The Content of the Science Reasoning Test
The Content of the Science Reasoning Test
The “content” of the Science Reasoning Test refers to several kinds of content. First, there are the topics covered by the passages on the test. Second, there are the types of passages on the test. Third, there are the types of questions asked about the different passages. The descriptions below are meant to provide you with brief overviews of each kind of content. Later in the section, we will describe, analyze, and teach you how to handle everything you’ll encounter on the Science Reasoning Test.
Passage Topics
The writers of the ACT tell you to expect content covering biology, earth/space sciences, chemistry, and physics on the Science Reasoning passages. That’s good advice: the passages on the Subject Test might discuss data from any of these fields. However, in the end, the Science Reasoning Test doesn’t test you on your knowledge of earth sciences or any other field; it tests you on your understanding of scientific data. Where the data comes from—whether it’s taken from chemistry or biology experiments—doesn’t matter. In other words, the content is not important. In this chapter, we’ll teach you to ignore the confusing scientific terminology and strike at the heart of the test—the data. But if you’re still dying to know about the content of the passages, we’ll give you the list below.
  • Biology, including cell biology, botany, zoology, microbiology, ecology, genetics, and evolution
  • Earth/Space Sciences, including geology, meteorology, oceanography, astronomy, and environmental sciences
  • Chemistry, including atomic theory, inorganic chemical reactions, chemical bonding, reaction rates, solutions, equilibriums, gas laws, electrochemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and properties and states of matter
  • Physics, including mechanics, energy, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, fluids, solids, and light waves
Passage Types
As we’ve already mentioned, there are three types of science passages on the Science Reasoning Test: Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints. You will not need to remember the names of the passages for the actual test, but being able to recognize the different passages and knowing what to expect from each will help you greatly.
Data Representation
The Science Reasoning Test contains three Data Representation passages. These passages contain one or more charts (such as tables, graphs, or illustrations). The accompanying questions test your understanding of and ability to use the information presented in these charts.
Research Summaries
There are three Research Summaries passages on the Science Reasoning Test. These passages generally present two or three related experiments and the data collected from them. You can think of Research Summaries as Data Representation placed in the context of a large experiment.
Conflicting Viewpoints
The test contains only one Conflicting Viewpoints passage. This passage presents you with two or three alternative theories on an observable phenomenon—such as cloud formation or the movement of tectonic plates—and requires that you understand the differences and similarities between the viewpoints.
The Questions
Of the 40 questions on the Science Reasoning Test, 15 will accompany Data Representation passages, 18 will follow Research Summaries, and 7 will cover the Conflicting Viewpoints passage. The four main kinds of questions you’ll encounter on the Data Representation and Research Summaries passages will ask you to:
  • Read the Chart. These questions ask you simply to identify information given on the chart and are perhaps the most straightforward questions on the Science Reasoning Test. These questions are the equivalent of specific detail questions on the Reading Test.
  • Use the Chart. Slightly more complicated than Read the Chart questions, these questions require that you use the information given in the chart to determine other, unstated information. For example, some of these questions might ask you to make an informed guess as to what would happen if one of the variables in an experiment changed.
  • Handle Graphs. For these questions, you will either have to translate the information in the charts into words or translate words or numbers into a chart. Being able to manipulate and transform data in this way indicates that you understand exactly what the given information in the passage means.
  • Take the Next Step. These questions ask you what the next step should be for research experiments. Generally, this type of question will provide you with a goal for an experiment and the current scenario. You must decide the next step that should be taken to achieve that goal. You can think of these questions as Big Picture questions that ask you to look at the research or the experiment as a whole.
The questions on the Conflicting Viewpoints section are slightly different. We’ve divided them into three main categories: detail, inference, and comparison.
  • Detail questions ask you to identify specific information from the arguments presented.
  • Inference questions ask you to draw out implied information from the arguments.
  • Comparison questions ask you to find and analyze similarities and differences between the arguments.
As you can see, the questions on Conflicting Viewpoints resemble questions on a Reading Test passage. In our section specifically devoted to the Conflicting Viewpoints passage, we’ll discuss the similarities between the Conflicting Viewpoints and Reading Test passages and how those similarities should affect your strategy.
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