Aug. 14, 2019
The ACT Science is an often intimidating test that covers topics from geology to meteorology and even astronomy. I wouldn't blame you for feeling like you need to brush up on a little outside knowledge before sitting down for the exam. However, just because the subject of a Science passage might be one you either haven't covered yet or one you covered several classes ago, there's no need to worry! You won't need to rely on outside knowledge to snag a good score here. What you will need is a solid understanding of how the section works overall in order to formulate your best approach.
While the subject matter on ACT Science may vary pretty greatly, there are a few things that will remain consistent test-to-test. First, there will always be three types of passages:
- Data Representation (Charts and Graphs)
- Research Summaries (Experiments)
- Conflicting Viewpoints (Fighting Scientists)
Two of these passages — Data Representation and Research Summaries — will be accompanied by very similar question sets, each comprised of three different question types:
- Look It Up
- What If?
As with every section of the ACT, your goal should be to learn as much as possible about the general structure and operation of ACT Science beforehand so that you're not caught off guard when you're taking the actual test. To help, here's a guide to each of the questions the test makers will throw in on these sections.
Look It Up questions are by far the most straightforward of the three, asking you to, well, look things up. More specifically, you'll be asked to look up a specific piece of information in one of the accompanying charts or tables. Sometimes you'll be looking for multiple pieces of information and comparing them, but even in that case, all of the information you'll need is right there in the test booklet — you won't be asked to draw on any outside knowledge here. Put your pencil directly on the figure, find the relevant information, and you will find the answer right where the ACT is hiding it.
What If? questions can be slightly more involved than Look It Up questions, as they'll ask you to make predictions, draw conclusions and analyze data. Still, these can typically be answered with information from the figures given — the predictions will always be extensions of the data already given with no tricks thrown in. For example, if something is getting hotter as time goes by and you're asked to predict its temperature after some more time passes, usually only one of the answer choices will give a higher temperature. What's being tested here is not your expertise on a given subject or experiment, but instead your ability to look at the data and figure out how it is changing. Look for trends in the data (such as numbers increasing or decreasing) and use Process of Elimination (POE) to narrow down the options to the one that best fits the pattern.
Last but not least are the Why? questions, which will deal with the ideas behind the setup of an experiment. In these instances, you might be asked to identify a control, explain an assumption on the part of the scientist, or determine the best way to study a particular variable. But while these may seem a bit more daunting, they will still only cover general concepts like the workings of the scientific process rather than anything specific to the given experiment. Underline the key variables in the question and use POE, focusing on eliminating answers that don't address the issue presented.
With a firm understanding of these three question types, you'll be well on your way to scoring high on ACT Science. (Just be sure to brush up on Conflicting Viewpoints passages, too!) For more on the science section of the test, check out our book Math and Science Workout for the ACT. And for inside tips and strategies for every section, check out ACT Prep.
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