Get to Know Your ACT Conventions

An American and an Englishman walk into an essay, both holding punctuation. Wanting to be useful, they head for a sentence that happens to end with a quotation. The Englishman, noticing where the American stands, says, “My dear chap, whatever are you doing inside the quotation marks? Scurry along to another sentence, and for goodness sake, place yourself properly at the end of it.” The American laughs and replies, “My good man, it’s you who are mixed up. Quit flapping in the breeze and get yourself inside some quotation marks so you don’t freeze to death.”


This ridiculous anecdote demonstrates an important point about conventions of writing: they are just that, conventional. Like handshakes, or fist bumps. The English put their periods outside the quotation marks, Americans put them inside. There is no good reason for doing it one way or the other except to fit in with your countrymen.


The ACT, even more so than the SAT, loves conventions of punctuation. This is good news and bad news for test takers. The bad news is that some of the conventions that appear in ACT questions cannot be reasoned out – you simply must know the American convention. The good news is that if you learn these conventions before taking the test, you’re good to go.


There are, however, some conventions appearing in ACT questions that can be reasoned out. Imagine our American and our Englishman walk into the following sentence, both holding a question mark: “My teenage son became uncharacteristically pleasant this last week, especially on the day that he asked me, ‘Dad, can I borrow your car for the prom?’” Now, the Englishman and American will find something to bicker about here, namely the order of the double vs. the single quotation mark (the American likes this sentence how it is). They will heartily agree, however, to stack their question marks, one atop the other, inside the quotation marks. The reason for this placement of the question mark is logical, not conventional: what the boy says is a question – what the father says is a statement. The placement of the question mark must indicate to the reader that only what is inside the quotation marks (the boys words) is a question.


Have you ever thought about the correct way to punctuate a list of cities and states (Raleigh, North Carolina; Claxton, Georgia; Seattle, Washington) or how to properly use a colon to introduce a list? Probably not. But the ACT will expect you to know these conventions of punctuation.


If you are studying for the ACT, be sure you learn punctuation conventions. And if you are looking for ACT prep, be sure you choose someone who knows what will be on the test and how to explain it to you (like us here at Moore’s Test Prep!).

The New SAT: What You Need to Know

Why the change?

The College Board came to realize that there were parts of the SAT that did a poor job of measuring skills and thus, of predicting who would do well in college. The College Board also sensed that the ACT was catching up to the SAT as the preferred college entrance exam – states like North Carolina now pay for all high school juniors to take the ACT.  So, they have redesigned the test to be more like … the ACT!

So, what are the main differences?

The structure of the new SAT resembles that of the ACT, with four multiple-choice sections and an optional essay.  There’s also science on the new SAT, but it’s mostly found in the reading section which, like the ACT science section, requires students to read and interpret graphs and tables.  The content, most evidently in math, is aligned with the Common Core curriculum. 

The tricks you could use on the old SAT Math section will not be as useful on the redesigned test – there’s even a new Math section that does not allow the use of a calculator.  Mastery of content from your Math 1, 2, and 3 classes is going to be really important. 

The Writing and Language section of the new SAT looks a whole lot like the ACT’s English section.  Gone are the out-of-context sentences; instead, the grammar questions are embedded in reading passages and are interspersed with rhetoric questions that address tone, organization, and the relationship between ideas and supporting details. 

Both the ACT and the new SAT have redesigned their essay sections, with the SAT’s being the more intimidating of the two.  Students must now read and analyze a piece of prose, and they have 50 minutes to do so.  This new essay asks a lot more of students than did the old one – close reading skills and at least a small cache of rhetorical terms are a must. Though the essay is now optional, some colleges may require students to submit an essay score.

How do I prepare?

Overall, the College Board succeeded in making the new SAT less vulnerable to the test-taking tricks that have little to do with a student’s academic aptitude.  Much of the esoteric vocabulary and obscure grammatical rules are also gone, and with them, hopefully, some of the uncertainty many students felt when preparing for the old SAT.

Ultimately, it is focused study of content and preparation for exactly what students will be tested on that will be key, more so than test-taking tips and strategies.

If you’re thinking of taking a course to help prepare you for the SAT, choose one that is taught by experienced teachers with deep content knowledge and the years of experience necessary to effectively break down and convey that content in a relatively short period of time.

If you have more questions about the new SAT or are interested in registering for an SAT Prep course, get in touch: