To call the English ACT Test detail-oriented would be an understatement. The test is rooted in grammatical perfection, and to score well on it, you’ll need to make sure that you’re capable of grammatical perfection too.

But this is easier said than done. We live in a world surrounded by casual communications. Between social media and text messages, it’s easy to forget the roots of good grammar. In fact, some of the most common mistakes made in casual written language become the most common mistakes made on the English ACT test. If you want to ace the test, you’ll need to become familiar with the mistakes most commonly made on it.

In this post, we’ll outline four of the mistakes we see most frequently on the English ACT test. We’ll explain how each can trip you up, and offer our advice on how to avoid them. To learn more about four common mistakes to avoid on the English section of the ACT, read on.

1. Pronoun Agreement

This mistake is formally known as pronoun-antecedent agreement, and it occurs when a plural pronoun replaces a singular noun or when a singular pronoun replaces a plural noun.

To really understand this mistake, you’ll need to be familiar with exactly what a pronoun is.

Remember: A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun.

Here are some of the most common pronouns you see: I, me, he, she, herself, you, it, that, they, each, few, many, who, whoever, whose, someone, everybody, and nobody.

There are many different kinds of pronouns, but all you need to know to avoid this mistake is that all pronouns replace a noun or noun phrase.

Remember: To be grammatically correct, pronouns must agree with their antecedents in terms of plurality.

A singular noun like John or the student can be replaced by a singular pronoun like he or she. In the case of possessive pronouns, you might use his or her to replace a singular noun. A sentence using these pronouns could be:

The student forgot that he left his textbook at home.

Conversely, a plural noun like the teammates or several friends can be replaced with the plural pronoun they, or in the case of possessive pronouns, their. A sentence using these pronouns might be:

Several friends decided that they would park their cars together.

Some Examples of How Pronoun Agreement Can Trick You:

This gets tricky when the pronoun and antecedent are split up by multiple phrases.

Consider the following sentence:

When the student does not agree with their teacher’s grading, they should talk to the teacher before bringing the issue to a guidance counselor.

Now consider the same sentence, with the subject underlined and the pronouns in bold.

When the student does not agree with their teacher’s grading, they should talk to the teacher before bringing the issue to a guidance counselor.

See how the subject, the student, is singular but the pronouns, their and they, are plural? This indicates a pronoun agreement issue. You can correct it by making the subject plural, to agree with the pronouns:

When students do not agree with their teacher’s grading, they should talk to the teacher before bringing the issue to a guidance counselor.

Or you may fix it by making the pronouns singular, to agree with the subject:

When a student does not agree with his teacher’s grading, he should talk to the teacher before bringing the issue to a guidance counselor.

This gets even trickier when indefinite pronouns come into play, since you will need to know which are considered plural and which are singular.

The following indefinite pronouns are singular: each, either, neither, anybody, anyone, anything, everybody, everyone, everything, nobody, no one, nothing, somebody, someone, something.

Consider one in context:

Each of the teammates shook hands with the coach to show his appreciation.

In this case, teammates is not the subject. The subject is each of the teammates, so both the subject and the pronoun his are singular.

Some indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural. These include: all, any, more, most, and some. Their proper use will depend on the context in which they’re used. If they are used to group together things that can be counted, they will be plural. This could include:

All of the students

Any of the business owners

Most of the puppies

Some of the parents

Used in a sentence, this would look like:

Some of the parents voiced their concerns.

If, however, the indefinite pronoun is used to group together something that can’t be counted, it is considered singular. This could include:

Some of his courage

Most of the dirt

All of my heart

Any of her knowledge

Used in a sentence, this would look like:

Most of the dirt made its way into my car.

Key Points:

There will be at least a few questions on every English ACT test that demand you pay attention to pronoun-antecedent agreement, and the rules regarding their usage can be complex. Be prepared for these questions by studying some of these nuances and knowing what to expect. If you still aren’t sure or want to read more about this grammar rule, you can check out more about pronouns on the free site, Grammar Bytes.

2. Misplaced Modifiers

Remember: Modifiers are words that add meaning to a sentence.

The sentence still makes sense without them, but modifiers further clarify, restrict, or describe that meaning. Modifiers can be: adjectives, adjective clauses, adverbs, adverb clauses, absolute phrases, infinitive phrases, participle phrases, and prepositional phrases. Basically, any descriptor in a sentence is usually a modifier. 

Consider this simple sentence: Michael went back to school.

Now consider it again, with some modifiers: Having finally left his job at the factory, Michael proudly went back to the old school from which he had dropped out during his earlier years.

Remember: Usually, a modifier is placed directly before or after the noun or verb that it describes.

In the example above, you will find the following modifiers located next to the words they describe:

The phrase Having finally left his job at the factory describes Michael.

The adverb proudly describes went.

The adjective old describes school.

The phrase from which he had dropped out during his earlier years also describes school.

Some Examples of How Misplaced Modifiers Can Trick You:

Sometimes, when a modifier is not located close enough to the word or phrase it is describing, its meaning becomes ambiguous. These are called misplaced modifiers. Consider this example:

Howling with wind and rain outside, we checked to see if schools were closed due to the storm.

In this example, the modifier howling with wind and rain outside is located next to we, but it does not describe we. It describes the storm. To fix the misplaced modifier, you will need to move it next to the word it describes. Here is one way to fix it:

We checked to see if schools were closed due to the storm that was howling with wind and rain outside.

Here is another example. See if you can find the misplaced modifier in the sentence below:

Annie tried to drive her old car to the game, which unfortunately broke down before she arrived.

Do you see how the phrase which unfortunately broke down before she arrived seems to modify the game? Try to relocate it to modify her old car. Your answer should look something like this:

Annie tried to drive to the game in her old car, which unfortunately broke down before she arrived.

Key Points:

Misplaced modifiers can be tricky, but knowing how to recognize and even more importantly how to correct them can be an integral skill on the English ACT test. You can learn more about misplaced modifiers from the free study guides at Grammar Bytes and if you want more practice, be sure to check out their Modifier Exercises.

3. Transitional Word Choices

While knowledge of grammar on its own is enough to get started on the English ACT, it alone won’t be enough to get you a very good score. You’ll also need to have some general awareness of the ways in which ideas work together within a written piece. One element of this is word choice, and transition words in particular are often tested on the English ACT.

Remember: A transition word is used to show the relationship between one idea or sentence and the next.

Sometimes, the relationship contrasts two differing ideas against one another. Other times, the ideas build upon one another or indicate a cause and effect relationship.

Remember: The precise word used to transition from one sentence to the next must align with the relationship between the two sentences or ideas.

Some Examples of How Transitional Word Choices Can Trick You:

Consider these two sentences:

The students were ecstatic for another snow day. The teachers were worried about fitting in all of their lessons before state testing in May.

Now, ask yourself to identify the relationship between these two sentences. Are they ideas that build off of one another? Are they cause and effect? Are they contrasting? Which of the following best improves the passage above:

A. The students were ecstatic for another snow day. Similarly, the teachers were worried about fitting in all of their lessons before state testing in May.

B. The students were ecstatic for another snow day. Hence, the teachers were worried about fitting in all of their lessons before state testing in May.

C. The students were ecstatic for another snow day. However, the teachers were worried about fitting in all of their lessons before state testing in May.

D. The students were ecstatic for another snow day. In addition, the teachers were worried about fitting in all of their lessons before state testing in May.

E. NO CHANGE

The relationship between the two sentences is one of contrast. While the students are ecstatic, the teachers are worried. These two emotions clearly indicate that a contrasting transition word is needed. Of the choices above, C, which uses the contrasting transition However, is the best option.

Key Points:

As you consider transitional word choice, have an idea of some terms that indicate a relationship between sentences or phrases. Some common ones include:

Contrast: however, although, despite

Continuing ideas: in addition, also, similarly, 

Cause and effect: due to, because of, hence, 

When you go into the English ACT test, have a few transition words in mind to indicate each possible relationship that you might need to indicate. You can find a more complete list of words to choose from at Smart Words.

4.  Homophones, Especially Its and It’s

While you may have not heard this word in a while, it describes something that you probably think about on a daily basis.

Remember: Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings, spellings, or origins.

The most common ones that you probably consider at least subconsciously every time you write are two/to/too and no/know. While these examples and the appropriate usage of each word might seem obvious to you now, when you are trying to keep up the pace on an important test such as the English ACT, they can be easy to overlook. This is especially true if you consider some of the lesser-understood homophones.

Some Examples of How Homophones Can Trick You:

The difference between its and it’s is one of the most overlooked homophones. Let’s take a look at it more closely.

Its is the possessive form of it. This can be confusing for some, because most possessive nouns have an apostrophe. You are no doubt used to seeing common possessives such as:

The puppy’s ball

The children’s assignments

The restaurant’s menu

The students’ uniforms

Its is simply another possessive like the above examples. Here are some examples of its in context:

The car lost its antenna somewhere on the highway.

Despite its low rating, the restaurant was actually quite good.

While we waited at the bus station, its full screen monitors kept us updated on delays.

On the other hand, it’s is a contraction of it is. This makes it similar to other contractions like can’t, aren’t and we’ll. Here are some examples of it’s in context:

From the looks of the forecast, it’s going to be a nice day tomorrow.

It’s alright to feel a little upset when you lose something important.

I really enjoyed the movie, so it’s no surprise to hear that it was nominated for an award.

As you read, it can be helpful to remember that an apostrophe in the word it’s indicates that it can be replaced by it is. If, as you read, you cannot replace the contraction with the two words it is, then the word has probably been replaced by an incorrect homophone and it needs to be corrected.

Key Points:

While homophones might seem like something so obvious that you’d never forget the correct form of each, sometimes the tiniest of details are easy to overlook. In the case of homophones, a single letter or an apostrophe can change the meaning of a word and even make an entire sentence incorrect or nonsensical. Be sure to pay close attention to homophones as you approach your English ACT. They are a popular tripping point, but one that can be completely avoided through careful thought and consideration.

The English ACT is designed to test your attention to even the smallest of details. Pay attention to the four common mistakes above to ensure that you don’t fall victim to them on test day. To learn about some more common mistakes on the English ACT, read CollegeVine’s 3 Grammar Rules Every Student Messes Up On the ACT.

If you still have questions about ACT Test strategies or you are interested in our full-service, customized ACT Test tutoring, head over to CollegeVine’s ACT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.

To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist