In all three types of ACT Science passages, you will need to be able to understand how evidence is presented and be asked to answer questions based on the evidence. These are a bit like Reading questions.
To interpret evidence correctly, you need to focus on the results. Draw logical conclusions based on the presented data, and actively read the information in the accompanying passage. It’s important to know the difference between direct and inverse variation.
To answer Interpreting Evidence questions correctly, ask yourself these 3 questions: – What is the evidence presented? – Whose position is supported by the evidence? – What does the evidence suggest?
Interpreting evidence for Data Representation and Research Summaries ends up requiring more Data Analysis skills, since data is a large component of those passages. For Conflicting Viewpoints, interpreting evidence is a matter of keeping the two theories (two scientists) straight. Watch this video for a strategy on how to do this!
This video describes how to answer “Inference” questions on the SAT and ACT Reading Test. You may wonder what this has to do with ACT Science, but sometimes interpreting evidence is a LOT less scientific than it sounds, and a LOT more like reading comprehension. Remember that you can only make an inference BASED on something directly stated. Incorrect answer choices are frequently “out of scope.”
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.
The key to better scores on the ACT Science Test Conflicting Viewpoints passages is to hunt down each author’s point of view. As you read each passage, look closely for keywords that help you identify the author’s opinions.
If there are multiple paragraphs, remember that the scientist or student usually uses the first few sentences to introduce his topic and start a discussion of the main idea. The final paragraph wraps up the discussion and reinforces the Main Idea. If you are having trouble finding what the overall point of view is for the passage, go back to the very beginning and the very end.
Don’t feel like you need a big background in Science to get Point of View or other Science questions correct. These are very close to Reading Test questions! Use these three tips:
Even if you have a bad SAT or GRE score, a few strong recs can tip the scales back in your favor when it comes to undergrad and grad school admissions! Here’s how to get awesome ones!
If you succeed in undergrad and graduate school, your old teachers, employers, and friends will be thrilled that they were able to help you along the way. Everyone needs recs, so don’t ever feel guilty about asking. Think about who really knows your character and who can best comment on your readiness to take on graduate school.
Don’t feel like you need to get the most famous person you know to write you a letter of recommendation. A letter from Bill Gates is worthless if Bill Gates doesn’t really know you. As this blog suggests, even research advisors or volunteer coordinators will work!
This post is geared to JD applicants, but makes an important point: you need to help your recommenders know more about you!
Don’t write their letter for them, but do give your recommenders your personal statement, recent resumes/transcripts, and describe for them your “story.” They should know how you want the admissions committee to perceive you, so they can gear their letter towards your strengths.
One type of ACT Science passage, Research Summaries, will present descriptions of one or more related experiments and will require you to answer questions about one or both experiments. To compare them accurately, answer the following questions as you read. Make sure to underline, circle, or otherwise mark up the passages as you read!
1. How is each experiment set up? Make sure you understand the method for each experiment. What tools/processes/chemicals are used?
2. What does the data show? Pay close attention to the results of each experiment. Usually this is presented in tables or charts. How do the different variables relate to one another? Draw arrows on the tables to show the trends. Keep the following definitions in mind:
Independent variables: These are 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 have control over the variable, it is independent.
Dependent variables: These are factors that the scientists observe changing. This is what the look for and how they record data — but they don’t control it.
Direct variation: This is when two things change in the same way over time. If Column A increases and Column B increases at the same time, we can say that the two vary directly.
Indirect variation: If when Column A increases, Column B decreases, there is an indirect (also called inverse) variation between the two elements.
3. How do the experiments differ? There will be certain elements common to both experiments, and one or more elements will change from Experiment 1 to Experiment 2. Circle the new information. Then focus on the results – do the variables interact similarly or differently in the 2nd experiment? Is the range of data greater or smaller?
The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions (10 questions on each passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 passages, so pacing yourself is essential.
One way you can focus your timing is to briefly flip through the entire test BEFORE you begin. You will always see 4 passages and you must always answer all 40 questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to approach them in the order in which they are presented on the test. As you practice, you will start to realize which passages are easier and which are more challenging for you.
For example, if Prose Fiction is your strong point but Natural Science passages make you nervous, it may make sense for you to do the Prose Fiction passage first and save the Natural Science passage for last. Just because the Natural Science passage is first, doesn’t mean you’ve got to do it right away. If you do decide to skip around, make sure you are still bubbling in your answers into the corresponding numbers on the answer grid. You don’t want to lose points because you bubbled incorrectly!
Another way you can pace yourself appropriately is by practicing your active reading skills. Do you find yourself getting lost in the details or are you someone who tends to read too quickly and miss some of the important information? For the ACT Reading Test, you’ve got to strike a balance between reading for the author’s point of view and for the function of each paragraph and also noting the location of important details in case you need to come back later. Make sure you underline anything that seems significant to you – look for words and phrases that reveal the author’s opinion or summarize or give the main idea of each paragraph. Practice with an egg timer. If you are spending more than 3 minutes reading and marking passages, you are risking not being able to finish all of the questions on test day.
Once you feel confident in your Reading skills and strategies, it’s important to practice before your test day by taking a few full-length practice reading sections. Full-length practice tests are available in ACT practice books at local bookstores, at your local library, and are even downloadable online. Find a quiet place where you can take the practice session and clear off the table or desk. Try and eliminate any distractions and do the best your can to mimic your test-day environment. Keep a clock or timer in front of you so you can periodically check and see how you are doing. You may want to set the timer to go off every 9-10 minutes. If it does and you are still on the same passage, it may indicate to you that you need to practice your strategies in order to get through the test. Don’t rush, but make sure you can move confidently from one passage to the next and answer ALL questions in the time allotted.
Remember there is no wrong answer penalty on the ACT test so you need to make sure to bubble in something, even if you are running out of time!
The Data Representation format on the ACT Science Test will ask you to understand and interpret information presented to you in graphs or tables. Occasionally there will also be charts, scatterplots, and diagrams.
As the video below outlines, it’s important to REALLY analyze all the data you’re given. The point of Data Rep is to determine your ability to pinpoint and extract conclusions from a series of data. 38% of the ACT Science passages will be in this format.
Making sure you have a strong understanding of the data will save you lots of headache when you read the questions. The questions will be so much easier if you spend just a few minutes focusing on the data. Check out tutor Jim Jacobson’s strategy for just how to do that in this video!
Need to see a passage in action? Sparknotes reviews some basic strategy, then shows you a passage exactly like one you’ll see on Test Day. Start with the intro, then when you get to the chart, you should glance over it to make sure that you know what’s being measured and that, in general, you feel comfortable finding information in the chart.
On Test Day, 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. Even if your knowledge of Science is limited, you can still get a great score!
Pacing is by far the most important aspect of the ACT Science Test. Don’t wait until two weeks before your test to get started. You will only have about 5 minutes per passage, so you may want to start by only doing 5 passages, allotting 7 min per passage. Once you can confidently do 5 passages with reasonable accuracy, work your way up to 6 and then 7.
Check out more information about the ACT Science Test and try some practice questions on your own on this Learnboard!
Passages dealing with Biology on the ACT Science Test may feature some of these concepts: body systems, cellular biology, photosynthesis, ecosystems, evolution, and genetics. Everything you need to know about them is in the passage!
This video covers the basics of Biology on the ACT — the topics are wide-ranging as you can see in the video. Stop the video before it begins talking about Physical Sciences. You can check out the ACT Science: Physical Sciences Learn Board to focus more on that later on!
Scientists have acquired biological knowledge through processes known as scientific methods. You will see that the experiments described in the Biology passages tend to follow these 6 steps:
Looking for even more Biology brush-up so you feel more confident with the subject matter of the passages? These online Biology video lessons help students understand Biology concepts so that they can improve test and quiz scores and more easily complete homework for your high school science class! Basically every possible ACT Biology subject is covered here!
In Conflicting Viewpoints passages, several different viewpoints or hypotheses will be presented on a scientific phenomenon. This is the least common of the three ACT Science passage-types.
The basic strategy for attacking this passage type is to:
Identify the phenomenon
Understand the basic theories
Circle the support
Unlike Data Rep or Research Summ passages, the Conflicting Viewpoints passage will not focus on data and results. This passage type is much more like RC. Keep the questions divided between the passages and don’t mix up the author’s opinions!
The main goal of Conflicting Viewpoints passages is to understand what the argument or conflict is about and what is different about each of the points-of-view.
Now that you know a little bit about the Conflicting Viewpoints passages, check out this sample passage and 4 questions. Notice the format of the intro paragraph, Scientist 1, then Scientist 2. On Test Day, you’ll be able to mark up the passages directly in the test booklet!