ACT Science: Research Summaries

The ACT Science section can cause a lot of unnecessary worry among test-takers. However you can still receive a strong score even if you aren’t a budding Albert Einstein. Careful reading and note-taking (the same skills you use for Reading Comp!) are enough to answer most questions. Remember – the answer has to be based on the information in the passage. You just have to know where to look!
The ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 7 passages and you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them. That’s about 5 minutes per passage so moving confidently through this test is essential! It takes practice to gain confidence in interpreting data and understanding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. Luckily, you already have all of the skills necessary to do this from your high school Science classes.
Let’s take a look at the first of three types of Science passages you’ll see: Research Summaries.
Research Summaries involve one or more experiments conducted by a group of students or scientists. Often some type of phenomena will have been observed and the experiments will be set up to investigate how certain factors affect the phenomena. Often a graph, table or figure will accompany the description of the experiments to show the results. Here are some strategies to help you with these!

  • Identify the Purpose & Method

    Make sure to underline the Purpose & Method for each Experiment as you read (don’t wait until you finish reading everything or you won’t remember!). The Purpose tells you why the scientists are conducting the experiment. What are they trying to find out? Look for verbs like “to study…” or “to examine…” in the first explanatory paragraph. That is often where the description of the Purpose can be found.
    The Method for each experiment will be described in the following paragraphs. Make sure to make note of what is similar and what is different between the two experiments if there is more than one. Sometimes the scientists will change one or more factors between the experiments to see if the results change.

  • Understand the Factors

    Factors, also known as variables, are important elements in these experiments. These are often things like temperature, pH, pressure, time, distance, etc. Depending on the way the variable is being used in each experiment, it can be called either dependent or independent.
    Independent variables are those factors that are controlled by the scientists. Did the scientists increase the heat in the experiment? Did they add or remove pressure? If the scientists were the ones controlling the variable, it is independent.
    Dependent variables are what the scientists observed changing. Let’s say that when the scientists increased the heat in our hypothetical experiment, the time also increased.

  • Read Everything

    It sounds silly, but many students will read the paragraphs and then skip over the data and figures and go straight to the questions. How can you possibly know where to look for the answer if you don’t understand the data first? Read the title of each table. What is in each column? Make sure you understand how the labels in the data correspond to the descriptions in the passage. If there is a graph, read what is on the x-axis and y-axis. You should be doing this anyway to understand the factors, but it’s very important to read every single word on the page BEFORE diving into those questions! Don’t skip over anything just because it looks confusing or has unknown verbiage. A huge part of success on the ACT Science Test is simply knowing where to look for the right answer!