Your Guide to the Conflicting Viewpoints Passages on the ACT
The first step in your ACT preparation should be to familiarize yourself with the passages you’ll see on the ACT. I’m here to help with the next step: figuring out how to tackle them! I want to focus on the Conflicting Viewpoints passages, as these are the ones that trip students up the most on test day.
In this type of passage, you’ll face two or more hypotheses about a scientific phenomenon, and then you'll have to identify the differences between or among the viewpoints as well as the information the scientists use to support their points of view.
Here are the steps I recommend you take for these Conflicting Viewpoints:
1. Read the Introduction First
These passages will always have a (fairly short) introduction. Your job isn’t to understand and absorb every detail in the introduction. Rather, read quickly and look for the central question. In other words, what is the conflict about? That will help put the different perspectives in context.
2. Preview the Questions
The questions will either ask about a specific hypothesis or ask you to compare them. It’s not only easier to answer questions about each side first, but it’s more effective, as doing so will help you to see the differences between them. I suggest labeling each question by which hypothesis is mentioned (or which hypotheses are mentioned). Doing so can help you figure out which hypothesis to read first, and how to put it all together.
3. Choose One Side to Tackle
After previewing the questions, you should be able to tell if one hypothesis has more questions about it than the other(s). This is generally the place to begin. Look for the main point of that side, using what you know the questions are looking for to avoid nuggets of information that are just there to distract you.
4. Take on the Other Side(s)
Repeat Step three for any remaining hypotheses. Use what you’ve learned from the first scientist to help inform your reading, underlining major differences/disagreements between them.
5. Compare and Contrast
Some questions here will pit the conflicting viewpoints against each other, and if you’ve been taking notes as you read through each, you can quickly match the questions to the relevant information you’ve been underlining.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind that can help make Conflicting Viewpoints even more manageable.
What to Look for When Reading the Hypotheses
Be on the lookout for:
- The main idea
- How this hypothesis agrees from the first
- How this hypothesis disagrees with the first
Once you find the main idea, tackle the questions, referring back to the passage only as needed while you work through them and underlining any important information as you go. Don’t waste time underlining what you think will be important. Base this on your knowledge of the questions and on what’s different between hypotheses.
Your goal is to tackle the most straightforward questions first, the ones that require only the main idea of the hypothesis.
Use Your Notes to Compare and Contrast
After you’ve finished the individual hypothesis questions, you can focus on the task you have left: comparing viewpoints between the hypotheses. Good news: Your earlier readings should have already given you enough information to ace these questions! If not, the notes you made will certainly help. Take a look at what you underlined in each hypothesis and always be aware of which hypotheses a question is mentioning — if there are three hypotheses given and a question only references two, you don’t want to use the wrong information! (It’s a good thing you labeled them before you even started, though, right?)
Don’t let Conflicting Viewpoints throw you off the ACT Science section. Just take my advice and remember to read one scientist at a time, so that you can better understanding their debate. If you want more inside tips like this, check out our book Cracking the ACT for help on every section of the test! You can also gain familiarity with these specific question and passage types by taking a practice test before the big day.