ACT English Tips and SAT Writing Tips

With over 11 years of experience in tutoring for the ACT/SAT, here are the top 7 tips I share with students for the ACT English and SAT Writing sections.  Even though they are called different things on the two tests, they are essential the exact same section!  Even though when you look at these sections, grammar rules start to spring to mind (or at least you should think that they are probably testing grammar) the test is testing both grammar and content.  Now there won’t be any questions about comprehension or spelling (thank goodness), but let’s talk about some tips to help with the questions that will appear!


Petite means short or small.  To save timPetite means smalle and effort when going through the English/Writing section, start with the shortest answer choice.  I know that this sounds too easy to be true!  Nevertheless, the ACT and SAT are actually testing is that you are using the most concise, grammatically correct answer.  If the shortest answer is grammatically correct, then go for it!  Now if you don’t read the answer choices in and only pick the shortest one for every answer, I can promise that you aren’t going to score very well.


The simplest (fewest punctuation marks) is also a good way to go!  Most people put WAY too many commas in when we are writing. Here is a great resource to help with the punctuation rules (Purdue OWL Punctuation Rules), but a tip is to start with the fewest punctuation marks and see if that works!

Whom vs whom

Who vs whom

One of the most common questions I get asked is in regards to who vs whom.  How often do you use the word whom?  Probably not often at all, and that is how often you want to choose whom as an answer on the test – not often!  The real answer is that who is a pronoun that replaces the subject. Whom is a pronoun that acts as a direct or indirect object.


It’s, its, and its’

I guarantee that there will be at least one question in each ACT and SAT that contains a question involving it’s, its, and its’.  However, following this tip will make that question so much easier!

it’s means it is.  For example, It’s time to go on the water slide.
its is the possessive.  For example, the dog is wagging its tail.
its’ is not possible in the English language. Eliminate this answer choice IMMEDIATELY!

Semicolon?  When can I use it?

A semicolon is used in place of a period.  What does this mean?  Anytime you can an answer choice that has a semicolon, Make sure there is a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon.

Example: My kids have a long winter break this year; we went to Key Lime Cove for a quick getaway.

The semicolon and period can also help you eliminate answer choices on some problems.

Example: While we were at Key Lime Cove, we went swimming and played in the arcade.

A. No Change
B. Cove. We
C. Cove, and we
D. Cove; we

When you look at answer choices B and D, they have exactly the same words.  The only difference is the period versus the semicolon.  So since they mean the same thing, you can eliminate both answer choices!  In case you were wondering, the correct answer here is A. No Change.

When you have to read a question…

What should you do on a question where you actually have to read a question?  Skip it?  Not read the question? Nope! Pick keywords!  When there is a question that you actually have to read, pick out keywords. Until you realize that picking out keywords will get you to the answer, these questions can be difficult.  All of the answer choices will make sense when you plug them in.  All answer choices will be grammatically correct.  However, only one answer choice will answer what they question is asking.

Main Idea

If you have any questions that are asking about the main idea of an English or Writing passage, reread the title of the passage. Just like when you are writing an essay, the title is what the author felt the main idea of the passage was! Therefore, reading the title can help give you an idea for the main idea.