What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test that is used by colleges as a way to assess your abilities and aptitude and to determine if you would be a good match for their program.  A good score on your ACT can help offset less than stellar grades in an average applicant and can help a well-qualified applicant really highlight their abilities. ScienceboyeditedWhether you want to present a fully rounded look at your abilities to the admissions committee or boost your chances of getting a scholarship award, a great ACT score can help.

ACT vs. SAT

Both the SAT and the ACT are timed, standardized tests given in a testing facility and completed in person on paper. While both tests measure your abilities, they do so in slightly different ways.  The SAT assesses what you have learned about specific topics, and how much specific information and knowledge you have retained. The ACT is a more general measurement of what you have learned overall, from your reading and comprehension to your critical thinking and reasoning skills. The ACT has more questions to answer than the SAT, but you’ll have less time to answer them. The biggest difference is the inclusion of a science section in the ACT; science is absent from the SAT.

Since most people perform better on one test than the other, it may be worthwhile to take both, particularly if you are interested in a selective or competitive college.  Most colleges want to see scores from one test or the other; taking both tests allows you to present your best score to the admissions committee and make the best possible impression. .

Sciences covered on the ACT

While the ACT assesses your reasoning and critical thinking skills, the questions themselves are drawn from four different areas of science. Each student faces a total of 40 questions in the science section and will have 35 minutes to complete this portion of the exam. Expect questions to involve reading and interpreting charts, reasoning, evaluation of data and positions and problem solving.  The fields of study included in the science portion of the ACT include:

Biology: This section assumes you have taken at least one Biology class in high school, and you should expect to use your skills and experience with diagrams (like those made of cells) and charts (like taxonomy charts). Genetics, the body systems, ecology and evolution could be included in one or more passages and should be reviewed prior to taking the test.

Earth/Space: Passages covering earth science and space may include topics from meteorology, geology, astronomy and environmental science may be included in the test. Familiarity with the types and amount of data collection and interpretation used in these fields may be helpful when you take the ACT.chemistryedited

Chemistry: From the states of matter to chemical reactions, the passages in the ACT cover a diverse group of problems and critical thinking questions. Using the skills you’ve acquired in chemistry to help you with the portions of the ACT that require you to gather information from experiments and interpret the results.

Physics: From understanding energy and how it works to thermodynamics, a basic knowledge of physics will be helpful for taking the ACT. While you may not be quizzed on specific physics topics, familiarity with the basics will help you if one of the reasoning passages is from the realm of physics.

Strategies for the Science Portion of the ACT

  • Review your strengths and revisit the science you took as a freshman and even in middle school. The more familiar you are with the different categories, the better, as you’ll be able to absorb and understand the passages quickly.  Many of the passages use language that is specific to a particular field of study. Having a general ideal of the terminology used in each of the fields can boost your comfort level considerably.
  • Expect to see diagrams, charts and other forms of data collection – and make sure you feel comfortable finding and interpreting data. If the first time you’ve seen a cell diagram is on test day, you may panic when you need to come up with specific details and answers.
  • Refer often to the chart or diagram. The majority of questions will involve comprehending data in chart form – be prepared to refer back to the given chart often and double check for accuracy before moving on.
  • Read, read, read: In most cases, the science questions function almost as reading comprehension sections, with an added graphic or chart. Understanding the passage and referring back to it often can help you answer correctly. Most answers will be in the passage or on the diagram, so it is well worth reviewing fully and returning to the passage when you are taking the test.
  • Base your answers on the information given: Even if you are very familiar with the topic, resist the temptation to over think questions and answer based on the information provided in the passage, even if the numbers or data do not sound correct or realistic. 

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