What students hear and read every day can negatively impact their ACT scores.

Over the past couple of years, I've become a fan of several podcasts. They're informative and interesting––I keep them on rotation for when I'm sitting in traffic, or cooking dinner, or folding up laundry. While they may be perfect for passing the time, the segments sometimes feature less than perfect grammar. This is to be expected––though I'm a grammar stickler when it comes to my profession, I'm completely fine with the fact that most podcasts are informal and conversational, and will thus inevitably feature the tiny grammatical errors we all make while speaking. But considering the ACT was just administered this past weekend, it got me to thinking: if this is how we speak, and if these are the sorts of errors we become accustomed to hearing, we're setting students up to fall for the traps set by the ACT English section.

Consider a line I heard from a report about affairs in the Middle East.

Solving these problems are a top priority for officials in the region.

Can you pick up on the error? If not, let's structure this as it would be posed as part of a question on the ACT English section.

Solving these problems are a top priority for officials in the region.

A. NO CHANGE
B. have been
C. were
D. is

When we speak, we sometimes lose track of our own subjects. Here, are, the form of the verb to be, refers not to the plural noun immediately in front of it––problems––but to the verb solving at the front of the sentence. That's because solving the problems is the top priority––not the problems themselves. We can't say solving are a top priority; in fact, we can't use any plural verb in place of are. Thus, choice D is the correct answer. 

This is classic subject-verb agreement as tested by the ACT. It's tricky, but there's hope! We cover this exact type of error in our self-paced prep program,  and regularly review it in our online ACT courses.

Here's another type of error I read in the written preview of one recent economics podcast episode.

Sometimes the best way to win, is to lose.

Imagine someone saying this aloud: that dramatic pause indicated by the comma following win is something we'd understand as a setup for an unexpected conclusion or contrast. In writing, however, that comma is 100% wrong; the sentence should be written without a comma. Why? The comma creates two dependent clauses, or fragments of text that cannot stand alone as their own sentences. It's a rule that these can never be separated by commas. And yet, this sort of error is tested regularly on the ACT. When students' real world experiences do not align with structural convention in writing, it's easy to fall into the trap.

All this is to highlight what we at Method Test Prep have been saying for a long time––that the ACT is a unique beast that tests students outside of their realm of familiarity. The good news is that the ACT is highly predictable: the same kinds of errors are always tested. And so, our oft-repeated takeaway message holds true once again: to take advantage of the predictability and avoid the traps, you must practice.