The Content of the Science Reasoning
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.
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
- 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
- Inference questions ask you to draw out implied
- 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.