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ACT Science Section

Teacher/Instructor Devorah Goldblatt
Devorah Goldblatt

Case Western Univ., summa cum laude
Perfect scorer on the SAT & the ACT

Devorah is the founder of Advantage Point Test Prep and the author of the book “Boost Your Score” The Unofficial Guide to the Real ACT.

So for a lot of students the Science section is kind of like their monster on the ACT. They feel pretty good about what's going to be on the other three sections and then for Science, they're really wondering, "Oh, oh". You know, "There's a lot of terminology. What Science do I have to know? What's going to be tested?" Don't worry about it, just relax. Here is the cool thing, we have some amazing strategies for the Science Section and by the time we're done talking about Science, you're going to feel really, really good about it. You're going to learn that actually in the Science Section it doesn't test any Science at all. I mean, it tests Science but you don't need any pre-existing knowledge for it. All you're going to need is basically the graphs and charts that are presented and with our strategies, you wouldn't even really need to read most of the passages at all.
So let's get started but first, we'll talk about instructions and the format. Let's take a look at the instructions and format of the Science Section. Instructions: 'This test contains seven passages, each accompanied by several questions. You should select the answer choice that best answers each question. Within the total allotted time for the subject test, you may spend as much time as you wish on each individual passage. Calculator use is not permitted'. So in this episode we're actually going to talk about the passage types and the question types you'll see and by the way just to know before we go the next slide, 'calculator use is not permitted'. Don't worry about it. They just say that to freak you out, you'll never need a calculator on a Science Section.
Format: '35 minutes for 40 questions'. That's a lot to do in that allotted time. You've got 35 minutes for 40 questions and remember the seven passages that go along with those. 'Three passage types' and we'll talk about those today. 'Seven passages overall in no particular order'. So you'll have three passage types and together you'll have three of one type, three of another type, which we'll talk about and one of the third type for a total of seven passages. Let's take a look at the passage types.
So first passage type, 'data representation passages'. These contain one or more charts or big graphs and test your understanding and ability to use the information. There'll usually be a few sentences describing what you're going to see in the chart or the graph and then one or two charts or graphs. There are three of this type, the data representation with five questions on each so a total of 15 questions in all linked to data representation passages.
Let's look at an example so you see what I mean. Here we go, I'm not going to go into it right now because we'll look closer later but we've got a big diagram here and if we spend enough time, we would kind of analyze it and see what's going on and then there will be some five questions attached and you see you've got a little blurb on top which is kind of explaining what's going on, just giving it some context. So that's what you would see with 'data representation'. Let's move on.
The second type we are going to talk about is 'research summary'. Now these passages present two or three connected experiments and then the data collected from them so you'll see experiment one, experiment two, experiment three, usually a paragraph about each of the experiments, sometimes with a lot of jargon but we'll talk about how we don't need to worry about that and then a chart or a graph or a table depicting the evidence that was found or how the experiment was performed and there are three passages that are 'research summary' passages, six questions on each so a total of 18 questions dealing with 'research summary'.
Let's look at an example. So you'll have kind of an introductory paragraph, a lot of scientific terms talking about what happened in the experiments. Then you'll see something like experiment one with some details about how experiment one was performed along with a table that just represents what happened and it gives you some more details about what they found in the experiments. Then you'll maybe have a diagram or two thrown in and then you'll have experiment two which will have some details about what happened to experiment two and then just representation, again a table or a graph of what happened with experiment two. So there we go, that's what you would see when you look at our 'research summary' passage. Now remember three of these, six questions on each for a total of 18 'research summary' questions.
Okay, let's move on to conflicting viewpoints. We've got only one of these and these look the most like the reading section of the ACT. You're not really going to see charts or graphs on these, all you'll see are two kind of long paragraphs and what that is are two scientists arguing. You'll see something like scientist one, scientist two and a fight between them all in text. So you'll have scientist one and scientist one's opinion. Scientist two, scientist two's opinion and both conflict, that's why it's called conflicting viewpoints and of course burning questions will ask you about the scientific theories being presented and how they agree and how they disagree and there are seven questions attached to conflicting viewpoints' passages. That's it for passage types. Hopefully you feel really good about the passage types that you'll see on the ACT. Later we'll go into depth, into each of these passage types.
Let's dive in to the four question types you'll see on the ACT. We've talked so much about how predictable the ACT is, how cool that there are only four question types that you'll ever see and they'll just repeat consistently throughout the test. Let's go ahead and take a look at the four question types you'll see on the Science part of the ACT. Now we've talked about how predictable the ACT is and the Science section does intimidate some students but how cool is it that there's only four question types that will just repeat consistently throughout the science section. So feel really, really good because we're going to go over them and you'll know exactly what to expect. Let's get started.
First one, 'straight-from-the-chart', and these just do what they sound like. They ask you to pick up information straight from a chart or a graph. Let's look at an example. 'Approximately 80 years after the abandonment of cropland, the land would contain' what? Tricky because we don't have the table or graph that goes with it but if you remember earlier this will be easy because this is an example of a time when on a chart or graph it would just have 80 years and you would say, "Oh what corresponds on the land?" It will be more clear when we actually look at an example that uses this question type.
Okay 'spot the trend', these are questions that test patterns and as you look through the passages you look for patterns or something increasing or decreasing. The ACT will always ask a lot about what's going on, any trends that you'll see in the passage. An example would be a question like this: 'On the basis of the data, depicting the gradual change from pine forest to an oak-hickory forest, after 100 years as the density of the pine trees, does it increase? Does it decrease? What happens to the density?' These are just straight forward trend questions that you'll see on a chart of graph, things about what patterns happened in the experiments or just in the charts and the graphs.
Next, 'scientific method'. Now this question type asks about how an experiment was performed, you know, how different variables were switched around so this is an example here, 'Which of the following was a constant in both experiments?' and again we'll look at the passage that this corresponds to much more closely. This is just an example of a question type and you see how they're asking about how an experiment was performed, what was the thing that stayed the same?
Okay, last question type, 'scientific theories' and this question type just tests something about scientific theories, how they compare or contrast. Usually these show up on those conflicting viewpoints passages, words all about scientific theories. Here is an example, 'scientist two will most likely agree with which of the following statements?' So this is coming from conflicting viewpoints. You've got scientist one and his or her opinion, scientist two, his or her opinion and then a question asking about their theories. Great, so that's it for the four question types.
So hopefully now that you know exactly what to expect and how predictable the Science Section is, there are going to be no surprises on the ACT and it's just not that scary anymore.