ACT & SAT Prep and College Admissions Blog

ACT Science: Sifting Out What Matters (and what doesn’t)

Posted by Gaurav Dubey on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 @ 10:00 AM

The ACT Science section has a rather misleading name. Perhaps a better name would be the ACT Reading Section Part 2: Science Concepts. The exam requires no prior knowledge of scientific content or concepts. Instead, students are required to interpret data graphs, what the scientific method is and how scientific theories disagree from each other. These are concepts taught in every high school in the country. The ACT is a standardized exam that must provide a level playing field for all applicants, from all demographics across the United States. As such, it may be comforting to know that advanced science concepts such as DNA transcription and translation or the Hardy Weinberg Equilibrium won’t be tested. To succeed on this portion of the exam, exposure to ACT Science questions and practice solving them is critical. The following is an important tip to succeeding on the ACT science section:

Do NOT try to read and understand the entire passage and all its figures! The ACT purposely fills the passage and the figures with a lot of useless information that will not be tested. You should be skimming both with only two questions in mind: What is their point in writing this? What is this figure showing?

Let’s look at a sample ACT Science Passage and try to extract the main idea while tossing out all the details that don’t matter. What do you think the main idea is here and how can you paraphrase this simply?


Paraphrased Version: There is a really old lake. It was formed from glaciers. Trapped water and sediments tells us about the climate when they were deposited. Figure 2 shows a cross section (will cover below). Figure 3 deals with ratios and has a funny symbol before 18O. We don’t need to worry about that. Just know that the smaller values correspond to colder temperatures.

Now let’s look at Figure 2 and make sense of it.

Figure 2 below shows a cross section of the lake. Imagine, literally cutting out a rectangular piece of the lake to study. The top of it is the surface and as you move down in elevation, you experience the different types of sediment/rock. Do not worry about what “glacial till” is, since it’s very unlikely the ACT will ask you to define or understand it. We can see there are 3 different sites between the 2



locations of Winnipeg and Grand Forks. There are different sediment types and different elevations for all 3. For instance, at site 1, there is lake/clay at 200 m above sea level. However, at site 2, there is glacial till at that elevation.

These are some simple takeaways from this sample passage and figure to better understand how to effectively maneuver through the ACT Science section. Remember not to get caught up in details or spend too much time trying to understand the entire passage and all the figures. Search for the main idea, check the graph axis and try to extract the bigger picture. This will both save time and set you up for success instead of bogging you down with confusing, unnecessary details!










Topics: ACT, ACT/SAT study skills, ACT Science