ACT Science Reasoning: Strategy

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  • 0:06 Science Strategy
  • 0:40 Saving Time
  • 3:22 Managing Tables
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Looking for some tips to help you ace the ACT Science test? Here you'll find helpful hints to get past the two biggest issues students commonly have: time and tables.

Science Strategy

To understand how to approach the ACT Science test, first you have to understand what makes the test hard. It's not because you have to memorize a lot of facts, and it's not because you have to be a science whiz. The two big challenges of the ACT Science section are time and tables.

The test moves very fast, and a lot of the information is presented in graphic formats that are designed to be confusing. That's what makes it so hard. But with some smart test-taking skills, you can beat both of those challenges at their own game.

Saving Time

Let's start with the first problem: time. On the ACT Science test, you have to read around five to seven passages and answer 40 questions about them in just 35 minutes. That's a lot of work in not a lot of time.

Fortunately, you can save some time by avoiding a very common mistake: don't get caught up on the passages. The passages are long and dense. If you wanted to completely understand each passage, you'd probably have to take ten minutes to read it.

But you don't have ten minutes, and what's more, you don't need it. You don't need to completely understand each passage. You just need to know enough to answer the questions - that's what you get points for, not reading the passages. Your goal is to spend minimal time on the passages and move on to the questions as fast as possible. If you need anything later, you can always go back and find it.

Instead of poring over each passage trying to understand everything it says, skim each passage and go straight for the good stuff.

Read the first sentence of every paragraph. Read all the first sentences, to get a quick feel for what the topic of the passage is. Is it talking about animals, weather, seeds in test tubes, outer space? You don't really have to understand what's going on; just get a feel for the topic.

Focus on the titles and units of graphs or charts. Don't waste time looking carefully at the individual data points; just get an idea of what each graph or chart is measuring.

In the example below, you can see that the chart is measuring four different species - dogs, cats, horses and goats. There's information about the total number of animals, number of males and females and breeding age. That's all you need to know for now.

Example chart
example table

The goal here is not to remember the information. The goal is just to learn what information is where, so you can look it up later if you need it. For example, if you had a question on the number of male cats, you would know where to go to look for that information: it's in the chart. Then you could go to the chart and get only the information you need. This is much more time-efficient than trying to memorize the whole chart at the beginning.

Another time-saving trick is to hop around from question to question. The questions on each passage aren't in order of difficulty; easy and hard questions are all mixed together. If you get a question that's too difficult, just go on to the rest of the questions in that passage. You'll probably find something easier, and easier means quicker, which means more points for you.

On the other hand, don't skip from passage to passage. This just wastes a lot of time in rereading the passages over and over. Do as well as you can with each passage and then move on.

Managing Tables

Now let's talk about the other huge obstacle that students face on the ACT Science test: how on earth do you interpret all the tables, graphs, charts and diagrams?

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