You may be an A student in your Chemistry class, dominate your Physics homework, and scored a 5 on the Biology AP—and still find that, when you approach the ACT Science test, that it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. This unfamiliarity with the unique test format and content, probably more than any other factors, is precisely what trips students up. The quick solution? Take practice tests. Brush up on the logic of scientific reasoning. And learn as much as you can about the way the test “thinks.”
How the ACT Science Test Thinks
Of course, the test itself isn’t actually thinking. The test-makers, on the other hand, most definitely are. What they’re thinking is that schools have different science requirements, and a student may not be required to take advanced chemistry, or physics, or other courses that teach scientific content. It wouldn’t provide an equal playing field for students who took widely divergent classes to all have to take the same test. That is, if it tested content extensively.
Because guess what’s NOT hard about the ACT Science test? Science facts. Very, very few questions on the ACT Science test are actually testing science facts per se. You read that right! Instead, the test is probing scientific reasoning. This is everything from your ability to read ACT Science charts and graphs to your skill in synthesizing information from several studies. It might involve understanding what a control group is, or how independent variables play into a specific experiment design. From time to time, you may be asked to solve a problem for which you need to know that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (as in, H20), but it doesn’t often get more complicated than that.
How to Think Like the ACT Science Test
So what can you do to make the ACT Science test less difficult? The most important thing is practice. You definitely need to look at a lot of practice tests to learn how the test is encouraging you to read the data, the kinds of scenarios that you will often come across, and—most importantly—how to sift through huge amounts of information at once. Some science passages may have five or more charts or graphs, in addition to the written passage itself. If you spend too long looking over that data, you’ll lose precious question-answering time.
Familiarity is the key to success on the ACT Science test. Although it can seem overwhelming, the important thing is to start preparing as early as you can, make sure you understand what’s being asked of you, and to work with the information that’s on the page, rather than the biology factoids you memorized for a pop quiz three years ago. In short, get into the psychology of the test—so the test doesn’t psych you out.
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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