What to Expect on the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science section can cause a lot of unnecessary worry among test-takers. However you can still receive a strong score even if you aren’t a budding Albert Einstein. Careful reading and note-taking (the same skills you use for Reading Comp!) are enough to answer most questions. Remember – the answer has to be based on the information in the paragraphs and/or tables. You just have to know where to look!

The ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 7 passages and you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them. That’s about 5 minutes per passage so moving confidently through this test is essential! It takes practice to gain confidence in interpreting data and understanding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. Luckily, you already have all of the skills necessary to do this from your high school Science classes.

Experiments of some type are described in most of the passages. A group of scientists will be studying some type of phenomenon. They will usually conduct two experiments to see how certain factors affect the phenomenon. Often a graph, table or diagram will accompany the description of the experiments to show the results. Here are some two important steps to help you analyze the experiments:

1. Identify the Purpose & Method

Make sure to underline the Purpose & Method for each Experiment as you read (don’t wait until you finish reading everything or you’ll be too confused and overwhelmed). The Purpose tells you why the scientists are conducting the experiment. What are they trying to find out? Look for verbs like “to study…” or “to examine…” in the first explanatory paragraph. That is often where the description of the Purpose can be found. The Method for each experiment will be described in the following paragraphs. Make sure to make note what is similar and what is different between the two Experiments. Sometimes the scientists will change one factor or more factors between the experiments to see if the results change.

2. Understand the Factors

Factors, also known as variables, are important elements of the experiments. These are often things like temperature, pH, pressure, time, distance, etc. Depending on a way the variable is being used in each experiment, it can be called either dependent or independent. Independent variables are those factors that are controlled by the scientists. Did the scientists increase the heat in the experiment? Did they add or remove pressure? If the scientists were the ones controlling the variable, it is independent. Dependent variables are what the scientists observed changing. Let’s say that when the scientists increased the heat in our hypothetical experiment, the time also increased.

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