09 Aug 2017

Dissecting the ACT Science Test

Look away from the microscopes and stop memorizing Avogadro’s constant, because it’s time to break down some science.

Remember, the ACT Science Test is the final test (or section) of the ACT. The section has 6 passages, 40 questions, and is scored on a scale of 0-36. Unlike the other sections, the difficulty of the science test varies wildly from administration to administration, so while the number of questions you answer correctly may remain relatively consistent, your scaled score can swing. And remember, your scaled science score is one component of the all-important 0-36 ACT composite score that universities use for admissions. Although most students believe the passages in the science test are completely random, the science test has a pretty standard passage distribution: 2 Charts and Graphs, 3 Experiments, and 1 Fighting Scientists. For this post, we’re going to investigate the main technique to help you improve on the Charts and Graphs passages.

The first step to success for Charts and Graphs passages is to stop reading the words and look at the charts and graphs. When we say look, we don’t mean just look at them.

We mean to interpret them. We mean identify the variables. We mean notice the correlations. This is obviously easier than it sounds. Why? Take a look at these two graphs from the ACT:
Graph 1

These graphs don’t look too bad:  We’ve got percent alive on the y axis, days on the x axis, and  3 individual lines w/ keys to help us distinguish between the 3 things being measured.  Additionally, this graph shows a pretty clear negative correlation between % alive and the passage of time:  the more days, the more dead.  Just like a good zombie movie.

On the other hand, check out this graph:


What in the Sweet Einstein is going on here?  The only thing immediately obvious is the threshold of pain, which we’ve arrived at just by looking at this graph.  However, a little more investigation provides significantly more information.  On the x axis is increasing intensity (in db); the y axis provides increasing frequency (in Hz); the top gives us increasing S percentages; finally, the key indicates what the dashed and solid lines represent.  On the graph itself, the curved line that looks like an ear gives us the threshold of hearing, and of course we already identified the threshold of pain.  So, this graph is representing the hearing function of some animal.  Once we’ve deciphered the graph, we can worry about the questions.

That’s what we mean when we say look at the charts and graphs first.  Interpret them. Finally, please remember this:  don’t be scared.  These are designed to confuse and frighten test takers, but in and of themselves, they aren’t terrifying.  Like any good information conveyor, they only provide a graphic representation of data.  If you find any of this confusing, or if you have any questions about the ACT, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected].

And now, a sloth says what we’re all thinking: