SCIENCE and the ACT

By Pratik Choudhury

(Test Preparation (ACT/SAT/SSAT), IGCSE/MYP Math & Physics, IB Physics tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

SCIENCEThe purpose of this blog is to help you understand the importance of academic content knowledge and reasoning skills required to tackle questions associated with ACT Science passages.

The content tested includes biology, chemistry, Earth/space sciences (geology, astronomy, and meteorology), and physics.

ACT Science section comprises of three kinds of passages

  1. Data Representation,
  2. Conflicting Viewpoints, and
  3. Research Summaries

Data representation passages are relatively straightforward as they involve the least amount of reading. The questions associated with such passages ask you to interpret data tables, extrapolate information from various graphs, analyse diagrams and figures. Though scary it may sound, but one need not be an expert or have prior knowledge in science in order to be able to tackle the questions related to it. However, some questions – barely a few – ask for information related to common scientific knowledge, which are usually straightforward and can be guessed using clues and connectors. In some data representation passages, one can go straight to the question and answer it correctly without reading any explanatory material whatsoever. You may just have to refer to one chart beforehand to make sense of the type of question.

Note: You’ll know it’s a Data Representation passage if you see several large graphics like charts, tables, diagrams, and graphs. If you see a lot of reading in paragraph format, you’re not reading a DR passage!

>> Read more on Pratik’s previous science blog “Projectile Motion”

Even though ACT science section is not a mathematics test, but you are still expected to work with numbers which is why ACT science can be tricky. Often, experiments or research will be explained numerically in a table or graph, and those numbers could be explained in millimeters in one table and meters in another. If you accidentally count the millimeters as meters, you could be in trouble. Another issue that students often ignore and end up wasting more than allocated time on a question is that they do not pay much attention to abbreviations. Keep a watch out for that!!!!! 

When it comes to conflicting viewpoint passage, I would suggest that you save it for the last as it involves proper reading. Conflicting viewpoint passage involves two or three differing takes on one theory. Attempt to interpret each theory by locating key components and by finding similarities and differences between the two. The moment you start reading, make notes in plain language on the side of the paragraph – similar to paraphrasing in the reading section. Make a list of the key components of each and summarise each scientist’s basic idea. Don’t get bogged down in the language as you summarise.

Note: Look for the difference in trends between the passages.

Don’t be afraid to write all over the paper, as it is yours for 35 minutes.

DO NOT waste time reading the entire passage. If you run into some data or results that you do not understand. Wait until you are asked about it, which you probably will be, rather than wrecking your brain beforehand and becoming overwhelmed. If you think you need to read a specific passage in its entirety, skip that passage and come back to it after completing the others.

Some passages will contain various unseen scientific jargon, don’t get caught up in that and stress yourself out as they seemingly look scary. Simply put the questions in your own words.

It is beneficial to brush up the general science taught in Grade – 10; however, don’t spend too much time doing so. The chapters in electricity and mechanics are the ones particularly useful to look back into.

In addition, it is also hugely beneficial to familiarize ourselves with important scientific terminologies such as aerobic, carcinogen, alloy, catalyst, biomass, erosion, indigenous, osmosis, ph scale, viscosity etc.

Time management is another important issue. Most of the time test takers are unable to complete the science section as they spend a lot of time on a particular question. You definitely don’t want to run out of time, leaving some easy questions unanswered in later passages. Pace yourself. You should be spending about five minutes on each passage. 

Overall, Stay calm and focused.


Need help with your ACT/SAT? Check out our courses here or call us for more information on private lessons/additional course offerings.

Check out The Edge’s other ACT Blogs

Causeway Bay: 2972 2555 / Mong Kok: 2783 7100

About The Edge

The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off a very successful year in which 84.62% of their clients were accepted into one of their top 3 schools and an astounding 48.15% of their Ivy Plus* applicants were accepted. (The general acceptance rate was only 7.61% last year) Check out the rest of our 2017 Admissions Results!

*Ivy Plus: All Ivy League Schools + Stanford & MIT