How Many Passages are on the ACT Science Test? What Should I Expect?
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- Overview of the ACT Science Test
- Types of Passages on the ACT Science Test
- How Does Your ACT Score Impact Your Chances?
One important distinction between the SAT and ACT is that the ACT has a science section. The ACT Science Test often seems daunting to high school students, causing many to opt for the SAT instead. However, don’t let the name intimidate you–if you can master the different types of passages on the ACT Science Test, you’ll be well on your way to a competitive ACT score. In this post, we’ll cover the different types of passages on the ACT Science Test, and how to tackle them.
Overview of the ACT Science Test
The ACT Science section is the last required section of the ACT test (followed by the optional writing section). The ACT Science Test requires that you answer 40 multiple-choice questions within 35 minutes. Each question is associated with a passage, and there are a total of about six passages on the test (in the past, there have been seven passages). The questions are sorted into three categories:
Interpretation of Data (40–50%)
Scientific Investigation (20–30%)
Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25–35%)
Each passage has about five to seven associated questions. Contrary to what you might think, you’re not really tested on your knowledge of scientific concepts so much as your critical reading and reasoning skills.
Types of Passages on the ACT Science Test
Data Representation passages (2–3 per test)
These passages are generally the most straightforward. You’ll typically see text, graphs, and/or tables. With these passages, the ACT seeks to test your ability to:
Interpolate and extrapolate data
Identify relationships between tables and graphs
Essentially, you’ll need to become familiar with analyzing graphical and visual information. To best answer these questions, make sure to read the text carefully. Students often overlook the text in favor of the images, but in some cases, the answer to a question is found within the text.
Also, pay attention to labels and titles on the graphs and tables. These are key to understanding the information given. Some of these questions may seem deceptively simple, but are easy to miss due to a reading error, so make sure that you’re analyzing the appropriate information.
Let’s try some practice problems:
We need to find a minimum on the graph in Figure 2. But, keep in mind that the question is asking for the relative humidity associated with the minimum value, so we’ll need to focus on the \(x\)-axis of the graph.
This problem is tricky since it’s hard to pinpoint an exact value for the minimum. Instead, let’s create a range and see which answer choice falls into it.
Also, keep in mind that we’re only looking at the curve associated with 1,000 Hz. The minimum occurs somewhere between 30% and 50%. Only one answer choice falls within this range, so the correct answer is B.
This question introduces a new graph. Let’s first determine what this graph is showing us: how varies with relative humidity. The question wants us to determine at what temperature is the data in Figure 1.
This is where reading the text becomes important. If we look at the sentence right above Figure 1, it says the relative humidity is 10%.
That means that we’ll need to look at the data values at 10% humidity in our new graph:
1,000 Hz: 14 dB/km
500 Hz: 9 dB/km
200 Hz: 3 dB/km
Now, we’ll need to go back to Figure 1 and determine at what temperature the three curves hit these values, respectively. We see that, at around 0°C, the curves hit the above values. So, the correct answer is B.
Research Summaries passages (2–3 per test)
Research summaries passages focus on one or more specific experiments. You’ll be asked about both the design and results of the experiments. These questions will definitely test your reading comprehension and data analysis skills. Again, this means that you’ll need to read carefully to ensure maximum success.
Here are some sample questions to practice:
This question is asking about the design of the experiment, so we’ll need to look closely at where \(H_2\) and \(N_2\) are in each step:
Pipe A, then the condenser
So, we see that \(H_2\) and \(N_2\) went through the following order: reactor, Pipe A, condenser, Pipe B. This corresponds to answer choice C.
We’ll need to analyze the data in multiple graphs. Let’s first look at Figure 2. We need to determine which trial (as in, at what temperature) produced 550 kg of \(NH_3\). But, we don’t know what the value of pressure is. So, let’s look at Figure 1, and the description states that the pressure was 150 atm.
This means that we need to look at which curve on Figure 2 goes through the point with 150 atm and 550 kg \(NH_3\). This is the curve associated with 300°C.
But, we’re not done here! Remember that the question asks us for the number of cycles. So, since Experiment 2 used Catalyst Z, we’ll need to look at Figure 1 to see the number of cycles associated with Catalyst Z at 300°C. This value is less than 5, so the answer is A.
Conflicting Viewpoints passages (1 per test)
Conflicting viewpoints passages are typically characterized by paragraphs titled with “Scientist X” or “Student X.” The goal of these passages is not to determine which viewpoint is the correct one; rather, you’ll need to understand the differing viewpoints and answer questions accordingly.
When approaching these passages, treat each scientist’s or student’s view as a separate, mini-passage. If a question only asks about Student 2, only look at the introduction and Student 2’s paragraph when answering that question. If a question asks about multiple students, pay attention to the differences between them.
An easy way to do this is to summarize each person’s viewpoint as you read. For the above passage, your summary might look like this:
Ice, mud, and light wind move the rocks
The process takes a few days
Mud, algae, and strong wind move the rocks
The process takes a few hours
Tectonic plate movement and strong wind move the rocks
The process takes a few years
Now, we can try a few practice problems:
This question only asks about Scientist 2, so we’ll only look at their explanation. Scientist 2 clearly states that the temperature is not cold enough for ice to form, so we can immediately eliminate answers A and C.
Also, Scientist 2’s explanation states “the presence of mud and algae reduces friction,” so answer choice D is the correct answer. If we had paid attention to Scientist 1, we might have been tempted to select one of the choices with “ice” in it, so it’s especially important to make sure that we’re looking at the correct information.
For this question, our brief summary becomes very useful. We see that the researcher observed strong winds (we can assume that 80 miles per hour wind speeds are characterized as strong). So, based on our summary, this is consistent with Scientists 2 and 3, making H the correct answer.
Check out some of CollegeVine’s other guides to the ACT Science Test:
How Will My ACT Score Impact My College Chances?
Your ACT score is used, along with your GPA, to assess the academic strength of your application (though this has changed in recent admission cycles due to COVID-19 and test-optional policies). Still, having a competitive ACT score is important to improve your chances of admission to top universities.
To determine how your score will affect your college chances, use CollegeVine’s Admissions Chances Calculator! This tool will predict your chances at your dream schools by considering your test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, and course rigor. It’ll even offer tips on how to improve your admissions profile, and, best of all, it’s free!