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Test PrepACTScienceActive Reading

ACT Science Skill Review: Active Reading

The Science test, like the Reading test, is often cited by students as their least favorite (read: most difficult) part of the ACT. Why? It is because the passages are often complex with lots facts and figures and usually involve unfamiliar subjects. This can cause those of us with any trepidation whatsoever about science a lot of anxiety. Add to the mix some test fatigues and things can get really difficult.

First, let’s take a look at the types of questions appearing on the Science test. The questions fall into three general categories:

  • Understanding: These questions ask you to reiterate parts of the passage. This could include looking up a value on a graph or explaining the underlying assumption behind the passage. Familiarity with the passage and the ability to recognize where in the passage the answer will be found are critical.
  • Analysis: These questions require a deeper understanding of the information in the passage. You’ll be expected to recognize relationships and trends in the data. You may also be asked to synthesize information from different parts of the passage to generate a predication or an explanation.
  • Generalization: These questions expect you to put things into perspective (the so-called “big picture”). You may be asked about things not described in the passage or you may be given new experimental conditions such that you must predict the outcome.
To improve your performance on these types of questions, you’ll want to change your approach to the Science test as a whole and transform from a passive reader who relies on recall to an active reader who takes control of the passage and uses it to answer each question. Here’s how to accomplish this:
  • Write on the passage as you read it. All the answers to the questions will either be found in the passage or can be interpreted from the data in the passage. The key points you should underline will most likely represent answers to one or more of the questions being asked. In other words, determine what is being represented and identify the main idea of the passage.
  • Skim through the questions and choose the easiest questions to answer first. The hardest part of the Science test is that it is a timed exam. Knocking out the easiest and least time-consuming questions first will enable you to focus on the tougher questions that require deeper understanding. Usually, the first two or three questions are easier than the last two or three. Since all the questions are worth the same, don’t waste time struggling with a hard question until you’ve answered all the easy ones.
  • Use process of elimination. Always. Some answer choices are blatantly wrong. When you come across these, cross them off and focus on the remaining choices. This will help you narrow things down so you can focus on identifying the correct answer.
  • Always refer back to the passage. After you make your answer choice, return to the passage and double-check that your choice agrees with the details within the passage. If it doesn’t, eliminate it and take another look at the other options. This is also the best way to decide between possible answer choices.
  • When in doubt, use your best guess. If you’re stuck, make an educated guess by eliminating choices that are obviously wrong and choosing between the remaining options. Your odds of getting the correct answer improve with each choice you can eliminate.


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Don Munce