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David Recine

ACT Science: The Scientific Method

The Science Knowledge You Need for the ACT: The Scientific Method

The range of Science disciplines you see in ACT prep materials can be intimidating. Take The Real ACT Prep Guide. In the first practice test alone, the Science Section includes readings and questions on volcanic geology, the environmental relationship between birds and plants, the way temperature controls molecular expansion, solar radiation in the earth’s atmosphere, the vertical migration of different shrimp species, the physics of fireplaces and chimneys, and methods for measuring nitrate saturation in meat.

Honestly, I got tired just typing all that. So how on earth are you supposed to know about all these things? The answer is that you that you don’t need to know much about all of these scientific disciplines. You see, the readings in ACT Science are designed to be introductory passages. They’re meant to be understandable even to someone who has little or no familiarity with the passage topic.


In order for you to understand these introductory writings, you will need some general science knowledge. In this post, we’ll look at a basic science idea you must understand if you want to get a top score in ACT Science: the scientific method. The scientific method is the key underlying concept behind all science data found on the ACT.

Google Dictionary defines the scientific method as “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

This widely accepted definition guides all valid scientific research. When carried out correctly, the scientific method yields useful, reliable results. Beyond the dictionary definition, the scientific method involves a number of procedural steps. In a nutshell, the steps are as follows:

  1. Observe some kind of scientific phenomenon.
  2. Describe what you’ve observed and the evidence of scientific facts you see. This description is called a hypothesis.
  3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions about what might happen under certain circumstances.
  4. Test those predictions by conducting science experiments to see if they’ll come true.
  5. If the results of the experiment challenge your hypothesis, repeat steps 2 through 4 again. Come up with a new hypothesis based on both experiment results and your original observation, and test it with a new experiment. Keep repeating steps 2 through 4 until the experiment proves one of your hypotheses.
  6. Once an experiment proves your hypothesis, your hypothesis can be reported to the scientific community as a valid theory.

Of course, if your hypothesis is proven to be true immediately in the first experiment, then steps 2 through 4 don’t need to be repeated and step 5 isn’t necessary. Sometimes scientists get lucky and prove their hypothesis on the first experimental try, but more often than not, they don’t. Multiple experiments are usually needed before a hypothesis can become a proven theory.

Knowing the scientific method will help you immensely on ACT Science questions that require deductive reasoning. You will sometimes be asked to identify a fact that is probably true, based on the data you see. At other times, a question may present a new observation or variable that was not mentioned in the passage and you’ll need to use the logic of the scientific method to infer the impact of the new data.

Beyond those specific question types, the ACT incorporates knowledge of the scientific method comprehensively throughout the Science section. Every ACT Science passage and question set revolves around experiments and/or data collected from experiments. A fluency in the scientific method will allow you to take in ACT Science information with confidence and good comprehension.

So make sure you really learn the scientific method during ACT prep. Learn the definition, learn the steps and learn the logic behind the steps. That way, you’ll be prepared to give intelligent answers regarding any field of science you see on the test.


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About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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