Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.
Of the three passage types on the ACT Science section, Data Representation passages are the most straightforward but also the most chart heavy. These passages give you some data and ask you to analyze it.
This can be intimidating for students who don't feel comfortable reading charts and tables, so in this lesson, we'll learn how to break down a Data Representation passage into manageable chunks, tackle it piece by piece, and save time in the process.
Ready to start? Here's the passage.
We're not going to read the whole thing; that takes too much time. Instead, we'll read just the most important parts: the first sentence of every paragraph and the titles and axes of graphs and charts.
A wetland is an ecosystem saturated with water, either temporarily or permanently.
Great; now we know the topic of the passage: wetlands. We'll skip down to the table.
Table 1 below shows the fluctuation, in centimeters, of six wetlands.
Now we know what Table 1 is measuring. If we look at the titles on the columns, we see that the table describes six specific wetlands and how significant their water fluctuations were.
Water fluctuations in a wetland also depend on whether the wetland is temporary, seasonal, or semipermanent.
Moving on to the second chart, we can see from the title that this chart is giving us averages, not the fluctuation for any particular wetland.
By now, we have a pretty good handle on what's where in the passage. That's all we need to get started, and the clock is ticking, so it's time to forge ahead on to the questions. If we need anything else from the passage, we can always go back and look later; it's not going anywhere.
Some of the questions on the Data Representation passages ask you to just find facts in the passage, and others are a little more involved. First, we'll tackle a straightforward fact-finding question.
In which of the following wetlands was the water level fluctuation the smallest?
(A) Wetland 1
(B) Wetland 3
(C) Wetland 5
(D) Wetland 6
This question asks us about specific wetlands, not averages. So where do you think we'll need to look, the table or the chart? If you said the table, good job! Remember that the chart in this passage gives us average values by type of wetland, and that's not what we want. We're looking for a specific wetland, so we'll head to the table.
Now we just need to find which of the four choices had the smallest water level fluctuation. Wetland 1 had a fluctuation of 4.2 cm. Wetland 3 had a fluctuation of 2.4 cm. Wetland 5 had 17.9 cm, and Wetland 6 had 5.1 cm. The lowest of these values is 2.4 cm for Wetland 3, so Wetland 3 it is.
That wasn't so hard! Now let's try a more involved question.
Judging from Table 1 and Figure 1, Wetland 4 is most likely…
(A) A temporary wetland
(B) A seasonal wetland
(C) A semipermanent wetland
(D) Surrounded by grassland
Ooooh, tricky. But at least this one tells you where to look. First, let's go take a gander at Wetland 4. We can see that it's surrounded by cropland and that the water fluctuation was 32.5 cm. Using this information, which answer choice can we cross off right away?
Did you pick choice D? We know from the table that Wetland 4 is surrounded by cropland, not grassland, so we can immediately get rid of D even without looking at the chart.
Next, we need to see whether Wetland 4 is temporary, seasonal, or semipermanent. To do this, we'll have to look at the chart. We know that Wetland 4 is surrounded by cropland, so we can ignore the data about wetlands surrounded by grassland. Now we need to find a way to compare Wetland 4 to the data shown in the chart. What kind of information about Wetland 4 do we have that could let us do this?
If you picked water fluctuation, you got it. We know the water fluctuation of Wetland 4, and the chart gives us average water fluctuation levels for all three different types of wetland. So now we need to compare the data from Wetland 4 to the averages to see which type looks closest.
From the chart, we can see that temporary wetlands have a fluctuation around 30, seasonal have a fluctuation around 12 or 13, and semipermanent have a fluctuation around 5. Which of these looks closest to Wetland 4?
Did you pick 'Temporary'? At an average fluctuation of 30, temporary wetlands are the best match for the fluctuation from Wetland 4, which was 32.5 centimeters. All the other types are way too low.
In this lesson, we walked through some practice questions for Data Representation passages on the ACT. These passages ask you to break down some fancy charts and graphs, but once you get used to finding the information you need, they really aren't that tough.
Ready to prove your prowess on your own? Take a stab at five more questions on the quiz.
You should have the ability to do the following after watching this video lesson:
- Describe the structure and organization of Data Representation passages on the ACT Science section
- Identify the different question types on the Data Representation passages
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