Master the Dash

Our students are sometimes surprised when we tell them that the Advantage Point teachers still take the ACT test a few times each year. (It’s actually kind of fun once it’s not determining your future!) Taking the tests helps us notice trends on the ACT so we can better prepare students. The ACT hasn’t changed much since 2005 (when the optional writing section was added) but there are a few subtle changes from year to year. So here’s my question for y’all: has anyone else noticed the slow, stealthy, increase of dashes?

That’s right, dashes. Questions involving a dash (as either a correct or incorrect answer) have been increasing slowly but steadily. Back when I was in high school (gosh, that makes me sound old), we probably saw a dash question once every other test. On the last test, I noticed four questions involving this up-and-coming punctuation mark.

I personally am a chronic dash user, so this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. In case you’re rusty, let’s go over a few dash rules.

The dash works almost like parentheses or commas, but you need to pull it out when stronger punctuation is needed. It connects an independent clause with an ‘interrupting’ thought. (Hint: ‘independent clause‘ is just a sophisticated way to say ‘a chunk of words that can stand on their own as a sentence.

On the ACT, a sentence that is using a dash will have the following structure:

  • Independent clause — interrupting thought— (for/and/or/but/yet/so) + independent clause.
  • Independent clause — interrupting thought.

Here are a few examples:

I’d better have gotten that online daily deal—it’s for my favorite hair salon—or I’ll have to go back to that $5 haircut place that made me look like my grandmother’s poodle.

Well, I unfriended him on Facebook—yes, it was hard—but I did it!

That waiter spilled raspberry vinaigrette on my head —and he expected a tip!

Dashes are also used to offset lists placed in the middle of an independent clause when commas are already being used. Here’s an example:

All of my phone memory—pictures, texts, contacts—got lost when I dropped my phone into a boiling pot of macaroni.

So far, the dash situations above are the only ones we’ve seen tested on the ACT. Brush up now and you can nail those questions on test day. Good luck!