The Science Isn’t About Science (Mostly)

The biggest differentiator in the content between the SAT and ACT is the inclusion of the Science section in the ACT.  The first time students take an ACT, they often find this section confusing or overwhelming.  For the same reasons that students have trouble with it, though, they often find it to be the easiest section to improve upon once they figure out what is going on.

What is tested

According to the ACT Org:

The ACT science test is a 40-item, 35-minute test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.  The content of the science test is drawn from the following content areas, which are all represented on the test: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth Science/Space Science .

Students are assumed to have a minimum of two years of introductory science, which ACT’s National Curriculum Survey has identified as typically one year of Biology and one year of Physical Science and/ or Earth Science . Thus, it is expected that students have acquired the introductory content of Biology, Physical Science, and Earth Science, are familiar with the nature of scientific inquiry, and have been exposed to laboratory investigation .

The test presents several sets of scientific information, each followed by a number of multiple-choice test items . The scientific information is conveyed in one of three different formats: data representation (scientific graphs, tables, and diagrams), research summaries (descriptions of one or more related experiments), or conflicting viewpoints (two or more brief theoretical models addressing the same scientific phenomenon that are inconsistent with one another) .

What does this all mean?  In practice, there will be 5 or 6 passages that deal with an experiment and will have 1-3 charts and graphs.  There will also be 1 passage that presents conflicting viewpoints about a science phenomenon (we treat this passage differently, as it is closer to a reading passage than the rest of the science).

How Students Improve

The main skill students need for this section is the ability to look up data from a chart or graph.  Typically more than half the section is comprised of questions that ask students to go to a chart or graph, look something up, and report back.  The second most important skill is the ability to understand the experimental setups.  If, for example, a scientist was testing how much they could stretch various materials, why would they keep the amount of material constant for all samples.  The third skill for this section is the ability to understand hypotheticals.  The ACT typically makes these very clear and there is an easy methodology for getting to the right answer.

The least important item for scoring well on the science section is science knowledge.  Only 1 or 2 questions out of 40 will deal with explicit science knowledge, and it tends to be along the lines of “hot air rises” or “opposite charges attract”.  They will NOT test any formulas or anything that requires memorization.

Students can improve on this section just by practicing the few skills listed above.  Once they get used to the way the test presents data in different figures and tables, the section goes from baffling to straightforward.

Want to learn more about the ACT or our instruction for it?  Give us a call at 610.688.6441 or follow the link below.