ACT Science – Research Summaries Strategy

The ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 7 passages and you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them. That’s about 5 minutes per passage so moving confidently through this test is essential! It takes practice to gain confidence in interpreting data and understanding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. Luckily, you already have all of the skills necessary to do this from your high school Science classes.

Research Summaries involve one or more experiments conducted by a group of students or scientists. Often some type of phenomena will have been observed and the experiments will be set up to investigate how certain factors affect the phenomena. Often a graph, table or figure will accompany the description of the experiments to show the results. Here are some strategies to help you with these!

Make sure to underline the Purpose & Method for each Experiment as you read (don’t wait until you finish reading everything or you won’t remember!). The Purpose tells you why the scientists are conducting the experiment. What are they trying to find out? Look for verbs like “to study…” or “to examine…” in the first explanatory paragraph. That is often where the description of the Purpose can be found. The Method for each experiment will be described in the paragraphs that follow. Make sure to make note of what is similar and what is different between the two experiments if there is more than one. Sometimes the scientists will change one or more factors between the experiments to see if the results change.

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Factors, also known as variables, are important elements in these experiments. These are often things like temperature, pH, pressure, time, distance, etc. Depending on the way the variable is being used in each experiment, it can be called either dependent or independent. Independent variables are those factors that are controlled by the scientists. Did the scientists increase the heat in the experiment? Did they add or remove pressure? If the scientists were the ones controlling the variable, it is independent.  Dependent variables are what the scientists observed changing. Let’s say that when the scientists increased the heat in our hypothetical experiment, the time also increased.

To analyze the results, make sure to read all the text provided, including the title of each table. What is in each column? Make sure you understand how the labels in the data correspond to the descriptions in the passage. If there is a graph, read what is on the x-axis and y-axis. You should be doing this anyway to understand the factors, but it’s very important to read every single word on the page BEFORE diving into those questions! Don’t skip over anything just because it looks confusing or has unknown verbiage. A huge part of success on the ACT Science Test is simply knowing where to look for the right answer to the question!



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