretty confidently eliminate these three and choose B.
So that’s how these box questions work. We’ll be seeing several types or several examples of these over the course of these lessons because right now we’re kind of giving you the highlights. We’re not doing a whole passage yet. Pretty soon we will be going through whole passages, giving you the full range of things that you can expect to see.
Again, knowing the directions beforehand, those boxes should not come out of nowhere for you. They refer to sections of the passage or to the passage as a whole. The ones that refer to the passage as a whole will be at the end.
In the right-hand column you’ll be asked about or given alternatives for the sections marked by the boxes. In this particular case, the one that we just did was alternatives for the box because it was replacing the sentence that came before.
Again, choose the answer choice that best answers the question or completes the section. More than one could work. All the ones that we just had were grammatically correct and no change was not an option because we were looking for something that further expanded on the ideas in the passage. Again, we want the best answer, not just the first one that sounds correct, so you do need to read all of the answer choices and consider them. I guess I’ve said that twice in maybe the past minute, but I guess that’s how important it is.
Okay, moving on. English section basics, the summary, this section tests proper grammar, punctuation, and rhetorical skills. The rhetorical skills are the part that’s the rhetorical skills, whereas the proper grammar and punctuation are the usage and mechanics.
Summary of our tips, so let’s just cover these because these are actually well worth your while. Read grammar questions aloud. I guess I really need to add here “in practice”. You don’t want to be shouting over your fellow test takers when you’re doing this on the real test day, so I guess when you do your real full-length practice tests, and I do recommend doing those as part of your build up for the exam, at least a little bit to get used to that pacing and what it feels like to sit there for that long and focus.
Anyway, read the grammar questions aloud, especially at first, to get a sense of what sounds right. I alluded to this before when I was talking about how this part of the ACT is testing more of something that you already know than some of the other sections. Reading them aloud helps you see what sounds right to you. On top of that, if something sounds wrong to you but then when you review it it turns out that that’s actually right, definitely mark those down because that’s how you can determine what parts of this you need to study.
Yes, I have all faith in your abilities to speak English to people and stuff like that. This is not a reflection on your ability to speak English. This is a reflection on your ability to take a specific type of test on English and there are certain things that it may be testing that may not be as familiar to you, even though it’s a language that you’re speaking or listening, and the language that you’re definitely listening to right now.
Anyway, so reading aloud in practice gives you that extra oral reinforcement of both what sounds right and then what sounds wrong can also tell you what you need to study and what you need to correct.
You definitely need to read the entire passage. Skimming is bad, okay? The reason it’s bad is because the one we just had even, where we had to replace the end of that paragraph with a new bit. If we had just skimmed for the other ones grammatically, we’d have to go and read that whole thing anyway or just guess, and all four would be plausible for different . . . had the passage been slightly different, they could have been the right answer.
So read the entire passage. You’re after the author’s point of view, whatever evidence they have, their purpose, and then the style and tone. This is actually very similar to what you do when you’re reading in the reading section because you are asked often similar types of questions. The format’s different, of course, but you need the same level of understanding of the English passages that you get of the reading passages.
Again, finally, best answer choice, hopefully you don’t just shut off this video because you’re sick of me saying it, but really, more than one answer is plausible and you could argue that it’s correct. Only one is correct and will be correct for very specific reasons. You need to choose the best answer according to the ACT English’s principles, not just the first one that sounded okay.
Okay, so we’re getting into these grammar issues. I’ll do my best to explain these briefly and clearly. This is a video, so if you don’t get something or I go too fast, you can come back and look it over later by using the playback controls on whatever format this actually ends up in, and watch it again, as well as do additional practice problems on Grockit.
First off, on a relatively basic level is noun and verb agreement. Standardized tests can do funny things to you by separating the subject of a sentence from its verb and making it relatively tricky to figure out what the correct form should be. It’s useful when either the subject or the verb or both are underlined to make sure you identify the subject and the operative verb of the sentence or the part of the sentence that’s underlined for your question.
There may be other distracting words between you and your goal. Here’s an example. “John’s ever-present desire to taste all twelve flavors always make the ice cream line move slowly.” I don’t know if you detected the error when I just read it or when I just put it on the screen here. But the subject of the sentence, let’s just pretend this whole thing was underlined on the test.
The subject of the sentence is “John’s ever-present desire”. The subject is “make”. “Desire make” – [wrong], thank you for playing. That’s naughty. Why would they do this? Well, the word “flavors” . . . so “make” is actually a plural form of the verb. They/we/you (plural) or they make something. But John’s ever-present desire makes something.
It’s easy enough when I point it out like that, but the reason why this could trick somebody is the word “flavors”. “Flavors always make the ice cream line move more slowly.” Had this just been, “Flavors always make the ice cream line move more slowly,” that’s a perfectly correct sentence, a correctly conjugated verb, and there’s no problems. So when you’re skimming, make sure that you go back . . . no, sorry. Did I just say that? No, you’re not skimming. When you’re reading.
If you’re skimming, you’re in trouble. A skimmer will read this and say, “Oh, ‘flavors always make’, that’s correct. Okay, good.” The careful reader that you are will not have that problem because you will read the whole sentence and correctly identify the subject and the verb. So that’s a classic example of how the ACT can make these things tricky by separating our subject – really “desire” is the actual subject – separating our subject from the verb by extra words. The more words you have between them, the easier it is to lose track of what the subject is by the time you get to the verb. So be watchful for that.
Let’s do an example. Here’s a practice problem from Grockit, and this is actually number 2 that we’re worried about but we do actually have to know the whole passage.
“Doesn’t anyone talk on the telephone anymore? I was surprised the other day when my kids and I traveled to the mall. I was looking for a new pair of mittens. Not one of the teenagers huddled on the benches were using a cell phone for conversation. Everyone was silently punching text messages into a keyboard.” We’ll ignore number 1. It’s a grammatically correct sentence but it’s kind of extra information about looking for mittens. “Not one of the teenagers huddled on the benches were using a cell phone”, so if we were skimming, not reading carefully and not identifying subjects and verbs, since this is a verb that’s underlined, we definitely need to identify those.
The subject of the sentence, it’s not “benches”. Nope. It’s not “teenagers”. It is “one”, “not one of the teenagers”. So would you say “one were using a cell phone for conversation”? I hope you wouldn’t because that would be naughty. It’s actually “one was”, “not one was using a cell phone for conversation”. Again, that’s making a prediction without even looking at the answer choices. We need it to be the singular; “were” is plural. We had two plural nouns, “benches” and “teenagers”, there to distract us and there to catch the skimmers – the ones who are also taking the test that you will get a better score than because you read carefully.
Okay, so this will be just “one” and we want “was”. We can get rid of “no change” because we knew it was wrong immediately. “Were” is still plural. Then “would have been actually”. “Not one of the teenagers huddled on the benches would have been actually using a cell phone for conversation.” Grammatically correct but that makes no sense at all, has tons of extra words and, gosh, wouldn’t it just be better to have “was” there? So that’s a good example of the type of question you could expect to see relating to nouns and verbs.
Verb form and tense, you need to ensure that the verb tense is consistent and fits with the rest of the sentence. There’ll be other clues. Because you’re reading this in context as part of a larger passage, you have more to go on than if you were just given one sentence and asked to correct it grammatically. So you’ll need to find things that actually work.
Here’s an example. “When Jane walked to school as a young girl, she was usually late, but doesn’t really mind.” Right, so in terms of these other clues in the sentence, those would be things, “When Jane walked to school as a young girl,” so past tense. She walked to school as a young girl. We gather from the sentence she’s not a young girl anymore, so this was awhile ago.
Having suddenly a present tense, “she doesn’t really mind”, “does not” is present, totally present tense. She does not really mind, so we shift from a past tense and maybe from the sound of it kind of distant past, years ago, being a young girl, and we shift to the present here, that’s naughty. Instead, if we were correcting the sentence – and of course we don’t have the actual underlines there so we don’t know which verb we would correct, but it would be either “When Jane walked to school as a young girl, she was usually late, but didn’t really mind,” or we might change the beginning, “When Jane walks to school, since she is a young girl, she is usually late but doesn’t really mind.” And then we could do it all in the present tense, but, again, smaller changes are better and we’d be more likely to have to change that one.
Shifts in tense happen all the time in every day speech. When people are talking to each other, they’ll mess with tenses and not use them correctly and nobody has any trouble understanding each other. This is not about how you use English in everyday speech. This is how you use English in formal settings, and in formal settings it’s naughty to change tenses like that. Your reader doesn’t have the ability to ask you things, and so if there’s any confusion, they are helpless, so you need to actually do it right.
On this one I’m not actually going to read the whole thing because that’s a lot of things to read for just one example of verb tense. We can actually skip right to it. We can actually skim for the other . . . we’re not going to skim on the real test and in general, but on this one, this is kind of a long section to be spending time on. Just note that we have an “are” and “most text messaging occurs”. “You want”, “when you do meet”, so these are all present tense.
Our sentence says, “When you do meet, though, you and your friend will both have cell phones and you can start texting other people to meet up later with them.” So everything is in the present tense. Of course on the real ACT, they won’t be labeled according to the topic, but since we know the topic is verb tense, let’s look at the other answers and we’ll see what we’re talking about here.
“No change”? Okay, well, it might be right. We can keep that one.
“You then started”, past tense, that’s wrong. I can get rid of that because everything is present and we’re talking about what you can do with text messaging.
So “one then starts”, well, that’s present tense. And “one can start”. But here we have the difference “when you do meet, you and your friend,” so we’re talking about “you”, the indeterminate “you” that the passage is directed towards. We can’t then change the subject to “one”. We would need to keep it as “you”, so we can get rid of C and D because of this “one” thing here. These both get the frowny face, leaving us only with choice A, “no change”.
Again, this one actually had more than one issue. A good takeaway from this is that some sentences will actually have more than one issue in the wrong answer choices. So even though we cover these individually so that we can isolate particular topics for improvement . . . when people exercise, they often do exercise to isolate a particular muscle, that’s kind of what we’re doing here. We’re isolating your capacity to handle certain topics. Then when they get thrown at you all mixed together on the ACT, you have a variety of tools at your disposal for handling that.
Pronoun and antecedent agreement. You could also think of the antecedent as the referent. “Antecedent” is just the Latin word for “coming before”. So pronoun and the thing that comes before, basically nouns and pronouns have this relationship. You can replace a noun like “Jim Jacobson” with the pronoun “he”.
What the ACT will do is sometimes give you the wrong number or the wrong gender for your pronouns. So if you have a guy, like “Jim”, you should not then later be referring to him as “she”. I would not like that. And it also wouldn’t be correct.
Your job with these is whenever you have pronouns in the underlined portion, identify whether they’re singular or plural and figure out what those pronouns are supposed to be referring back to. Note that they need to be consistent, so “they” needs to be a “they”. It can’t suddenly become an “it” unless they somehow all join one team or something like that.
Also note that pronouns need to be clear. If you have two men in the sentence, “he” can be very unclear. It will default to the closest “he”, but the ACT does like you to be clear, so avoid pronoun ambiguity as well.
An example, “The group of brokers is worried the stock market crash would damage his portfolio.” Now, of course, it is possible that we have a group of brokers here and this “his” is referring back to some guy in a previous sentence, in which case this would be correct. But if this sentence kind of exists in an absolute case, in a vacuum, it’s naughty because “his” is masculine and singular. “Group of brokers” is not necessarily masculine, and definitely not singular, so we would need to say, “The group of brokers is worried the stock market crash would damage its portfolio,” because a group of stock brokers is an “it”.
It could also be, “The broker is worried the stock market crash would damage his portfolio.” That’s also plausible. Again, because we don’t have a specific section underlined, we don’t know what we’re actually correcting, but those are the changes we would have to make.
Speaking of specific things with underlines in them, let’s do one. Number 9 is the one that we’re worried about here. In this passage, the person that’s being talked about here, Bishop, Bishop is a woman. Again, we’re taking this a little bit out of context, so that makes it a little bit harder, but knowing that makes this make more sense for why this is a problem.
Anyway, “The existing letters suggest that Bishop often offered suggestions about her manuscripts, including some of Stein’s most ambitious works, some of which were later set to music.” Here we’re talking about Gertrude Stein, also a woman. So the issue here is “her”. Whose manuscripts are getting suggestions in these letters? “Bishop offered suggestions about her manuscripts.” It’s grammatically correct but it’s a little bit ambiguous. We want it to be clearer.
What are our options? “Bishop offered her suggestions about Stein’s manuscripts.” Okay. We can say that Bishop offered Stein suggestions about her manuscripts. Here we have an indirect object. She offered suggestions to Gertrude Stein. Then, D, “Bishop often offered her suggestions about her manuscript.” Well, that’s too many hers and that’s terrible because that’s really confusing.
So let’s go back between these. “She often offered suggestions about her manuscripts,” we weren’t really clear on whose they were. “She offered her suggestions about Stein’s manuscripts.” Well, that’s better but then this “her” then is unclear. Whereas with C, “She often offered Stein suggestions about her manuscripts”, if we were using the “her” to refer back to Bishop, we would want to say “her own manuscripts”. So without the “own” in there, choice C makes it clear to whom she’s making the suggestions and whose manuscripts are being commented on.
We want it to be clear and if you have two women in the passage, you need to be clear when you use your pronouns to whom you are referring. Very important. You want to get these right, right?
Okay, so we’ll talk about pronouns a little bit. We have two types of pronouns – the subject pronouns, and forgive me if this is something that you’ve heard about before. You could, I suppose, listen to me and look at some other website while I talk about these. Maybe that’s naughty for me to suggest that, but most people don’t think of these in these terms, so it’s actually well worth it to talk about it.
Subject pronouns and object pronouns. Subject pronouns are the doer of the action, the subject of the sentence. Object pronouns are that to which the action is done or they are the objects of a preposition, like “with him” or “to her”. We have our examples here. Singular ones, “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “it” and “who”. “Who” is kind of a special case. It’s an interrogative pronoun and a relative pronoun. “Who is that masked man?” you could still have as the subject of the sentence. Or “the man who ate a whole pizza”, “who” is the subject of the relative clause.
Anyway, continuing on, plural, “we”, “you”, “they”. So note that “they” is the plural of both “he” and “she”. So if you have a bunch of he’s and she’s, then they become a “they”. Also, that “it” becomes a “they”. The one thing that is missing from this, and this is really common in everyday speech and may well become accepted in standard English in your lifetime is replacing “they” for “he” or “she”. “When that one customer who called comes in, give them their money back.” Naughty on the ACT and in standard written English.
Again, it may be correct in your lifetime. It’s gradually becoming more common because English doesn’t have a gender neutral pronoun. Other languages have a way of doing that. We don’t currently. We used to, like 600 years ago, but it went away. On the ACT it’s still naughty to refer to “him” or “her” as “they” or “them”. But “it” is also the plural of “they”. So if you have a pile of rocks, “Go look at that pile of rocks. Aren’t they something?” The “it” in that sentence, rocks are each an “it” but a pile of them are a “they”.
All right. Enough about that. To that which the action is done. Here we have the singular and the plural forms. Again, as a speaker of English, you’ve been using these all along.
Probably the only one worth mentioning and talking about in any detail is the “whom”. A lot of times people think that “whom” is just a more formal form of “who”. It’s not. You use “whom” in the same places that you would use “him” or “them”. In fact, that “m” at the end is not a coincidence. That’s because way back when English was formed over in England, the endings on the words determined what they did in a sentence, not necessarily what order they happened in.
The same place that you would use “him”, “to him”, you would also use “to whom”. You wouldn’t say, “Whom is that masked man?” You use “who” wherever you would use “he” or “she” or “it”. “She is that masked man.” “Who is that masked man?” But, “I gave it to him.” “To whom did I give it.”
Anyway, I don’t know if that helps you remember it at all but “Whom should I say is calling?” is correct because it’s the object of the verb “say”. Anyway. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can go review more practice with it later.
Good examples here of subject pronouns. Any of these can go in either of these sentences. “I like ice cream.” “We like ice cream?” “Who likes ice cream?” “It likes ice cream,” if you’re talking about some llama or, I don’t know, a dog.
“You have trouble doing 10 pushups.” “They have trouble doing 10 pushups.” “Who has trouble doing 10 pushups?” The only difference between “like” and “likes” and “have” and “has” is singular and plural. That’s why we have these two columns here.
Conversely, to add it into the object pronouns, “John likes him.” “John likes it.” “John likes us.” John’s a friendly guy. “Doing 10 pushups is hard for them.” Note that if we put in “whom” here, “Doing 10 pushups is hard for whom?” Remember those “wh” words, in addition to being relative pronouns are also question words. “John likes whom?” I don’t know.
That’s the overview and of course you can study these more on your own if you need to.
A good example here and, again, this is a long passage so we’ll skip right to the part that’s relevant to our particular sentence, starting down here. “Each summer, biologists have moved to the island to defend the birds from they’re natural predators, such as the black-backed gulls and herring gulls that stalk their nests.” In this particular case, it’s a totally incorrect form of pronoun. We go from the “they”, which is the subject pronoun. What we really need is a possessive pronoun. Just because it has an apostrophe in it, this little mark here, does not make it a possessive pronoun.
“Who’s” is not the same as “his”. “Who’s” is a contraction of “who is”. The worst sort of problem for people is “it’s”. “It’s” versus “its”. “It’s” is “it is”. It’s not the possessive. Even though “Jim’s” has an “‘s” in it, “it’s” is the contraction of “it is”. So if you confuse them, I guess people will know that you can’t keep them straight. They may judge you, silently. Or maybe they’ll even say something about it to you.
Anyway, keeping them straight is useful on the ACT because it will expect you to. It will also expect you to keep straight these guys, which are, in the original one we have “they’re”. It’s comparing it between “their” and then of course there’s also “there”. These are called homophones. They sound the same even though they’re spelled differently. These mean different things and the ACT will expect you to keep them straight. A lot of the world will actually expect you to keep these straight, so if these are trouble for you, practice them.
“They’re”, as written in the sentence, is the contraction of “they are”. “Each summer, biologists have moved to the island to defend the birds from they are natural predators.” No, thank you for playing. The birds, in theory, could be natural predators but the rest of the sentence tells us that the black-backed gulls and herring gulls attack them and eat them or something. So we can’t have “they’re”, “they are”, in there.
Then we have to decide between these: “their” or “there”. Sometimes the passage will even give you a hint. We already have the possessive pronoun “their”, the word meaning “belonging to them”. We already have that in the sentence. That’s what we would actually want here.
Here we have the “it’s”. Again, this is another contraction of “it is”. So, “The biologists have moved to the island to defend the birds from it is natural predators.” Not even close to right. Anyway, we get rid of that.
“Ones”, there’s not even an apostrophe there so this is just the plural of “one”, which doesn’t belong at all. Get rid of that one. So “their”, that possessive pronoun belongs because it already appears elsewhere in the sentence and none of the answer choices make sense.
Preposition usage, when a preposition is underlined, make sure it’s the right one. Sometimes people, or the ACT in particular, uses the wrong preposition with a verb. “In hiring twelve more full-time employees to his company, Mr. Charleston was conscious about the drastic increase of payroll costs.” None of those maybe sound that wrong when you first hear them, but the problem here is “conscious about”. Normally the idiom is “conscious of”.
So be careful with these. Note any of them in the course of your reading – school reading, reading for fun. Certainly reading when you’re practicing ACT stuff, anything that sounds wrong but then you find out later that it’s right, make a note of it. Those are things that you should work on correcting. Don’t memorize a long list of idioms. Only care about the ones that you actually don’t have straight, and it should be a pretty short list, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time studying it.
Common idioms, this is just a brief, brief list. There’s so many in English, more than we could even hope to put onto a . . . I mean, I guess I could just have a presentation of me just reading a list of idioms but that doesn’t help you learn them. What helps you learn them is having them in context. So just start off with these. These are some of the most common ones. If any of these sound wrong to you, add them to your list of ones to study and then just add to that list when you find other ones in every day life.
Here’s a practice idiom question. We’re dealing with number 4 here. “We were the living descendants of the great Zapotec empire, and every year my people assembled by the stadium of Oaxaco, Mexico, waiting to celebrate the traditional festival of Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead.” We have “assembled by the stadium”. All of the following choices would be acceptable in place of the underlined portion – except. So this is a relatively rare question type where three of the four answer choices are actually correct. Only one of these is actually wrong, as opposed to three being wrong and one being right.
So which one of these sounds wrong? Could, “every year my people assembled at the stadium”? Sure, probably. That sounds good. “They assembled near the stadium”? Yeah, you can assemble near a stadium. That doesn’t even necessarily mean as close as “at” but in the general area. “They assembled on the stadium.” Now, again, if there were a different noun there, if it was, “They assembled on the field,” or, “They assembled on the football field,” or, “assembled on the plains,” that would be okay. But you don’t “assemble on” a stadium. It’s not a surface on which a people can assemble, so this is pretty clearly our wrong answer.
Our other one here is “assemble around the stadium,” and again, a stadium is something that people can gather around. Only “on” is naughty because it’s not something you can assemble on. So there, we just play each of them in place in the sentence to see which one sounds best.
Appositives and non-essential phrases. Appositives are phrases that describe nouns by restating or renaming one. They’re set off by commas. “Everybody thinks that John, my best friend, is the nicest guy in the world.” This phrase set off by commas, the thing that says “my best friend” there, it’s not necessary to the sentence. It’s extra information that may be useful or key information to somebody, but grammatically we don’t need it to know who is the nicest guy in the world or who everybody thinks is the nicest guy in the world. Everybody thinks that John is the nicest guy in the world. It’s extra, non-essential, to find out that he is my best friend.
Just know that these things that are extra information like this get set off by commas. Another way to think about things set off by commas on both sides, it’s almost as if they’re set off by parentheses and have that same effect on the sentence. Anything that’s parenthetical is not a key element to what’s being presented.
Non-essential phrases, this is another way of describing it. “The church, which was built in the seventeenth century, still amazes onlookers today.” The main sentence is, “The church still amazes onlookers today.” That’s still true. Knowing that it was built in the seventeenth century may be nice or interesting or whatever, but it’s not essential to the sentence.
For example, we can’t as easily eliminate “The church”. If all we have is “which was built in the seventeenth century still amazes onlookers today,” we’re missing the subject. If we delete the relative clause, “which was built in the seventeenth century,” the sentence is fine. Maybe less interesting, maybe less educational, but it’s still grammatically fine and it may be easier to read if we have a lot of these non-essential phrases. Just get used to, if things are set off by commas, they should be non-essential phrases. If they are not set off by commas, they are either essential or should be set off by commas.
I don’t know if that made sense. Let’s do an example. That always helps.
Here, yeah, I have this in here. Getting rid of those, you can see that the sentence works just fine without that phrase in both cases. That’s what makes them non-essential.
Back to our friends the puffins. We’re on number 5 now. “The puffins, therefore proliferated in this protected space, which is sometimes a good place to relax in the summer.” So we’re dealing with this bit here and we’re dealing with number 5 in particular. “The puffins, therefore proliferated in this protected space,” so we have a part set off by commas.
Is the part set off by commas a non-essential phrase? Without it, what do we have? “The puffins, which is sometimes a good place to relax in the summer.” If there were range of mountains called “the Puffins” or some state that was called “the Puffins” – sometimes big estates have plural names because, I don’t know – then that could be okay, but we’re talking about the actual birds – the birds with the beaks and yeah.
We need the non-essential phrase part of this to be surrounded by commas, but the key element of the subject and the verb not to be. The subject of the sentence is clearly puffins. It starts off and there’s no modifiers so we need the puffins and we need to know what the puffins did. The verb that the puffins did is proliferated, so the commas need to be somehow briefer. So we either need to get rid of that guy or add another one in here and make “therefore” the non-essential phrase. Let’s see what we can get in the answers.
“No change”, no, that’s not it. “The puffins therefore, proliferated,” no. So again, we would have the phrase from proliferated to which set off by commas and we need proliferated not bracketed by commas, or bracketed as if it’s a non-essential phrase because it’s not non-essential. It’s essential, so not this guy.
“The puffins, therefore proliferated, in this protected space, which is sometimes a good place to relax in the summer.” That’s way too many commas. You don’t need that many and it breaks up things that don’t even need to be separated. Why have a comma after “proliferated”? You can just say that something proliferated in a protected space. You don’t need a comma around “in this protected space”.
So that gets rid of C and process of elimination tells us that D must be it but let’s just read it in. “The puffins, therefore, proliferated in this protected space, which is sometimes a good place to relax in the summer.” Here, “therefore” is the only bit that’s non-essential in this sentence and therefore it’s the only part that has commas on both sides of it. So choice D is it.
Semicolons. Semicolons, they must separate two independent clauses. “Independent clauses” is a big phrase. Really all that means, an independent clause is something that could stand on its own as a sentence. You could write it and put a period at the end and no English teacher would complain, at least not about the punctuation. They may complain about your terrible handwriting or penmanship or your terrible ideas, but grammatically and punctuation-wise, it’s fine.
So separating two independent clauses. A correct version – “We had been swimming for hours; I wondered when we would see shore again.” You could just as easily put a period here. “We had been swimming for hours.” Okay. Then you could have another sentence, “I wondered when we would see shore again.” Both are fine. That’s your test for whether a semicolon is correct. Can it just as easily be replaced by a period? If not, it’s not right.
Just to see another example, an incorrect, “As we were swimming; I wondered when we’d see shore again.” Having the semicolon here, can we put a period in here? We end up with, “As we were swimming.” “As we were swimming,” gives us kind of a phrase. It tells us when something happened. It happened as we were swimming. But it doesn’t give a main verb and therefore it is naughty. So we cannot have a semicolon here.
I do also want to note that you can see semicolons separating items in a list if the items in the list themselves have commas in them already. I could have “soup, steak, or pie,” then you wouldn’t use semicolons. But if each of these items were three things in a list, I could have tomato soup, potato soup or leek soup, because that list itself would have commas, you would put a semicolon separating the soups. Then you could say, “I could have chicken, polenta or steak.” Since there’s commas already in there, you would put a semicolon separating the items on the list and then I could have cake, ice cream or pie. Those lists would have commas in them and then you’d put a period at the end either way. It’s unlikely that you’ll get something like that but it could happen.
In general, semicolons, as tested on the ACT, are testing whether or not you recognize the separation of two independent clauses. Let’s watch with a real one.
Back to our pals the puffins. We’re up at number 3 now. “The puffin population at Easter Egg Rock could not have rebounded; without the help of several people.” So the first thing we should look is is it an independent clause on either side of the semicolon. Let’s start with the shorter side first. “Without the help of several people,” is that a sentence? No, it’s not, so we can automatically eliminate the “no change” answer, and it’s unlikely that a semicolon will be correct here.
What looks most correct? “It could not have rebounded without the help of,” and then we have a colon. We haven’t talked about colons yet but, “could not have rebounded without the help of: several people.” That’s kind of weird but I guess we can keep it around, but let’s see what’s best. “Rebounded without the help of several people” with no punctuation. That sounds pretty good.
Then “rebounded, without the help of, several people.” So we have that thing set off by commas. Is it non-essential? Can we leave it out? “The puffin population of Easter Egg Rock could not have rebounded, several people.” In that sentence we have the puffin population rebounding several people, which as comic as that is to imagine, isn’t remotely appropriate, and of these two, C is the much better and straightforward of the two and that’s what we want is the best answer.
Colons, we’re at the very end here. A colon is generally used to introduce a list, an explanation or a quotation. The material after the colon must elaborate on the material before it. That’s one thing to know. The other thing is the thing before the colon needs to be an independent clause. If it isn’t an independent clause before the colon, it’s naughty. And if the thing after the colon doesn’t elaborate on what happened before, it’s also naughty.
Colons are not used commonly for this reason. They have a very restricted environment. They’re usually only seen in captivity in ACT presentations.
Where you might see one, “There are three things that you need to survive in the wild: a knife, a box of matches, and perseverance.” Pretty good. This is compared to, “The three things you need to survive in the wild are: a knife, a box of matches, and perseverance.” That may sound right because of course the sentence would be fine without the colon here. So just hearing me say it, it sounds fine because without the colon, the sentence is grammatically correct. “The three things you need to survive in the wild are a knife, a box of matches, and perseverance.”
The problem here is that the thing before the colon is not an independent clause. You cannot just go up to someone and say, “The three things you need to survive in the wild are.” They’re going to say, “Are what?” or they’ll walk away because you’re creeping them out. You need to have what the complement is of “are”, what are those three things? Those need to be in the sentence in this format and without it, obviously they’re in the sentence when you put that in there, but it needs to be complete before the colon. Let’s do one.
Back to Gertrude Stein, and we’re on number 2 here, which is in a pretty long sentence, starting here. “While she lived most of her adult life at a distance from the United States, preferring to view the world from her home in Paris, whose letter-writing allowed her to maintain relationships with many American authors: William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Scott Fitzgerald, for example.” Again, we’re not worried about that first one; we’re worried about the second one.
Is the thing before the colon an independent clause and do the things after the colon elaborate on what came before? We are being told about many American authors. Let’s just take the author of this passage at his or her word and assume that William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Scott Fitzgerald are all American authors. It does pass the elaboration test.
Does it pass the independent clause test? “She lived most of her life distant from the United States,” and we don’t know about this thing because that probably needs to be corrected. Everything here is kind of a non-essential phrase. While she did this, preferring to do this, it might be something like “her letter-writing allowed her to maintain relationships with many American authors.” So it is actually correct as written because it would be an independent clause if it were there correctly.
Just to review, subject-verb agreement, you need to have the correct singular or plural and then person or number. You don’t use the “you” form of a verb with a “they” form. Well, “you went”, “they went”, it’s actually the same. It’s really the third person singular: “he”, “she”, or “it goes” versus “they go”. You can’t confuse those.
Then singular and plural are the main things you need to keep straight and the ACT will try to confuse you by putting words between them. “Each of the jogging partners has run a marathon before.” Even though “partners” is right before the verb “has”, it’s not the subject. The subject is “each”, “each has run a marathon before.” Not “the partners has run a marathon before”.
Verb tense. “She had already eaten when Mike arrived with take-out.” “Had already eaten”, the past perfect tense gives you time prior to another verb in the simple past. So the sequence of tenses that needs to make sense for the sentence. You can’t say, “She will already eat when Mike arrived with take-out.” So again, you need to keep your eye on the context to make sure that the verb tenses match.
Noun and pronoun agreement. “The team of engineers was hard at work because it was behind schedule.” In American English anyway, teams and groups and stuff are collective nouns, and as such, they’re singular. So an army is an “it”, not a “they”. A team is an “it”, not a “they”. In British English it’s often the other way around but this isn’t a British test. The team is an “it”.
Subject versus object pronoun. “Jesse and I walked to the supermarket,” versus, “Jesse walked me to the supermarket.” “Me” is the object of “walked” and then here, “Jesse and I” are both the subject of walked. Keep them straight.
Last but not least, prepositions and idioms. “The difference between you and me is that I can swim but can’t ride a bike.” The idiom here is that you use “between x and y”. You don’t say “between this or that”. It’s “between x and that”, or “between this and that”.
Commas, you use them to set off apposition and other non-essential phrases and to divide off whole clauses. “John Doe, a classmate of mine, can recite the entirety of Romeo and Juliet.” John Doe has problems.
Anyway, semicolons need to separate two independent clauses. You need to be able to put a period in between those two things. “Today, kids have it too easy; when I was growing up, I worked full-time.” Possible each one can stand alone as an independent clause. We can have a semicolon there or a period.
Then finally colons, they need to have an independent clause before the colon and what comes after the colon need to elaborate on what was just before. “I need you to pick up three things from the store: milk, bread and cereal.” Does this stand alone – “I need you to pick up three things from the store”? Sure, that’s good. Then the three things are elaborated upon – also good.
Okay, so as you may have understood from doing this, there is homework to do at the end of this before you move on. If this is your first video of course, maybe that’s a surprise to you. I hope not, but it might be. If this isn’t your first video – if you did the science, the reading or the math before this – then you know that there is homework tagged according to each of the topics that we covered.
Those yellow boxes that were across the bottom, those are exactly the same as the tags in the Grockit database. Your homework that we’d like you to do next time so you can build your skills in preparation for a test day is to do things . . . well, actually, this one doesn’t have tags. That was just, “What is the English section?” All these other ones are tags in the Grockit vaults.
So when you go in there and do targeted practice sessions on just these particular things, you will get questions along these lines. Of course the passages will have questions on other topics but you can do targeted practice on these things. Noun and verb agreement and then basically verb form and tense, which is another form of agreement. We have questions labeled according to that where either the original printed answer or some of the answer choices test this issue.
Pronoun and antecedent and then having the correct pronoun type are also another type of matching. But they’re separate from noun and verb and then verb form and tense.
Preposition usage and idioms is a wide ranging topic. Basically any time you see an idiom that you’re just not familiar with, whether it’s one that’s in a question or not, write it down and put it on a note card, put it on the mirror in the bathroom where you’ll see it so that you can get more used to these correct idioms, because if it shows up in real life English, it could up on the ACT. So start keeping track of idioms that sound unusual or weird to you.
Appositives and phrases, we’re getting kind of to the bigger level of sentences, dealing with those. You can practice those if those sound weird. This one is often more challenging for native speakers because, of course, in spoken English we use incomplete sentences all the time. Ditto punctuation where we speak in fragments all the time, but in standard written English, you’re not supposed to. So learning how to punctuate things correctly so that grammatical and syntactical units get held together in the right way takes some practice.
Do this homework before you move on to English 2 so that you can build on what you’ve learned and we’ll see you next time.