About the ACT

According to the makers of the test, the ACT Test is a "is a curriculum- and standards-based educational and career planning tool that assesses students' academic readiness for college." The test evaluates the proficiency of 11th and 12th graders with respect to general learning outcomes in English, math, reading and science. The test is based on ACT's College and Career Readiness System. Test questions are written to be consistent with ACT's College Readiness Standards. Those standards for science can be found on the ACT website.

The ACT Test takes a different approach than most tests that you have likely taken. The test does not measure your understanding of science content. Instead, the test measures your ability to reason scientifically. For this reason, the ACT science test is called the Science ReasoningTest. Test questions are intended to measure the ability of students to interpret data, understand a scientific investigation, and evaluate models, inferences, and experimental results. Science reasoning skills form the basis of the ACT test. In this sense, you can imagine that the types of tasks that you will be doing on the test will involve reading and reasoning and NOT the recalling of information that was learned during your science classes. Presumably, an understanding of Newton's laws of motion, the period table, or the photosynthesis process are not required to perform well on the ACT Science Reasoning test. While an understanding of photosynthesis may relieve some stress when working through a passage that is associated with photosynthesis, a student with good science reasoning skills should still be able to perform well on such a passage.

The ACT Science Reasoning Test consists of seven different passages. A passage is a written description of a collection of experiments, a description of tables, graphs and illustrations that present numerical and conceptual relationship, or a discussion of a conflict between two or more scientists over a particular issue. Each passage is accompanied by questions that assess a student's ability to reason scientifically. The ACT Test Center here at The Physics Classroom website contains about a dozen passages that resemble the types of passages that might be found on the Science Reasoning Test. The seven passages can be grouped into three categories - Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints.

There are three Data Representation passages on every ACT Science Reasoning test. These passages present information in the form of a data table, a graph, an illustration or some other visual. Questions require that students read off the graph, compare values from two or more graphs, interpolate or extrapolate from data in a table or a graph, identify relationships from provided data representations and use relationships to make a prediction. Every Data Representation passage consists of five questions for a total of 15 questions. You can view several Data Representation passages here at The Physics Classroom's ACT Test Center.

Every ACT Science Reasoning test also contains three Research Summaries passages. These types of passages describe experimental procedures that were conducted by scientists or science students and present the results of such experiments. Questions typically require that the students identify the purpose, hypotheses, and conclusions associated with the experiments. The basic design of the experiments must be understood enough to identify the control, the dependent and independent variables, the assumptions and the results of conducting additional trials. Finally, questions typically assess students to identify alternative procedures, to predict the result of a modified design and to determine if new information is consistent or inconsistent with some particular experimental result. Every Research Summaries passage consists of six questions for a total of 18 questions. You can view several Research Summaries passages here at The Physics Classroom's ACT Test Center.

Every ACT Science Reasoning test contains a single Conflicting Viewpoint passage. This type of passage presents the arguments and rationale of two or more scientists regarding a particular scientific controversy. Questions typically ask students to identify similarities and differences among their viewpoints, to identify assumptions that form the basis for their reasoning, and to evaluate whether new information would strengthen or weaken their position. A Conflicting Viewpoint passage consists of seven questions. You can view a couple Conflicting Viewpoints passages here at The Physics Classroom's ACT Test Center.

In all, there are 40 questions on every ACT Science Reasoning Test that are distributed among the seven different passages. These seven passages must be read and the 40 questions must be answered in 35 minutes. Some basic math yields the conclusion that each passage must be completed in 5 minutes. There are several suggestions provided here at The Physics Classroom's ACT Test Center. You can find many of these suggestions if you follow the links below. But for now, the suggestion to monitor the time is perhaps the most useful and basic suggestion. A time of 35 minutes for 40 questions does not leave much time for napping, daydreaming, or sidetracking. Follow the links below for more information and suggestions or to simply practice answering ACT-like questions.