What Is the ACT Verbal Section? Tips for Helping Your Student Prepare

April 30, 2015 

ACT Verbal Introduction

ACT_Verbal_1-Alberto_GAs you research the ACT and how its sections are scored, you may discover references to an “ACT verbal score.” However, the ACT does not have a specific verbal section. This causes confusion for quite a few people, so you’re not alone. Instead of a dedicated section, the ACT verbal score refers to a student’s ability to use his or her verbal skills to navigate all sections of the ACT (English, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing test), with the exception of Math.

This post will help you and your student become acquainted with the idea of the ACT verbal score.

The best way to prepare for any test is to understand first what will be tested. With regard to verbal-intensive sections of the ACT, make sure your student is familiar with the types of questions that will be asked, what skills will be tested, and what the optional writing prompt looks like.

How is the ACT Organized?

The ACT is made up of English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. These sections ask between 40 and 75 multiple-choice questions and vary in length between 35 and 60 minutes. There is also an optional Writing section that gives the student 30 minutes to write an essay in response to a prompt.

English (75 questions, 45 minutes)

On the English section, usage and mechanics of the English language (punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure) are tested, as well as rhetorical skills (strategy, organization, and style). The test presents five passages, each of which is followed by 15 multiple-choice questions that refer to parts of the passage or the passage as a whole. For example, your child may be asked to select one of three sentences that would fit better with the passage, with “NO CHANGE” being the fourth option.

Reading (40 questions, 35 minutes)

The Reading section is all about comprehension. Does your student understand what he has read? Can he identify main ideas, determine cause-effect relationships, and draw conclusions based on contextual clues? Up until recently, four reading passages in the categories of fiction, social sciences, humanities, and natural science were included in this section, but the ACT has recently added a new twist by including a paired passage. Each passage is followed by a set of multiple-choice questions, and the student must draw on his analysis and reasoning skills to answer them. 

Science (40 questions, 35 minutes)

The Science section evaluates your student’s ability to interpret, analyze, and evaluate information, as well as his or her reasoning, and problem-solving skills. After reviewing scientific information such as a graph, a summary of an experiment, or conflicting viewpoints, your student will be presented with multiple-choice questions. The questions will measure his or her understanding of the concepts, ability to analyze relationships between information and conclusions, and aptitude for making predictions based on the given data.

Writing (30-minute optional essay)

After reading a prompt that defines an issue and two viewpoints, your student will be asked to take a position on the issue and construct an essay that includes multiple supporting arguments and acknowledgment of the counterargument. Her score will not be affected by which viewpoint she selects.

To learn more specifically about the content of each section, view this description of the ACT.

So, What Do People Mean When They Ask for My Verbal Score?

It is generally accepted that the verbal sections of the ACT are English, Reading, and Science because of their emphasis on reading comprehension and language. If your student chooses to take the optional Writing section, some schools consider it to be part of the verbal score. 

The Differences Between SAT and ACT Verbal


As you prepare to take your college admissions tests, make sure you know the differences between the SAT and ACT so that you have a clear understanding of how to prepare for each test’s verbal section. Generally, the Critical Reading and Writing sections of the SAT are categorized as verbal. 

Should Your Student Take the ACT Writing Section?

For starters, find out if the colleges on your student’s application list require the Writing section. (Review this list here.) If the ACT Writing test is not needed, consider whether or not your student’s essay score will likely be high enough to strengthen his chance of admission. The Writing test does not require any knowledge outside of what he or she has learned in school. To prepare, encourage your child to practice crafting argumentative essays in a 30-minute time limit. Check out these sample ACT writing prompts to get started.

Helping Your Student Prepare

Reading—and reading often—is the best way to prepare for the ACT verbal sections. Across all ACT sections, understanding the question’s context is key. Furthermore, your child will need to be able to draw conclusions based on the information that he or she is given. An easy way to practice this skill is to encourage your child to read articles in publications such as the New York Times, National Geographic, and The Economist, which often look at complex topics with varying viewpoints. Press your child to identify the writer’s main idea, tone, and any counterarguments presented. This will help him or her practice analyzing passages on the ACT. Skimming articles just to get through will not yield results on the ACT—your student will need to read the ACT passages carefully to ensure he or she can identify important ideas, evaluate grammar and mechanics, and draw conclusions. Review grammar rules as well, so that your child feels comfortable recognizing mistakes. And of course, practice tests will give him or her the best feel for what the test is really like.

Getting an Early Start on ACT Verbal Test Prep

The ACT evaluates skills that are emphasized in a typical high school curriculum. Your student’s preparation begins when he or she enters ninth grade, so be sure to register for challenging courses to stay on track. Another recommendation is to read novels and newspaper articles regularly, discussing with your student what he has read to confirm an understanding of the material. Check out more ways to keep your child’s mind sharp for ACT verbal sections here.

Test DayACT_Verbal

Remind your student to read everything carefully, including all answer choices. Is the question referring to a specific sentence or section, or the passage as a whole?  Referring back to the passage is key to making sure the answer best addresses the question. Most importantly, your child must answer every question. The ACT doesn’t penalize for a wrong answer, so if he or she is running out of time in a section, the best strategy is to randomly fill in any answer: some chance of getting the question right is better than no chance!

You will come across tremendous amounts of information as you research and help your student prepare for college admissions tests, and some can be confusing. We hope we’ve cleared up some of your questions here. 

Related Articles:

5 Ways to Improve Your ACT Vocabulary

ACT Vocabulary Preparation: Resources to Build Verbal Skills

ACT Verbal: 8 Tips To Maximize Scores

Standardized Test Sample Multiple-Choice Questions from Verbal Sections (Critical Reading, Writing/English)

Related Resources:

Free Proctored ACT Exam for Clients and Students in the Greater Philadelphia Area




A+ Tutoring also has sample ACT verbal questions that you can review to familiarize yourself with what you will see on the test.

Photo credits: Alberto G., ccarlstead



Contact Us


A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Philadelphia

505 York Road, Suite 6, Jenkintown PA 19046

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Montgomeryville

593-1 Bethlehem Pike, Unit #4, Montgomeryville PA 18936