Data Representation Passages on ACT Science Reasoning

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  • 0:02 Data Representation
  • 0:41 The Passage
  • 2:16 Question Types
  • 4:31 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.

Wondering how you'll fare on the Data Representation passages of the ACT Science test? In this lesson, you'll learn what to expect and how to approach the passages to answer accurately while saving time.

Data Representation

There are three types of passages on the ACT Science section. In this lesson, we'll focus on just one of those types: the data representation passages.

As their name implies, these passages are all about the data - and that's what makes them hard. You have to sort through a whole lot of information very fast and then figure out how to apply it in the questions.

To help you succeed on the data representations, we'll go over the anatomy of one of these passages, so you can see in advance where the important information is likely hiding. We'll also look at some common question types and how you can use the information in the passage to answer them efficiently.

The Passage

Data representation passages give you some data on a scientific topic and ask you to analyze it. Typically, this includes a few paragraphs of text together with one or more graphic presentations, like charts and tables. The topic of the passage can be almost anything, so long as it's science-related.

Here's a sample passage:

Sample passage
sample ACT passage

You can see the typical structure: a couple paragraphs of writing and then some data laid out in a graphic format. In this case, you've got one table and one bar graph. But you don't have to read all that information. In fact, you shouldn't. You're only going to get a few questions on this passage, and you'll only need a small fraction of the information on the page. So, why would you waste your time reading all those facts you won't even use?

A better strategy is to first quickly get a road map of the passage. Look for the first sentence of every paragraph and titles and axes of graphs and charts. These are the most important parts of the passage because they tell you what information is where.

For example, in the one above, we can see that the passage is about water fluctuation in wetlands. The table shows fluctuations in some specific wetlands, and the chart shows average fluctuations for wetlands in general. Now you can save time because you don't have to read any useless information. As you approach each question, you can use your road map to know where in the passage you'll find the answer. You can zoom straight to the relevant information and ignore the rest.

Question Types

Now let's take a look at the types of questions you'll see attached to all this data. On a typical ACT Science passage, you'll get around five to seven questions. All the questions on the ACT Science test are multiple choice, and each question has four answer choices. All the questions ask you about the data in the passage, but they ask you about it in different ways.

First up are the questions that just ask you to go find something in the passage. Let's call them treasure hunt questions. There's no analysis, no head-scratching; just go find the information and bubble the answer. These tend to be easy and quick - hooray! For example, this one just asks you to go to the table and find a number:

Sample treasure hunt question
sample question

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