ACT Science: A Silly Scavenger Hunt

Any seasoned test preparation tutor should tell you that we rarely assign intrinsic value to what these exams purport to test. Sure, it's important that students develop necessary academic skills, but many of us in the industry fervently believe that these exams only measure how well you take them. Hence, we are still relieved that course work and grades top the list in the college admissions process.

If one needed proof of a standardized test caught in its own creative vortex, one only needs to look at the ACT Science test.

For many who don't know any better, ACT Science conjures images of protective eye gear, white lab coats and Bunsen burners. I've actually met students who, prior to my teaching them, honestly believed they had to memorize all of their high school lab work to perform well on this part of the ACT.

The truth is that ACT Science is nothing but a silly scavenger hunt.

You don't need years of scientific knowledge, concepts and equations to perform well on this section. Rarely will you encounter questions that require outside information. Hence, do not expect to apply Mitosis vs Meiosis, Balancing Equations or Rate of Acceleration.

All the answers are hidden in the passage via charts, graphs, and words.

While for many tutors I've met, ACT Science is the section they like to teach the least, it's actually one of my favorites. My approach deconstructs it to a simple game and I constantly remind my students that they must simply adhere to the secret rules the test writers abide by during the section's creation.

One of the easiest concepts to teach on ACT Science is:

We LOVE numbers especially if they are part of the answer choices.

That's because numbers are inherently emotionless and there is little interpretation needed when using them. If you naturally struggle with ACT Science, learn to attack the questions peppered with numbers first as those are the easiest. You can harvest good points this way.

Another adjustment I ask my students to make is to willfully ignore the definitions behind the nomenclature. Rather, I teach them that these are merely symbolic representations. For example, a passage might introduce the concept of Aluminum water-based paints (AWPs) and how this is used to produce shinier, painted surfaces. A rookie tester might sit there and truly attempt to understand the physiology and practical value of paint that makes things looks shiny.

My students would look at this phrase, shrug off the grittier definition and simply think "I guess they're calling this thing AWP". If the test writers want to create their own language, we will use the same words but without attempting to understand the etymology behind said words. By throwing the silly jargon back to the test, we avoid getting sucked into the over-dramatic world the exam is attempting to create.

The last tip is when you identify a Science passage that contains conflicting perspectives. These are easy to spot because it will be riddled with words (our enemy) and lack numbers (our friends). These passages usually take the longest amount of time to solve and are therefore the most difficult questions you'll encounter. Hence, leave this type of passage LAST and come back at the end. This tactic will prevent your getting sucked into the hardest portion and wasting more time than necessary. Remember, all the questions are worth the same value regardless of difficulty level.

ACT Science is widely considered the strangest part of the ACT.

But stick to these basic tips and you'll start to see it in an entirely different way.

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