Measurements on the ACT

Measurements questions on the ACT Science Test involve the numbers and corresponding labels that appear in the graphs and tables of the Science passages. Usually you will be asked to either identify the appropriate measurement, or to make an inference based on the existing numbers. To do this, pay close attention to certain statistical items: the median, range, and general distribution of the data.
The median, as you may recall from ACT Math, is the middle number when the data is ordered numerically from least to greatest. Get a sense of where the “middle” is. The range is the greatest value less the smallest value, or the span of the data. Which set has the widest range? Which has the smallest? The general distribution means how far apart each set of data is from each other. If we had a set of measurements that went 10, 20, 30, 42, 55, 65, we could say that the distribution or ratio was approximately +10  between terms. Let’s look an at example measurements question.

Example Measurements Question

Pepsin is an enzyme in the human stomach whose function is to break down proteins in food into smaller pieces.  Table 1 shows how the activity of pepsin (the rate at which it breaks down another compound referred to as the substrate) is affected by pH. (In each case, 100 units of pepsin were added to 1 ml of solution containing 1 mg/ml of one of two proteins and adjusted to a particular pH.  After 1 minute, the mg of protein that had been broken down after 1 minute was measured.) It can be seen that this enzyme functions best in acidic (low pH) environments, and this fact may explain why the stomach also secretes acid.

Question 1

When 100 units of pepsin are added to a solution containing 1 mg/ml of Protein 1, the enzyme’s activity is measured at 1.05. Based on the results in Table 1, the pH of the solution is likely to be closest to:

  1. 1.5
  2. 2.0
  3. 2.5
  4. 3.0

Here our two columns of measurement are pH and Activity. We can see that the protein and the pepsin concentration described in the question are the same as in solutions 1 through 4 in Table 1, so we only need to look at those. Our new Activity is 1.05, which is more than .9, our largest value for activity for Protein 1.
We can see that for Protein 1’s distribution, the activity increases by 0.3 with each decrease of 1 pH unit. An activity of 1.05 is 0.15 higher than the activity of 0.9 at pH 2, so we need the activity to increase by half as much as it increases when the pH decreases by 1 unit. We need the pH to change by half a pH unit, from 3 to 2.5. The answer is C.

Question 1

According to the information in Table 1, which of the following conclusions can be made about the rate at which 100 units of pepsin cleave (break down) Protein 2 when the pH is 3? The rate is:
A                  Faster than the rate at which 100 units of pepsin cleave Protein 2 at pH 4
B                  Equal to the rate at which 100 units of pepsin cleave Protein 2 at pH 4
C                  Slower than the rate at which 100 units of pepsin cleave Protein 2 at pH 4
D                  Slower than the rate at which 100 units of pepsin cleave Protein 1 at pH 4
Notice the keywords “100 units” and “pH is 3.” This question is explicitly asking about measurements. The passage defines the activity of the enzyme as the rate of breakdown. So a faster rate = more activity. According to Table 1, 100 units of pepsin were added to Protein 2 at a pH of 3 in Solution 5, and the measured activity, or rate, was 2.4. Answers B, C and D all refer to the conditions in Solution 6 (protein 2 at a pH of 4), and the activity measured in this solution was 1.6. This activity was less than 2.4, so answer A is correct.