ACT Study Guide for the Science Section

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Your first look at the ACT Science section can be overwhelming: short passages about obscure topics interspersed with dozens of complicated charts, graphs, and tables. Don’t be turned off by the appearance! You do not need an in-depth knowledge of every field for a high score. The key to ACT Science is having the skill to quickly and accurately read and analyze new scientific data.

The section is divided into passages followed by questions. The pace is rapid; you only have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. The 7 passages cover physics, chemistry, biology, and earth and space sciences like geology, meteorology and astronomy.

ACT Science Guide: Research Summaries

The largest portion of the Science test (45-55%) relates to the structure of experiments. You must answer questions about experiment design and results, including comparing the way different experiments were set up. It helps to have a good working knowledge of running experiments so that you can quickly find the information you need.

Here's an example of a typical research summary question asking about variables and controls:

The actual data is not important in this question. According to the passage, the researchers collected samples “on the first day with a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.” Therefore, the answer is A. The actual date varied, as did the total number of nymphs. Though the chart always lists male nymphs at “1,” it is a ratio showing relative frequency, not actual numbers.

ACT Science Guide: Data Representation

The entire Science section is packed with charts, tables and graphs. About 40 to 50% of the questions ask you to analyze information from them. You need to be familiar with different styles of graphs in order to make conclusions and predictions based on the results shown. Some questions ask for a specific numerical answer.

This example asks about trends:

To solve a question like this, you do not need to know specific information such as what the Phanerozoic aeon is. You only need to search the chart for the blue line (the Exxon Project) and look at the change between 200 and 100 on the X axis. Remember the change is happening from the past closer to the present, and not from the present backwards. So, you have to read from 200 to 100 million years before the present (right to left). The correct answer is D.

ACT Science Guide: Conflicting Viewpoints

One passage includes the assertions of two or more individuals. Be sure to read the introduction; if you skip it, you will miss valuable clues. You need to compare the opposing stances and pick out specific details from each argument. Though there are only 7 conflicting viewpoint questions on the typical Science test, many students find them extremely difficult. One reason is that you must impartially evaluate the content rather than selecting the true option because some viewpoints may be false.

An example of such a question is:

First determine what the question is really asking. In this case, why does Student 2 think the new volcano is NOT a stratovolcano? The correct answer is A, since the student says the profile of the new volcano is not consistent with that of the new volcano. Answer B is incorrect, since it contains the opposite information. Eliminate answer C because the complex composition supports, not weakens, the argument. Eliminate answer D because it supports the argument for shield volcanoes, but does not weaken the argument for stratovolcanoes.

How Does the SAT Compare?

The SAT does not have a Science section. However, its latest version incorporates science skills by placing charts and graphs in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Language sections. Like the ACT, you do not need a deep understanding of the topic. Instead, you are asked to find information from the visual material which is both accurate and relevant to the accompanying passage. Overall, the visual materials on the SAT are less complicated and use simpler vocabulary than those in the ACT.

Also, the New SAT Math incorporates infographics and statistical analysis in a way to might make it even more similar to ACT Science.

Tackling the ACT Science Section

The ACT Science section tests your ability to interpret, analyze, and evaluate scientific materials. Don’t waste valuable preparation time trying to memorize random facts or formulas. The best preparation: your basic science classes have prepared you to understand scientific process from developing a hypothesis to gathering and analyzing data.

The Key to a Great Score on ACT Science!

Learn to read a variety of charts and graphs. Practice scanning passages for definitions of unfamiliar words. Try to clarify the different charts, graphs, and passages you come across as quickly as you can, achieving a full functional understanding. If you have a basic grasp of these skills, try a practice ACT Science section.

Become familiar with the types of questions, then try to complete them within the allotted time. Even if you are not strong in math or science, you can ace the ACT Science section.

Thanks to our friends at ScoreBeyond for putting together this study guide.

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