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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Science: Using Key Terms

One of the most fundamental strategies for doing well on the ACT Science test is knowing how to identify the key terms in the question and find them in the passage. Because you don’t have time to read and understand everything in the Science passages, it’s essential to be able to quickly pull out the key pieces of data and find and use them. It’s about training your brain to hone in on finding key terms rather than understanding everything that is going on in the passage, and it will allow you to increase the number of questions you can confidently get right.

So, what are “key terms”?

Key terms are the words, phrases, units, and numbers you will be looking up on the figures and in the passage or that you will be applying to answering the question.

Key terms are always:

  • the name and number of the figure, table, or experiment to which the question refers
  • names of substances, objects, categories, etc.
  • any numbers or percentages that appear in the question
  • any trial or group numbers that appear in the question
  • anything that is capitalized or has a numerical value
  • what the question is actually asking you to find

For every single question on the Science test, underline the key terms. This helps keep you engaged and focused on what is important.

Here’s an example question:

Based on the results in Figure 1, which of the following could be the absorbance values for samples containing 4 ppm of chromium and copper, respectively?

And here it is again with the key terms underlined:

Based on the results in Figure 1, which of the following could be the absorbance values for samples containing 4 ppm of chromium and copper, respectively?

Now let’s try to answer it:

Based on the results in Figure 1, which of the following could be the absorbance values for samples containing 4 ppm of chromium and copper, respectively?

  1. Copper: 23%, Chromium: 25%
  2. Copper: 23%, Chromium: 34%
  3. Copper: 13%, Chromium: 25%
  4. Copper: 13%, Chromium: 34%

Now, here is the figure you need to answer the question with the key terms circled on it. You should do this as well when you are annotating the Science test to help avoid making mistakes.

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See how the key terms automatically point us to the answer? Copper at 4 ppm is at about 13%. Chromium is off the charts but if the line continued we could guess that it would be at about 34% ppm, so our answer is D. This will help you out on even more complex questions as well.

It takes a little self-discipline to force yourself to underline or circle the key terms on every single question, but it will greatly reduce the number of errors you make on the ACT Science test and help your brain zoom in on what is important, and this makes it well worth it!

 

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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of train running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.


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