Examining the ACT Science Test
If you’re worried that you’ll have to spend your time prepping for the Science portion of the ACT memorizing crazy numbers of facts and terms, fear no more. This section shares very little with your high school science classes – there’s no cramming your noggin with textbook knowledge here. Unlike school, and like the English and Reading sections on the ACT, the Science questions will all tie back to a given passage that precedes them. More than anything, this section is here for you to prove your ability to process information using scientific reasoning skills.
In addition to that, there are a few other facts about the ACT Science that can help you prepare as well as possible before test day:
What’s in a passage?
There are three types of passages for this portion of the test:
- Data Representation (Charts and Graphs)
- Research Summaries (Experiments)
- Conflicting Viewpoints (Fighting Scientists)
Among these, Conflicting Viewpoints will typically present you with the fewest questions (usually around seven), while Research Summaries will give you the most (about 21 across three separate passages). Data Representation will fall right in the middle with 12 questions across two passages. The content of each will vary, but again, don’t worry if you see a subject you’re less familiar with — you won’t be asked to recall, just interpret.
What’s in the Science Passages?
Although you’re not expected to memorize anything about biology, physics or chemistry, these are still among the subjects you’ll encounter on this portion of the test. In addition, you may also see things like astronomy, geology and meteorology.
So does that mean that if you studied chemistry sophomore year and are taking the ACT junior year that you’re at a disadvantage? Not at all! The information required to answer almost any question given on the ACT Science test will be offered somewhere within the passage itself. Of course, the test isn’t going to come right out and give you the answers; you’ll be expected to know where to look. That’s why it’s important to know what should catch your eye and what you shouldn’t let distract you.
(Note that there will be about two questions in Science that rely on outside knowledge. But these deal with the big, important concepts that you should remember, such as “What is the process that plants use to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates?” And if you don’t know or aren’t sure, use Process of Elimination, pick an answer and move on!)
Where to Focus in the Science Section
Almost every passage for science will come with some type of figure — these are typically the best places to look when searching for an answer. When given data, it will almost always be presented to you in a visual way, which can give you a great advantage when figuring out what to mark on your answer sheet.
Showing your scientific reasoning skills means demonstrating that you can spot trends and patterns of variables. It means you can recognize the relationship between figures and viewpoints. Great places to start are those that don’t have as much information to digest, or those with patterns that are more apparent:
- Easy-to-spot trends: Look for graphs that have all lines or curves heading in one direction. If they all point up, go down or remain flat, that’s something that might be useful to an answer.
- Numbers in the figures: In order for there to be a consistent trend, the figure will use numbers, not words or symbols.
- Short answers: Chances are good you will be able to choose an answer for a question with short answers faster than one with long answers — look for those with numbers and words like increase or decrease.
- Small tables and graphs: Sometimes a passage will have only one table or graph, which means the information you need is right there and you usually won’t have to go searching for it. These are great questions to knock out quickly.
All of this essentially falls under determining your own personal order of difficulty (POOD) to choose some questions to go to first and some that you won’t bother with unless you have extra time at the end.
While there may not be any way to predict which exact topics you’ll see on your ACT, practicing these scientific reasoning skills by taking ACT practice tests is a great way to help. As with any section of the ACT, time is of the essence. But with a better understanding of how each section is laid out, you’ll have a great head start to beating the clock.