Methods for ACT Science Test
STEP 1: MAP THE PASSAGE, IDENTIFYING AND MARKING THE PURPOSE, METHOD, AND RESULTS OF THE EXPERIMENT
Get an overview of the text, searching for the Purpose, Method, and Results. Don't get bogged down in the details; you can give everything else a quick read and come back later if the question requires it. Simply find the Purpose and Method within the text, take a moment to understand each, then get an overview of the Results.
Bracket the Method. This is the "how" of the experiment. What did the researchers actually do? This is separate from the Purpose—for example, they didn't "try to learn ___," they "heated the mixture," etc. It usually involves changing one variable while keeping the others constant and describes how they are setting up their processes to answer the question outlined in the Purpose. For the first experiment, look for what you could see them doing. The Method won't be thinking or calculating; it will involve physically putting things in place. For any experiments past the first, focus on what is changing. What's different each time?
Star the Results. These are usually listed in charts and graphs, but may be in paragraph form. A high percentage of the questions on the ACT Science test will come from analyzing the data. Thus, move quickly through the text, understanding the Purpose and Method, so you can spend a little time analyzing the Results in Step 2.
STEP 2: SCAN FIGURES, IDENTIFYING VARIABLES AND PATTERNS
Here's where you can analyze the data. This shouldn't be a long process, but by giving each chart and graph an overview as you go, focusing on a few key things, you'll be better prepared to find answers quickly once you get to the questions.
Scan figures: This is the overview step. Get a sense of what is being represented by looking at the labels of charts, the axes of graphs, and the variables and how they change.
Indentify variables: Now, dive into the variables. How do they relate to the experiment? Look specifically for independent variables and dependent variables. Which are the scientists changing themselves (independent), and how does that affect the one(s) they are observing (dependent)? If scientists wanted to see whether temperature affected how fast a student could read, the temperature would be the independent variable, and the speed of the student would be the dependent. Note: On a coordinate graph, the independent variable will often appear on the x-axis; the dependent will appear on the y.
Patterns: Finally, get a sense for how the different parts of the graph vary in relation to each other. Specifically, look at the independent and dependent variables (or other important variables) and determine if they vary directly or inversely. (Direct variation is where they both increase or decrease together. Inverse variation is where as one increases, the other decreases.)
STEP 3: FIND SUPPORT FOR THE ANSWER IN THE PASSAGE
Always refer back to the passage before looking at the choices and selecting one. Make sure you read charts and graphs accurately and that you do not confuse different kinds of units. It helps to answer the question in your own words. Form a prediction of what you think the answer will be. Don't rely too much on your knowledge of science. Match your answer with one of the choices.
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