5 Non-Science Skills Students Must Have to Succeed on the ACT Science Test
One of the major differences between the ACT and SAT is that the ACT includes a dedicated science test. However, this can be deceiving. In actuality, students taking the ACT can get by with very little science knowledge and still be successful.
The truth is, if students are preparing for the science section of the ACT by memorizing the periodic table and practicing plant species classifications, they’re wasting their time. Given the way the test is structured, test prep focused primarily on science content won’t help much. Instead, test prep tutors should help students develop the non-science skills that are essential to getting a perfect score on the ACT Science Test.
Most questions on the ACT Science Test are accompanied by explanatory text. These short passages tend to get straight to the point and provide the readers with the essential information for understanding a concept, experiment, and/or data set.
What these texts lack in length, they more than make up for in density. Take this ACT-aligned practice example from the Clear Choice Prep curriculum for instance:
In just three short paragraphs, test takers are presented with a lot of information:
- The first paragraph provides conceptual background of saline lakes.
- The second paragraph describes a study of saline lakes.
- The third paragraph describes the data provided by the study.
Each piece of information in these readings will apply to at least one of the multiple-choice questions that follow. Higher difficulty questions will require comprehension and analysis of several key details from across all of the provided information.
Odds are, the average student isn’t doing a deep dive on saline lakes as part of their test prep routine – nor should they! Instead, test takers should rehearse the critical reading skills required to extract and comprehend all of the information they are supplied.
To do so, students need opportunities to engage with this unique type of text as part of the lead up to test day. Honing in on ways to interpret both the test’s structure and format will better equip students to seek out correct answers regardless of the underlying scientific content.
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Using context clues
Students must also be prepared to grapple with terminology in the ACT Science Test’s readings and charts that they may not know.
As a help, scientific jargon in the ACT passages usually appears in italics. These italicized terms are then typically followed by enough contextual support to clarify their meanings. Tutors must give students opportunities to put these helps into practice with authentic practice materials and actionable advice.
Clear Choice Prep’s ACT Science curriculum helps prepare test takers for this skill. For example, take this excerpt from a practice problem dealing with the chemical property of solubility:
The scientific terms solubility, saturated, solute, and precipitate are all italicized. In the case of solubility, the sentence that follows the word’s first appearance indicates that solubility is a chemical property pertaining to how readily a compound dissolves in a liquid (water in this case). Whether a student walks into their testing center knowing what solubility means is irrelevant; the reading contains that information if he or she knows where to look!
Test prep tutors should expose students to practice problems that follow these context-friendly conventions. This will help students approach whatever science content and jargon the ACT throws their way.
Beyond written passages, the ACT Science Test is chock full of charts, graphs, and tables that test takers must interpret. Students should be prepared to read and evaluate:
- line graphs
- scatter plots
- bar charts
- pie charts
- stacked bar/pie charts
Regardless of the actual science content, test takers must be able to read and understand these kinds of figures and examples. That means students need practice deciphering characteristics like scales, axes, and headings as well as applying concepts like interpolation/extrapolation and estimation.
Furthermore, unlike the written passages, these data sets often include more information than test takers need. Weeding out the extraneous data is another skill that requires attention during test prep.
Apart from charts, graphs, and tables, the ACT Science Test often includes also helpful diagrams and drawings. Since actual experiments can't happen during the test itself, simple diagrams often accompany experiment scenarios for clarification purposes.
For instance, in this ACT-aligned practice excerpt from Clear Choice Prep’s ACT Science Test materials, the experiment is both explained in writing and depicted visually.
Students should be able to use a combination of both the text and the diagram in order to make sense of the questions and data that follow. To support this, test prep tutors should draw students’ attention to the use of common verbiage between the experiment paragraph and illustration – in this case, the terms weight, block, and platform are used in both places.
Success on the ACT Science Test (especially for non-science minded people) requires making the most of all the provided information. These types of simple diagrams can help clarify wordy and potentially confusing descriptions.
Perhaps the most fundamental challenges test takers face on the ACT Science Test is to simply finish it in time. Completing the 40 questions in 35 minutes is no small feat. Students need practice assessing and responding to questions quickly.
Not only that, when the going gets tough, students need to know when to make an educated guess and move on. Wrong answers and blank answers are scored the same, but only one has the chance of being correct!
To prepare, test prep tutors should keep track of how long it takes students to complete specific types of mathematical and reading tasks. A stopwatch and the resulting data will demonstrate whether there is a need for additional pacing practice.
When all is said and done, the ACT Science Test is less about science and more about careful reading and attention to detail. Regardless of a student’s science background, there is a realistic pathway to success when tutors craft the right test prep plan and rely on the best available materials!
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