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Test PrepACTScienceResearch Summaries

ACT Science Skill Review: Research Summaries

Research summaries usually contain an introductory passage followed by a number of experiments. You don’t have to know much science in order to attack these passages, but you are expected to understand how scientists go about getting and testing knowledge. This process is known as the scientific method.

Scientific Method

The scientific method is the “tool” that scientists use to find the answers to questions. It is the process of thinking through the possible solutions to a problem and testing each possibility to find the best solution. The scientific method involves the following steps:

  • Doing research
  • Identifying the problem
  • Stating a hypothesis
  • Conducting project experimentation
  • Reaching a conclusion

To succeed on the ACT Science Test, you must learn to understand how scientists think. In your science classes at school, your teachers normally explain general rules of science to you and then expect you to apply these rules to solve problems. This is considered specific thinking (solving a problem with a known rule of science). Some questions on the Science Test are based on this type of thinking; however, the majority of questions will test your ability to see the kinds of patterns in specific data that you must use to formulate your own general hypotheses. This is more general thinking (formulating a hypothesis from data).

On the Science Test, you will be expected to understand how the experiments in a Research Summary passage are designed. You should jot down brief notes on each experiment as you read it.

These notes should highlight the differences between each experiment. The notes will often refer to a procedure in the experiment. This is important because by noting the difference between the experiments, you will be able to quickly gauge to which experiment a question is referring.

You may also be asked to identify the control of the study (if one exists). A control is the baseline for comparison. The control is normally the independent system without adding or changing any variables.

A well-designed experiment involves:

  • A control group
  • A single variable that changes from test to test
  • Other variables that remain the same from test to test


Questions 1-3 are based on the following passage.

Heat changes the properties of water. If we add enough heat to water in its solid form (ice), it will change its state of matter to a liquid. We call this melting. If more heat is added, the liquid will change to gas (water vapor). When enough water vapor forms so that the pressure of the vapor is equal to the pressure of the atmosphere above the water, the vapor can then push the air above the container away and allow vapor bubbles to be released. We call this boiling.

Test 1
At an altitude of 1,000 feet, a beaker was filled about half full with distilled water. The beaker of water was then heated until the distilled water began to boil. A thermometer was suspended in the water to measure the temperature. The temperature observed was 210 °F.

Test 2
The experiment was repeated at an altitude of 800 feet, and the temperature was observed to be 212 °F.

Test 3
The experiment was repeated at an altitude of 4,000 feet, and the observed temperature was 204 °F.

  1. What pattern could be observed about the boiling points?

    A. As elevation increases, boiling point decreases.
    B. As elevation decreases, boiling point increases.
    C. As elevation increases, the boiling point increases.
    D. As elevation decreases, the boiling point decreases.
  2. What should the boiling point be if the elevation is 7,000 feet?

    F. 214 °F
    G. 210 °F
    H. 205 °F
    J. 199 °F
  3. Boiling is the change between which two phases?

    A. gas to liquid
    B. gas to solid
    C. liquid to gas
    D. liquid to solid

Answers and Explanations

  1. The correct answer is D. This is a trend question. If you line up the data from the experiments, as you go from 800 to 4,000 feet, the boiling point goes from 212 to 204 °F. Thus, as the elevation increases, the boiling point decreases.
  2. The correct answer is J. The answer to this question requires extending the data outward beyond the given data points (extrapolation). According to the established trend, an elevation greater than 4,000 feet should have a boiling point less than 204 °F since elevation and temperature are inversely proportionate.
  3. The correct answer is C. By the definition explained in the introductory paragraph, the transition from water (liquid) to its vapor form (gas) is called boiling.


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