You've now learned all the Skills that you need for the ACT English section. The Mantras remind you what to do and when to do it. Learning Mantras is like learning martial arts. Practice until they become part of you, until you follow them naturally: when you see an underlined verb, you look for its subject; when you see an underlined transition word or preposition, you ask yourself if it fits; when you see an underlined pronoun, you check for clarity and agreement; you watch for an unneeded "ly"; you train and trust your ear; and you use the process of elimination. This will raise your ACT English score dramatically, and it will improve your actual writing too.

Let's make sure you've memorized and integrated the Mantras. Check the box next to each Skill when you have mastered it. Reread any Skill sections that you need to.

  • Skill 1. When a verb is underlined, trust your ear. When in doubt, identify its subject and make sure singular/plural and tense match the subject.
  • Skill 2. When a verb is underlined, identify the subject and cross out any prepositional phrases; a prepositional phrase NEVER counts as the subject of the verb.
  • Skill 3. When a pronoun is underlined, we must be totally sure what noun it is referring to. If it is unclear in any way, it is incorrect. The underlined pronoun must also match (singular or plural) the noun that it refers to.
  • Skill 4. If a transition word (such as "although," "since," "but," "therefore," or "however") is underlined, see if it works in the flow of the sentence.
  • Skill 5. When a comma is underlined, ask yourself, Should there be a pause here? Read it with and without a pause and see which works. Commas (and pauses) are used to set off a side note.
  • Skill 6. Phrases that can stand alone are separated with a semicolon, a comma with "and," or a period.
  • Skill 7. When a preposition is underlined, ask if it is the right preposition to use.
  • Skill 8. When "I" or "me" is underlined, try putting the I/me first or drop the other person, and trust your ear. "It's" means "It is," and "its" is possessive, like "that tree is nice; I like its colorful leaves."
  • Skill 9. "My uncle's books" means one uncle has books, and "my uncles' books" means that two or more uncles have books. Watch for an unneeded "ly." "Who" is for people, and "which" is for things. Watch for pairs of words such as "not only

    Neither … nor

    but also" and "either

    Neither … nor

  • Skill 10. The ACT likes crisp and clear; we always want the answer that is most clear, concise, direct, and nonredundant.
  • Skill 11. A descriptive phrase on the ACT must be clearly associated with (and usually placed right next to) the noun described.
  • Skill 12. Make sure that the underlined word fits in the context of the sentence.
  • Skill 13. For "flow" questions, use the process of elimination.
  • Skill 14. For "goal" questions, choose the one answer choice that achieves the very specific GOAL stated in the question.
  • Skill 15. For a yes/no question, choose an answer that applies to the entire question and not just a few words of it.

Let's take a look at this question:

All I had known of local politics to that point had been gleaned from my parents' political banter, lopsided as it was.

F. No Change

G. lopsided

H. lopsided as the banter was being

I. lopsided as it's


Solution: The underlined phrase sounds pretty good. Let's try the choices in case there is an even better option. Choice G makes no sense in the sentence. Choice H is too wordy and "was being' sounds terrible. Choice J is incorrect since "it's" means "it is" which sounds wrong and does not match the past tense of the rest of the sentence. So choice F is correct.

Let's apply the Mantras to see why: the pronoun "it" clearly refers to "banter," the comma correctly represents a pause, "was" matches the tense of the rest of the sentence, and the underlined clause is right next to "banter" which it describes. You don't need to do all that though. You can just use the process of elimination and say, "The underlined words sound good, and the answer choices sound awful, so NO CHANGE."

Correct answer: F

Example Problems

In a in the movie Jerry Maguire, one character tells another that he loves her and that she completes him. These concepts of love, completing someone, and even marriage have meant different things at different times . Only recently have people married for love alone. Originally, people married for survival—they on each other for safety, food, and shelter.

In the last 100 years, as the industrial revolution has made life for some the idea of marriage for love has come about. now frowned upon in some cultures to marry for financial and social gain. People hope to marry the person completes them, cares for them, likes them, and them; the person that makes them feel at ease. Before people married for need, and now they marry for need of love.

    1. NO CHANGE
    2. famous, well known scene,
    3. famous scene
    4. famous and well known scene
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. to history
    3. in history
    1. historically speaking
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. were living and depending in tribes
    3. live in tribes and are depending
    4. lived in tribes and depended
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. easier,
    3. easier;
    1. easier, and
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. It's
    3. It was
    4. Presently, it is
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. whom
    3. whose
    1. which
    1. NO CHANGE
    2. stands by them. The person
    3. stands by them—the person
    4. stands by them the person


  1. C   "Well known" defines "famous," so "famous well known" is redundant. Choice C, deleting "well known," is the best correction.
  2. H   "Different times of history" sounds weird. Try each choice and trust your ear. "Different times in history" sounds great. The "times" are literally in, not of, history. Choice J is to slangy.
  3. D   The word "originally" and the verb "married" tell us that the sentence relates to the past, so the underlined verbs should also be past tense "lived

    Neither … nor

    and depended." The other choices are not past tense.
  4. G   Try this one with and without the pause. No pause sounds strange, jumbled, and rushed. We need a comma after "easier." We use a comma, not a semicolon, since the first part of the sentence is dependent.
  5. B   The "its" used here means "it is" and should be "it's." Remember that "its" is possessive, like "a bear defends its cubs."
  6. F   No change. Most people find it very hard to hear when "who" or "whom" is correct, so we make it easy, and use "I" versus "me" instead. "I" corresponds to "who" and "me" corresponds to "whom." In this sentence, "I complete them" sounds fine, and "me complete them" sounds weird. So "I" is correct, which means "who" is correct. Notice that choice J is not correct, since "which" is used with things, and "who" or "whom" is used with people.
  7. C   The clause "the person that makes them feel at ease" is dependent—it could not stand alone. It leaves you waiting for the action. Choice C is correct. Choices A and B are incorrect because a period or semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses that could stand alone. Choice D is incorrect because, without a pause, the sentence sounds jumbled.


In the next 12 Skills I will show you the four types of reading passages and seven types of questions that the ACT uses in the Reading section.

Many students believe that reading comprehension questions are tricky, with several answers that work. But in the next 12 Skills, I'll show you that they're not tricky and that, in fact, they're totally predictable. In English class you might discuss for 30 minutes what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote something, but on the ACT there can be only one right answer, no tricks, no debate. The reading passage will always provide clear proof for the correct answer. Your goal is to be a detective or a lawyer and find the proof. After learning these 12 Skills, you'll find the reading section easy and predictable. Read, learn, and drill these Skills, and you'll raise your score, guaranteed!

Go to: Tip #17