ACT English Prep: Guide to Word Choice, Style and Tone

tl;dr: Getting a 36 on the ACT English section can be tricky, but with the right tips and strategies you can get there! Diction, tone, and style are all important terms to understand. Also, consider the author's intent, using transition words, and concise wording when answering questions. Finally, for more practice, check out these awesome Fiveable resources! Good luck!

Overview 🤔

To get a 36 on the ACT English, there a lot of terms and concepts you need to understand. You’ve probably heard the words “diction,” “style,” and “tone” in English class before. 👂 But what do they mean? In this article we'll be going through several ACT tips, tricks, and strategies that'll help maximize your score!

word cloud of words relating to grammar and ACT English exam
So what is diction anyway?? Image from Vol State

Let’s first define each word!

Diction is the author’s word choice 📝 Based on the surrounding context, an author will be very particular about the words they use to convey an idea 💡

The author’s tone is how they feel about the topic they’re writing about. Do they feel negatively about something, and are using sarcasm or irony to portray that? 😠Tying this in with diction, the author’s word choice will give you an idea of their tone!

Style is the way the author writes to fit a specific audience or purpose 👯‍♀️ For example, if they were trying to address a group of scientists versus a group of teenagers, they would definitely write differently ✒️

Okay, now that we’ve got down our definitions, how does this apply to the ACT Language section? Buckle up: we’re going to go through a few explanations and look at a few practice questions to see our concepts in action 🚘

ACT English: Author Intent

This is an important topic to consider when answering a question about word choice. What is the writer trying to convey? Furthermore, how do they feel about the topic, and how does their writing reflect that? 📕

Think about the goal the writer is trying to accomplish. What do they want their audience to know 🤓, or to feel 😍 You can get a good idea of this by considering the surrounding context. Then, choose the answer choice that best emphasizes the author’s main point 🚀

ACT English: Transitions 🚉

Transitions cover the relationships between events or ideas. How two (or sometimes more) events/ideas relate to each other determines the best transition to use 👐 Use these to smoothly connect sentences and phrases. 🔐

📊 Consider examples of relationships between events/ideas.

  • Cause/effect → Ex. Therefore
  • Compare/contrast → Ex. Although
  • Similarity → Ex. Likewise
  • Connecting an idea + an example → Ex. Indeed
  • “Even though” → Ex. Nonetheless

ACT English: Wordiness 😶‍🌫️

Wordiness will most likely apply more to questions with phrases in the answer choices. Your goal is to find the choice that gives the same information in the most concise and understandable way possible 👓 That doesn’t mean the shortest answer will always be correct, but there’s a good chance the right answer will be concise but still descriptive ✅

Here’s an ACT example question so you know what I’m talking about:

SAT example question
Image from ACT, inc.

In this question, notice the wordiness of, for example, choice B. Of course, wordiness isn’t the ONLY thing that determines if a choice is right. 🔋It still has to make sense in the context of the question.

ACT English Prep

Let’s walk through another practice question now to see how ACT will test your knowledge of word choice:

ACT sample question about word choice
Images from ACT, inc.

The underlined portion in the passage is “however.” Our job is to figure out if that is the best word choice, or if there’s a better replacement in the answer choices 😳

CHECKPOINT: Try this problem on your own first, and then keep reading for how you should answer it. 🚨

Tried it on your own first? Got an answer? Great, let’s answer this together! 🏃‍♀️

Let’s read the paragraph first; it gives us information that these two people are trying to solve a problem by creating a system called symbology. Now let’s look more closely at the sentence and surrounding context 👀 The author seems to just be giving us information in chronological order, without giving opinions.

Starting off with “NO CHANGE,” that means we keep “however” in the sentence. Are there two clashing statements? Or is the author simply informing us in a non-biased way? Psst, it’s the second choice! So, let’s cross out F ❌

Moving on to G, “in other words.” When we look at the sentence, separated in half by the underlined portion, do both halves say the same thing, in different words? 📢No. The first half talks about what the inventors were inspired by, while the second half gives more information on the actual system.

Let’s cross out G.

Okay, now let’s look at H, “consequently.” For this answer choice, we’ll need to use some grammar knowledge of commas. You might remember that commas are used to join dependent and independent clauses 🤝 In this case, the dependent clause is “Inspired by the dots and dashes of Morse code.” Therefore, adding in “consequently” would make the sentence grammatically incorrect.

Using our explanation for H, we now know that J is correct 🙌 The sentence is correct if “however” is deleted.


Give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far 🎉 We went through some tips on word choice questions, as well as thoroughly walked through an example question 🚶‍♀️. For more specific ACT English practice, check out this article on grammar conventions! If you need extra ACT help, check out this list of awesome resources to help you strive for that 36!

Need more ACT practice?

Fiveable has you covered! Check out these articles that tell you all you need to know about each ACT Subject!

The best way to practice for the ACT Language section is to do lots of practice 📋 So what are you waiting for? Get studying! Good luck 👏

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