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Easy Test-Taking Tips: Succeed with the Science Section of the ACT!

June 21, 2019

 

Let's talk about one of the trickiest sections of the exam, the Science Section...

 

First, recall the Science Section's basic format:

  • it has exactly 40 questions

  • it will have 7 or 8 "passages" 

  • each "passage" is basically is a set of graphs, tables, and short paragraphs about a science experiment or science topic followed by a set of 5-8 questions

  • you will get 35 minutes to finish (that's about 5 minutes per passage)

  • no calculator is allowed for the science section (don't worry, you won't need it!)

Second, remember this core fact for your strategy:

 

The Science Section of the ACT will be difficult to master until you understand that it's really not a science test at all!

 

Instead the Science Section is more like a test designed to see if you can read the "sciency" data that they, the makers of the ACT, pack into the graphs and tables you will see in its passages.

 

That's good news for all you exam takers out there who may not feel like strong science students! You just need to master the basic skills of reading graphs and tables. And use common sense.

 

Some examples of ACT Science graphs and tables:

 

BASIC SCIENCE SECTION STRATEGIES

1) JUMP RIGHT TO THE QUESTIONS!

Don't read through the often confusing information in each of the sections 7 or 8 passages; instead jump right to the questions! You will save precious time and the questions themselves are designed so that you can do this. Most of the questions will tell you outright--or at least give you hints--that you only need to look at a single graph or two in order to answer the question correctly. Once in a while you might need to scan some of the written info for a key word or idea, but only do this if you think the question requires it.

 

2) FOCUS ON THE GRAPHS AND TABLES!

Most of the questions ask about the data in the graphs and tables. They might ask about specific bits of data, like "According to Figure 1, when was the temperature highest?" Or they might ask about a pattern in the data, like "According to Table 2, as the current in the circuit increased what did the resistance values do?" For each type of question above go look at the graph or table in the question and see if you can find the specific value or pattern they are asking about. Then eliminate as many of the incorrect answers that you can because they don't match the information the question is asking about. It often isn't necessary to know what the real science in the experiment is about in order to correctly find data in graphs or see patterns on graphs. Remember to carefully scan the keys and axis labels for the graphs asked about in each question. They are there to help you find the info you need.

 

 

3) DON'T OVERTHINK THE QUESTIONS!

The science section is not full of deep scientific questions. Instead it is full of simple questions, but the tricky part is that the questions are terribly worded. In other words they ask easy questions in confusing ways. So even if you are not sure what they are asking about in a given question, DON'T OVERTHINK IT! Answer the simple question that you think they might be asking and then move to the next question.

 

4) READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY AND USE P.O.E.....PROCESS OF ELIMINATION

This tip applies to the whole ACT! Don't try to save time by rushing through reading the questions. This will just lead to silly mistakes because you won't know what is being asked. And once you have carefully read the question, don't look for the right answers, instead look for wrong answers. This is what P.O.E. is all about. Remember, the ACT is a multiple choice test and there is always just one correct letter choice for each question; therefore, there are always more wrong answers than right ones. Therefore, they are easier to find because there are more of them. Each time you find a wrong answer and eliminate it you have increased your odds of guessing correctly.

 

5) USE YOUR COMMON SENSE!

Some questions in the Science Section will ask you about stuff that is not in the graphs and tables or the short paragraphs and captions. These types of questions are not as common as graph and table based questions, but they are a part of each exam. But don't panic! Just use your common sense to answer them. For example, they might ask you why the researchers or students who did a particular experiment recorded the weight of an empty beaker before filling it with a certain chemical. Can you guess why? You might recall from your earliest science lessons in school that in order to measure the weight of a liquid you have to know the weight of the container holding it so you can then subtract that out. It's these types of questions that are sprinkled throughout each science exam. 

Other common science ideas and terms commonly asked about on the ACT:

  • control groups are experimental subjects that are left alone so they can be used to compare with the experimental subjects. For example, to test a medicine some patients will take the actual medicine, but others will get a fake version so the researchers can see if the medicine really works. The patients who got the fake medicine would be called the control group.

  • constants are factors in an experiment that don't change. For example, if you want to test a new plant fertilizer, you might give each plant in your experiment the same amount of water and sunlight so you don't have to wonder if these factors are affecting your final measurements.

  • independent variables are the things you are testing in an experiment. A few examples: new medicines, chemicals, drugs or genes.

  • dependent variables are things in an experiment that you measure to see if your independent variable causes anything to happen. For example, in an experiment to see if a new plant fertilizer helps make bigger plants, you might measure the length and weight of the stems of your fertilized plants every week. These weight measurements would be dependent variables and the fertilizer would be the independent variable. 

  • pH measures acidity and goes from 0 to 14. acids have pH's that are from 0 to 7. Smaller numbers indicate a substance is more acidic. Bases have pH's that are from 7 to 14. Bigger numbers indicate a substance is more basic. Water has a neutral pH of 7. 

  • Dominant genes are represented with capital letters like B or A or any other capitalized letters. 

  • Recessive genes are represented by small case letters like a and b or any other small case letter.

 

6) MANAGE YOUR TIME PER PASSAGE!

You can best manage your time on this section of the test by shooting for spending about five minutes per passage so you can finish on time. When begin the Science Section, note the time. After the first passage if you are at about five minutes keep that pace for the rest of the section's passages. If you are over five minutes, guess quicker on the hard questions and make up some time. If you are way under five minutes, slow down--you may be rushing yourself needlessly! That's when students make silly mistakes.

 

7) NEVER WASTE TIME ON HARD QUESTIONS; INSTEAD GUESS QUICKLY AND MOVE ON!

Remember that all ACT test questions are worth just one point! So it never makes sense to keep working one question. It will only waste your exam time. Much better to guess quickly and get to more easier questions the exam before running out of time. You will maximize your score if you follow this simple rule.

 

GOOD LUCK AND LET US KNOW WHAT HAS WORKED AND NOT WORKED FOR YOU ON YOUR ACT SCIENCE ATTEMPTS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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