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English Strategies


ACT English*

*This is a free excerpt from our Online ACT Test Prep

Rhetorical Skills

It's been a long, hard journey through the swamps of Mechanics and Usage, but you've finally arrived in the land of Rhetorical Skills. Now that you're halfway through the ACT English review, you'll find that things look a little different around here. The ACT English test still wants you to fix the errors that you find, but you're going to start seeing a new type of question—one that tests your ability to improve the passages you read.

Hey, nobody said that great power wouldn't come with great responsibility.

Writing strategy questions ask you to choose a correct answer based on the purpose of a passage, which requires identifying its intended effect and the intended audience. Out of all the different types of questions on the ACT English test, this is the easiest type of question to spot. Instead of giving you the underlined portion of a sentence, writing strategy questions involve actual questions (with question marks and everything!) and real answers. It's an ACT miracle!

In case you have any doubts, these questions always ask you about the processes of writing and revision: What should the writer do in this situation? How should the writer achieve this purpose? If the writer did this, what would happen? And if "the writer" starts to get on your nerves, just think of him as a friend who just needs a little bit of help on his essay.

Before we get started, though, let's go over a few of the common techniques that writers use to make or support a point.


Description gives the reader a better picture of a person, object, or event. By using language that makes the point seem more realistic, a writer can provide more evidence for an argument.

NOT DESCRIPTIVE: I can't run the mile today because I don't feel well.

DESCRIPTIVE: I can't run the mile today because I have a headache, the stomach flu, and a broken leg.


An explanation of a process breaks down the steps of an action to describe how to achieve a certain result. By providing a clear and detailed explanation, a writer can back up a point with convincing evidence.


An explanation of a process breaks down the steps of an action to describe how to achieve a certain result. By providing a clear and detailed explanation, a writer can back up a point with convincing evidence.

Silversmithing is a complex craft that requires immense concentration. To make silver jewelry at home, you must first gather the necessary supplies, including the proper safety equipment. Before you begin, double-check your propane torch and pickling compound to make sure that both are adequate. Once you are ready, cut your silver sheet to the desired size. With a hammer and a pair of pliers, shape your silver according to your project pattern.

Approximately one million steps later (give or take), the DIY silversmith has a piece of jewelry—and the writer doesn't have to tell us twice that silversmithing is complicated.


A definition clarifies the writer's point by providing, well, a definition. This can be especially useful in academic articles or other types of writing that use obscure or difficult terms.

After a yearlong study, we found that many people experienced schadenfreude, although they indicated that they rarely expressed this sentiment to others. Of German origin, "schadenfreude" refers to the feeling of taking pleasure in another person's misfortune.

The first sentence wouldn't seem quite so meaningful without the second.


To appeal to their readers' different qualities, writers can use the classical rhetorical strategies of persuasion, which were developed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (who obviously knew the value of classification and division). In this spirit, let's conclude our review by going over the three strategies of persuasion.

Ethos - Convincing the reader with your authority and expertise (or at least the impression of your authority and expertise). As student body president for all four years, I truly believe in the beneficial value of providing free tacos for seniors on Wednesdays.

Logos - Convincing the reader with cold, hard, facts. Do you have the numbers to back up your claims? Is your argument full of logical holes? Through a statistically significant survey, my independent research committee has found that 98 percent of all seniors would benefit nutritionally from consuming tacos on Wednesday.

Pathos - Convincing the reader with an emotional appeal; also known as the rhetorical equivalent of puppy dog eyes. Since I was a freshman, I've been truly moved by the tradition of Taco Wednesdays. Watching each senior class has helped me to realize that the students aren't just enjoying tacos—they're enjoying each other's company.

Writers can pick and choose from these strategies to create custom-tailored approaches to different audiences: adults, children, experts, beginners, dentists, equestrians, scientists, people who agree, people who don't agree—basically, any group of people you can think of. Most passages on the ACT English test will be intended for the general public, though, so let's take a look at the kinds of questions you'll see.

Classification and Division

Classification and division is the rhetorical equivalent of the divide-and-conquer strategy. Similar to explaining a process, separating information into different categories creates bite-sized pieces that can be easier for the reader to understand.

BEFORE: Vets specialize in treating animals from all types of environments, such as cats, dogs, smaller birds like parrots and cockatoos, small rodents, lizards, exotic birds, monkeys, horses, cattle, chickens, turkeys, dolphins, whales, sea lions, sea turtles, and many more.

AFTER: Most vets specialize in treating animals in a specific type of environment, such as household pets, animals that live in zoos or special refuges, horses and farm animals, animals in the wild, and non-domestic marine life in places such as aquatic parks and aquariums.

Even though the second paragraph is longer, it's also a lot less likely to make your eyes cross. We think that's a good thing.

Compare and Contrast

An old-school English class technique, compare and contrast helps the reader understand the similarities and differences between two items and recognize particularly important relationships. By providing guidelines, a writer can direct the reader's attention to certain points or conclusions.

Pie and cake are both desserts, but the presence of a solid crust makes pie the clearly superior option.

Like a chicken, Mary squawked in indignation. Unlike a chicken, however, Mary did not have feathers.

Compare and contrast often appears over the course of an essay, not just in a sentence, but this technique is easy to spot—just look for words that signify similarities (like, both, similar to) and differences (unlike, on the contrary, on the other hand, however, in comparison).

Cause and Effect

The technique of cause and effect also establishes a relationship. In this case, of course, one thing leads to another, so look for words that signal causality (since, because, thus, therefore, in order to, as a result).

In order to get tickets to the show, Robert stood for three hours in the pouring rain.

American colonists often adopted guerrilla tactics during the Revolutionary War. As a result, the regimented British troops often found themselves unable to defeat an unknown enemy.

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