Despite the ACT Science Section’s apparently expansive nature, it is actually highly predictable in its structure and consists of only three different types of passages which appear in random order. Once students can identify these passage types, they can begin to develop strategies to anticipate what types of questions they will encounter, locate relevant information, and manage their time more effectively.
Conflicting Viewpoint Passages
Each ACT Science Section contains only one Conflicting Viewpoints passage which can easily be identified by the italicized titles of “student” or “scientist” above paragraphs (as highlighted in the example below) and by its lack of tables or graphs. The passage presents students with some background information on a topic and then shares the perspectives of two or more fictional scientists or students on a phenomenon related to that same topic. Questions from this type of passage primarily focus on inferring the types of statements the varying authors may agree or disagree with.
The Conflicting Viewpoints passage is often one of the most time consuming passages on the ACT’s Science Section. Therefore, recognizing this type of passage on the exam can help students who struggle with timing make decisions about when to attempt the passage or how long to spend working on it. Additionally, since students know the questions will mainly focus on the varying perspectives, they can focus their attention on main ideas of those perspectives rather than searching for less important details.
Research Summary Passages
Research Summary passages are the most common passage type on the ACT science section, appearing three times per exam, and can be identified by the italicized titles “study” or “experiment” above paragraphs (highlighted in the below example). Unlike the Conflicting Viewpoints passage, Research Summary passages usually include multiple graphic elements such as tables and graphs. The passage will often begin by introducing a topic to be analyzed over the course of two or more studies or experiments presented in the passage.
By recognizing these passages, students can prioritize information within the passage which will most likely be assessed in the questions: specifically, the differences between results or designs of the varying studies or experiments. One strategy might be to compare the axes of graphs between different experiments. For example, if a question asked about differences between Experiment 1 and Experiment 3 above, a student could quickly identify that, although both experiments measure conduction delay, Experiment 1 does so in relation to temperature and Experiment 2 does so in relation to the concentration of ATYZ by simply comparing the corresponding graphs without spending unnecessary time reading the text.
Data Representation Passages
Data Representation passages account for the remaining two passages found within the Science Section. These passages are often confused with Research Summary passages as both types frequently contain a number of figures, charts, and graphs. However, Data Representation passages focus solely on data with no reference to any type of experiment or study. Also, unlike the Conflicting Viewpoint or Research Summary passages, Data Representation passages do not contain any italicized titles separating different portions of the passage.
Since these types of passages primarily test students on their ability to comprehend and analyze data provided in the forms of graphs, charts, and other graphic figures, students can minimize time spent reading and, instead, devote that time towards answering the questions. Further, the questions on Data Representation passages often provide students with information on where to find relevant data with phrases such as “According to Table 1” or “Based on Figure 2”, significantly reducing the time a student has to spend searching for the answer.
Although simply learning to identify passage types will not do much to improve students’ scores on the ACT Science Section, it will help them implement the types of effective strategies which can lead to higher scores, greater confidence, and less anxiety. Moreover, it is a simple way to help students adjust their perspectives of the section from something that should require extensive studying to something that, instead, focuses on the basics of strategy, preparation, and practice.