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Similarities between ACT Reading and Science

Students are often intimated by the ACT Science section. The very word “science” conjures up images of tedious lab classes and densely-worded textbooks packed with advanced terminology. Despite the name, however, the Science section contains very little actual science. In fact, the Science section has more in common with the Reading section than with the kinds of science classes you’ve taken in high school. Today, we’re going to look at three ways in which ACT Reading and ACT Science are quite similar.


Reading Closely and Precisely

In order to answer Reading section questions correctly, you need to be able to read both the passages and the questions closely and precisely. Understanding what exactly a passage is saying is important because the wrong answer choices to the questions will confuse concepts, provide the exact opposite of the correct answer, or otherwise misrepresent the information in the passage.


Wrong answers to Science questions will try to misrepresent the passages in similar ways. This is most obvious in the text-only Science passages but applies to data interpretation and experimental passages as well. “Trap answers” to questions for these types of Science passages will include information from the wrong data presentation or experiment, reach opposite conclusions from what the data indicates, or go beyond what the data/experiment is capable of or designed to measure.


No outside Knowledge

Reading section questions cannot require students to draw on outside knowledge or experiences. Every correct answer must be something you can figure out based on what is present in or absent from a passage. Reading questions will sometimes throw in wrong answers that are factually correct but not actually supported by the passage to trick students who aren’t aware of the “no outside knowledge rule.”


While a few Science questions will require outside scientific knowledge to answer correctly, these questions will be the exception rather than the rule. At most, you will encounter five such questions. Furthermore, the scientific knowledge you’ll need to answer them will be extremely basic, such as understanding that you can estimate mass from weight or that plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Any questions that ask about advanced scientific processes or require precision data interpretation must be answerable based on just the information in the passage.


Introductions and Footnotes

Closely-related to the “no outside knowledge” rule on the Reading and Science sections is the presence of introductions and footnotes to the passages. This supplementary information clarifies anything in a passage that the test designers think might be unclear to students.


For instance, a Reading passage introduction or footnote might explain that the events in the passage take place during a particular historical period or define an unfamiliar term. Likewise, Science passage introductions/footnotes will describe the design of an experiment, explain how an unusual piece of equipment works and/or was used in an experiment, or explain how to interpret unconventional data presentations or units of measure. If you are having trouble understanding a Reading or a Science passage, make sure you have read all of the supplementary material surrounding the passage proper.


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