If I had to describe ACT Science in one word, that word would be integrative. By this, I mean that ACT Science requires test-takers to integrate many different types of information together. Questions test your knowledge of many different elements in a scientific report: written passages, tables, graphs, and elements within the tables and graphs. Sometimes, you’ll even need to integrate new information that’s introduced in the questions themselves.
Putting all these elements together can seem like a daunting task at a glance, but with the right strategies, you’ll be able to piece it all together every time, getting a top score on the science section.
ACT Science Strategy 1: Know and Understand All the Parts of Tables and Graphs
Tables (ACT Science Tables and Graphs) consist of rows and columns. Each row and column has a label that tells you what is being measured or expressed in that part of the table. Within the labeled categories, each row and column contains plenty of specific data that you’ll need to comprehend, as you go through the questions.
Most ACT Science graphs have an X-axis and a Y-axis. Each axis measures a different variable or type of information. Between the X-axis and Y-axis, graphs coordinates show relationships between different variables. For example, a graph might use the X-axis to measure the passage of time in weeks, while using the Y-axis to measure the changing size of certain types of fungi. Together, the XY-axis would show the relationship between time and fungus size, revealing the growth rate of different fungi over time.
Study the different kinds of ACT Science graphs. Learn to identify and understand each part of a graph. Then practice connecting the data together so that you can understand the relationships shown in these visuals.
ACT Science Strategy 2: Study How to Read Tables and Charts
Because charts and graphs are so important on ACT Science, practice is imperative. To practice your scientific visual literacy, seek out research-related charts and graphs, and read them. There are a number of really great websites for that. I especially recommend Information is Beautiful, a website full of different infographics. A detailed explanation comes with each graph and chart. Besides the great ACT practice it provides, the information itself is often fascinating. Sites like Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and The Economist, also have some articles with graphs. To quickly seek out the infographic articles, do a custom Google Image search within a website. (If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s what a custom Google Image search looks like for The Economist. To search a different site, just change the URL in the search field.)
ACT Science Strategy 3: Find the Connections Between Passage, Text, and Images
Certain aspects of an ACT Science table or chart will seem unclear unless you’ve read the deeper explanation in the passage. Look for keywords in the passage that match the words in the graph or chart. Also pay close attention to the questions. Questions will often contain the same keywords as the readings and infographics.
Search for paraphrases as well. Sometimes the ideas in one part of an ACT Science question will be slightly re-worded in another part. For instance, a paragraph in the passage might refer to “forests,” while the question mentions “trees,” and the infographic names different species of trees.
ACT Science Strategy 4: Study Science-Related Passages
You should also get comfortable reading science-related passages in general and try to find scientific articles that you’re genuinely interested in. Even if you’re not a “science person”, science covers a lot of things that are relevant to your life and the world around you. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that you enjoy learning about if you search the web for science articles. The specific scientific subject you read in practice may or may not come up on the exam, but the academic vocabulary, the tone, and the scientific logic you see in practice reading will be important on the ACT Science section.
ACT Science Strategy 5: Focus on Logic and Reasoning
ACT Science tests your ability to use scientific logic and interpret science data. It does NOT test your content knowledge of the specific science subjects that appear on a test. So don’t try to become a master scientist, capable of deeply understanding any subject you see.
Instead, simply learn to understand the logic of the data. And detect patterns in the information, so that you can recognize ways that data might extend beyond what’s being measured in the dataset itself.
Suppose you come across an ACT Science chart that shows the average temperature of ocean water at different depths. A careful study of the data on the chart may show you that the temperature of the water gets warmer at greater depth, cooler at greater depth, or changes inconsistently with depth. Recognizing these relationships allows you to guess how additional data that’s not on the chart might play out, and it allows you to understand when it’s not possible to make a prediction.
Similarly, if you read a text carefully, you can make inferences about other scientific realities based on what the author says. If an author states, say, that colder air is denser and sinks instead of rising, you can infer that hotter air is less dense and naturally rises.
ACT Science Strategy 6: Study the Other Parts of the ACT
Above all, understand the close relationship between ACT Science and the other parts of the ACT as you study. ACT Science requires the same kinds of critical thinking and attention to detail as ACT Reading, and ACT Math demands a similar level visual literacy. If you can understand the various diagrams in the Math Section, you can apply those visual reading skills quite well to the graphics in ACT Science. So make sure you do your ACT Science prep alongside preparation for the Math and Reading sections.
Integrating These Strategies
Just as the different pieces of information in an ACT passage and question set are connected, these strategies fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Use your understanding of infographics, text and questions to understand how all the different parts of an ACT Science subsection fit together like a puzzle. Then recognize the way your puzzle-solving skills can be integrated with your logic skills.
Recognizing the ACT Science test’s information and comprehending its logic becomes surprisingly simple with practice. This type of integrative learning ability is very valuable, not just on the ACT, but also in your future studies… and in life!
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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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