The ability to dissect the ACT Science passages – which include graphs, charts, diagrams, written summaries of research, experimental set-ups, and competing explanations for scientific phenomena – is both a critical skill to develop for success on the exam and difficult one.
While it may be tempting to skip through the introductory material and head straight to the figures, or even to move boldly to the questions that follow the passage, most of the problems can only be solved after thoroughly reading and noting trends in the passages. Some figures are just plain hard to understand, especially if they have multiple axes or don’t clearly state what is being measured. Most test-takers answer more of the questions, and more of the questions accurately, if they take the time to first analyze the data in the passage. At first the process may be slow, but as you learn what to look for, the gains are exponential.
Here, I have worked through each of the passages on ACT Practice Test 67C, available on this site and free to all students on the official ACT website. This test also appears in the preparation booklet for 2014-2015 that most high school guidance offices give out to students. The Science Test begins on page 40.
These passage notes are not inclusive, but they give a good idea of how a person scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT Science Test (that’s me!) is thinking about the science passages.
How to use this resource:
1) Just starting out in your ACT Science preparation: look at a copy of the passage descriptions side-by-side with the passage itself. Read through the bullet points one at a time and try to find the lines or parts of the figure in the passage that support the point. Do you understand how the information is presented in the charts? Does the experimental design make sense? Do you feel like there’s important background knowledge you don’t have? If it isn’t clear how a certain point is supported by the passage, mark it for review or send me a message.
2) More advanced ACT Science student: analyze the passage first. Take mental or written notes as you go, but do not answer the questions. Be conscious of the time – race yourself to read through each passage more quickly than the last. Then compare the conclusions you drew about the passages with the notes on each one. Are you seeing all the trends in the data? Did you miss any of the important details in the textual part of the passage? Is there a certain kind of information (the labels on the x- and y-axes, for example) that you routinely skip over?
3) Short on time: complete the ACT Science Test, timed. Check your answers. As a guide to figuring out the correct answer choices, use the passage notes to understand the passage in the first place.