ACT Science

How ACT Reading & Science Go Hand in Hand

If you work with two different tutors on your ACT test prep (as the majority of our ACT students do), then you need to divide up the test sections somehow so that each tutor is responsible for guiding you through specific parts of the test. The most common way to do that is to work on the three “verbal” sections (English, Reading, and Essay) with one tutor and then to work on Math and Science with the other.

In some ways, this division makes a lot of sense. For starters, it tracks a common way of classifying areas of knowledge more generally (humanities fields vs. STEM fields). And when you ask students (and tutors!), to describe their own academic interests or their strengths and weaknesses, they’ll often invoke this same divide, situating themselves on one or the other side of it.

But this certainly isn’t the only way to divide up the ACT’s sections, and for some purposes, a different approach might work better. One approach that I sometimes recommend is to work on the Science and Reading sections together.

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These two sections have a lot in common, after all: Both of them require you to engage in critical analysis, both require that the analysis be carried out under time pressure, and both require you to maintain your focus as you work through several multi-question passages. Many of the Science passages require careful reading, and these passages are just as much a test of your “verbal” abilities as anything else on the ACT is. (The “dueling-scientists” passages, in particular, test many of the same skills as the comparative reading passages in the Reading section—the ones with a Passage A and a Passage B.) Plus, every Reading section concludes with a passage about natural science.

To excel at both of these sections, then, you need to be able to read about science, and for many students that can be a new kind of challenge. High-school English classes usually don’t involve reading about science, and most high-school science classes do little, if anything, to develop students’ verbal skills.

So, here are some strategies to help you improve at that vital—and too often neglected—ACT skill:

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Make a habit of reading about science, beyond the reading you do during practice tests.

Two websites that I find particularly helpful are Science Daily and the “Trilobites” column in the New York Times. These two websites contain short articles—around the same length as an ACT passage--about recent scientific discoveries. When you read these articles, focus on both the substance of the discovery AND on the mechanics of the scientific experiments that yielded the discovery.

For practice, have a look at this recent article from Science Daily. (It just happens to be about a topic, butterfly mimicry, that has appeared on an ACT Reading section.)

When an ACT passage introduces a new concept (like “umbrella species” or “sky islands”), make an effort to understand that concept as you read.

Sometimes, the test’s editors will even help you to identify a key concept by putting the related term in quotation marks or by italicizing it. It’s a safe bet that you’re going to be asked about that concept when you get to the questions. So why not make an effort to grasp the concept as you read, rather than waste precious time looking back at the passage later?

After reading that article about the butterflies, can you explain the difference between Batesian mimicry and Mullerian mimicry?

When a passage describes a complex natural process, make an effort to understand that process as you read.

Again, this will save you time later!

After reading the butterfly article, can you explain how these butterflies acquire their foul taste?

When you’re reading about a scientific experiment, pay attention to details, and actively try to figure out what those details mean.

ACT Science passages often include questions about experimental design, and the key to those questions is often in the text of the passage, in what may have seemed like a minor detail.

In the butterfly article, you read that Dr. Prudic’s team conducted an experiment using praying mantids that were “hand-reared in the lab.” Why were these mantids “hand-reared”? That’s not extraneous information, but it takes a moment of thought to figure out its significance. And that’s just the kind of detail that an ACT passage would ask you about.

Improving your reading about science takes practice, but it’s one of the best things you can do to prepare for the ACT!

5 Things You Need to Know Before Taking the ACT Science Section

The ACT Science section can be intimidating. Its structure and content are a mystery to a lot of people - especially at first. However, a few basic pointers will do a good job in introducing you to the test and will put you on a path to bring your score to its full potential.

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It’s not rocket science

Is science not your ‘thing’? Not a problem! That doesn’t mean you cannot get a great score on the science section of the ACT. The science section is more a test of your abilities to read, interpret, and break down graphs and tables. General science knowledge definitely helps, but even if science is your thing, you are guaranteed to run into material that might look unfamiliar. Have no fear! Almost all questions for each passage can be answered without background knowledge of the topic presented. You do not have to be a top science student to get a great score.

Graphs and tables are your friends

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While general science knowledge might not be so important, one thing that you will definitely have to be good at is interpreting graphs and tables. A really big part of the science section involves interpreting data. Questions will ask you to find data points on graphs, hypothesize potential results based on trends, and combine tables to find different solutions. Understanding how to read and break down graphs and tables is one of the main skills of the science section.

Don’t sweat the fine print

Does all of that text in each science passage seem a bit daunting? The good news is that you can get away with mostly skimming these passages. One only needs to get the gist of what the experiment is doing before concentrating on the information that is on graphs or tables. Reading each science passage through all the way is an easy and silly way to lose valuable time on the test.

Timing, timing, timing

Much like the rest of the ACT test, the science test is all about timing. 35 minutes to answer 40 questions means that you have to make your way through the science section at a brisk pace in order to make it all the way to its end. Understanding your own personal timing patterns, and allocating time strategically are essential in order to get through all questions in the section.

Do not stress!

The most important pointer for all sections of the test. Unnecessary stress can affect anyone, especially after three hours into a long test, and it will make your brain work a lot slower. Work at a good pace and do not let the test get to your head. After all your hard work and preparation it's important to not let worries get the best of you and affect your performance, especially when you’re so close to the finish line!

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The science section can be difficult, but it is not impossible to break! If you apply these simple strategies you are sure to already start improving your science score on the ACT.

How to Stay Sharp Over the Summer

As the school year winds down, students are understandably looking ahead eagerly to the summer break. Regardless of where you are in your high school career, keeping your mind sharp over the summer is essential.

For freshmen, your sophomore year will offer a more challenging course load, sometimes featuring your first AP classes. It is crucial to build on the success you established your first year or turn the page and start anew if you struggled.

For sophomores, junior year will be seen as the doorway to college acceptance since you will likely be taking ACTs and SATs for the first time, along with juggling your busiest course load of high school.

Juniors who have finished with the SAT or ACT still have the rigors of college applications and a challenging fall semester to look forward to, while those who have not finished with the tests will have to gear up again for the fall exams.

And even for the seniors who are already accepted into college, I would remind you that the level of comprehension necessary for college courses far surpasses that of high school classes.

With all this in mind, I recommend that students do their best to avoid the trap of summer complacency, which can make starting the new school year all that much more painful. You should all pursue intriguing, unique experiences over the summer, but there are simple steps you can take to keep your mind functioning at a high level.

For most students, the most important step is to read consistently at a high level. Some of you are ambitious enough readers to tackle full novels, in which case you should check out our summer reading list here.  For those of you who feel overwhelmed by the commitment of a novel, challenge yourself to read one article each day in a publication such as The Atlantic, Popular Science, Scientific American, The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. These publications are written at a level similar to or above that which you will usually find on the SAT or ACT.

For those of you trying to get ahead on your SAT or ACT prep or make a strong final push for the fall exams, I would strongly recommend a consistent review of the English rules and math equations, as well as steady practice with your past mistakes. Even 10 to 15 minutes of work each day can make a significant impact on your readiness at the start of the next school year.

So challenge yourself to stay sharp and keep yourself ahead of the curve this summer!

 

-Jamie K, Test Prep Advisor & Instructor