The ACT English test has evolved over the past few years.  The test assesses students in their knowledge of grammar, usage, punctuation and sentence structure.  It also includes questions about topic development, organization, unity and cohesion.

There is always only one right answer that is undisputedly correct.

Lie versus Lay

Below are two questions from an ACT English test given earlier this year.  Question 19 deals with the difference between the verbs lie and lay, often a source of confusion for students.  To lie means “to recline or rest on a surface.”  It does not take a direct object (“I’m going to lie down and take a nap.”).  To lay needs an object (“I will lay the keys next to your purse.”).

Now that the difference is clear, for this question it is important to know the present participle of each word.  Lying is the present participle for lie, and laying is the present participle for lay.

Let’s take a look at the question and eliminate the wrong answers.  The question is discussing a tree—either lying or laying in a forest.  The tree is resting on the forest floor, so the correct word is lying.  Choices B and D can be eliminated.  Between Choices A and C, which is correct—a tree lying in a forest, or lying with a forest?  Choice A, as it is written in the sentence, properly uses the preposition “in” to give the reader a clear picture of a log found resting on the forest floor.  Choice C would suggest something else is “with” the log, but that is not what is suggested by the passage.  Therefore Choice A, No Change, is correct.

Verb Agreement

Question 20 brings up a couple potential errors.  Because the sentence is so long, students may read it quickly and feel strongly that another comma is needed to break up the sentence.  Students may also see that the verb just before “transporting” is “lying” and assume that a present participle form of the verb (base verb plus -ing) is needed here.

The strategy to use is to simplify the sentence to be sure the correct form of the verb is used.  Take out extra descriptive information, like the non-essential phrase  “part of a western hemlock lying in a Washington forest.”  The word “lying” is part of that phrase and doesn’t relate to the main action of the sentence.

Read the sentence like this: “Dion found the log ______________ it to the city.”  Try out all the choices.  Once the sentenced is simplified, it is clear that the verb needs to be in simple past tense.  Why?  The second verb must be consistent with the simple past tense verb “found” used earlier in the sentence.  Thus choices F and G are eliminated.  Because two actions occur, a conjunction is needed to connect them:  “found and transported.”  Therefore, Choice H, which uses the conjunction “and” before “transported” is correct.

Review and Refresh Middle School Grammar

Students should review grammar basics to reactivate the knowledge they learned mostly in middle school.  Though students use those grammar rules in high school writing, becoming refreshed on the basics will help the student more readily identify errors in usage.  On the ACT English test, students must demonstrate they know the elements of good writing.

The Knowledge Edge ACT Program typically has 10 hours of English instruction.  It includes a review of the grammar and other rules commonly tested on the ACT, like the questions posed above.  Students review, refresh and reactivate their prior knowledge with a tutor during prep sessions.  They also do many practice questions in an ACT format.  Most importantly, if they do not understand, our tutor is there to explain and ensure the skill is mastered.

For more information about Knowledge Edge ACT prep, click here!