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The 9 Reasons You Miss ACT Science Questions

Posted by Dora Seigel | Jun 17, 2015 9:00:00 AM

ACT Science

 

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No one likes to make mistakes. However, you cannot ignore the questions you miss, or you will not improve. In this article, I will help you figure out the mistakes you are making on ACT Science questions, and I will give you some ACT Science tips and ACT Science strategies to fix your mistakes.

Here are the 9 reasons you're missing ACT Science Questions:   

  1. Misreading the visuals
  2. Not understanding a trend
  3. Not understanding the setup of the experiment
  4. Misreading the passage
  5. Not knowing a science fact
  6. Calculation error
  7. Careless error
  8. Not understanding a viewpoint
  9. Not understanding how viewpoints are related

I've developed these core reasons after many hours of tutoring students on the ACT Science section. I'll go into more detail on each reason below.

 

Reason #1: Misreading the Visuals

This is one of the most common mistakes since it's easy to do, and it applies to a lot of questions in ACT Science. If you read our article on the 3 types of act science passages, this mistake is usually connected to factual questions, calculating questions, and interpreting experiments questions

Did you not read the graphs, tables, scatterplots or diagrams correctly? If so, what did you misread? What did you not understand? Make sure to drill this skill, as it is the most tested on the ACT Science section. Here is an ACT Science practice question, more specifically an example of a factual question:   

 

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There are several mistakes you can make when misreading graphs. Did you look at the wrong figure entirely? Example: Did you accidentally use the top graph of the percent of captured finches from Island A? You should have used the two bottom graphs that covered the percent of captured finches from Island B and C. 

Did you misread the values along the x-axis or y-axis? Example: Did you think it said 8 instead of 10?

Did you misread the labels along the x-axis or y-axis? Example: Did you think beak depth was measured along the y-axis?

Did you not notice a key? Example: Many visuals will have a key with them. Keys are usually very important. Do not ignore them.

 

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You'll recognize these mistakes when your answer choice is very different from the correct answer. If you think you may have misread the visual, start by analyzing the question. Did it refer to a specific figure? Did you look at Figure 2 when it said Figure 1? If it did not refer to a specific figure in the question, did the answer choices have numbers? For example, in question 1 above, the answers A, B, C, and D all have numbers: 8 mm, 9 mm, 10 mm, etc. If the answer choices contain numbers, it is a safe bet that you either needed to read a visual or understand a trend to answer the question correctly. I'll explore understanding a trend mistakes next.

 

ACT Science Tip: If You Think You Struggle to Understand Visuals, You Need to Focus on Improving This Skill Since It Is the Most Tested Skill on the ACT Science Section.

In order to improve, I'd recommend taking a few untimed ACT Science sections. Take as much time as you need to answer each question and dissect the visuals provided. Write out the control and variable(s). Write out the values at each data point. By doing this seemingly tedious step, you will be making sure you understand the information the visual is trying to convey. 

Also, read how to read graphs, tables and data. After reaching an acceptable score when taking untimed sections, I'd start taking timed sections immediately. You'll need to nail the 5-minute per passage timing to succeed on the ACT Science section. There are other reasons connected to data that you miss questions:

 

Reason #2: Not Understanding a Trend

If you read our article on the 3 types of act science passages, this mistake is usually connected to interpreting trends questions (article Coming Soon!) and calculations questions (article Coming Soon!). Were you not able to describe the relationship of the data? Increasing, decreasing, direct, indirect? Here is an ACT Science practice question, more specifically an example of an interpreting trends question:  

 

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Answering this question requires understanding what caused small seeds or large seeds to be more abundant. In this case, this graph below and the two sentences directly above it provide the information you need. If you misread the graph or mixed up these sentences, you may have gotten the answer wrong. According to the two sentences, small seeds are abundant during wet years. According to the graph, 1984 was a wet year, so J. 1984 is the correct answer.

 

ACT Science Tip: I'd Recommend the Same Approach to Fixing This Problem As With Misreading the Visuals.

Take untimed practice sections. Try to draw on the visuals the extrapolation of the data. Draw the line as if it went out further. Follow the table. Put up and down arrows for if the data is going up from point to point or down from point to point.

Once you start excelling at these interpreting trends and calculations questions, go back to the 5-minute per passage pace. Understanding trends is key, but you need to understand the experiment to answer in order to answer several questions, which we will discuss next:

 

Reason #3: Not Understanding the Setup of the Experiment

If you read our article on the 3 types of act science passages, this mistake is usually connected to experimental design/research intent questions and hypothetical experimental questions (article Coming Soon!). Did you not understand the researcher’s intent? Did you not understand the experiment’s design? Did you not know the control versus variables? Here is an ACT Science practice question, more specifically an example of an experimental design question:  

 

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Answering this question requires understanding what the titrant and sample solution were. In this case, the passage defines what a titrant is and what a sample solution is, but if you misread the passage, it's easy to mix it up, especially since it's just a bunch of liquid being mixed together anyway. Be sure to skim the passage for this information if you cannot figure it out from the visuals alone.

Again, I would recommend slowing down, taking untimed sections. Make sure you read the passage carefully, and then, once you get to a better score, work on the timing. If you still need help figuring out the variables in an experiment or understanding the scientist’s intent, read our article on experimental design questions. In order to understand the experimental design, you need to read the passage carefully, which bring us to our next reason:

 

Reason #4: Misreading the Passage

Did you miss key information from the passage needed to answer the questions? Make sure you read carefully. If you are not 100% sure what the answer is, go back and skim if you have the time. Try to be 100% sure before you move on to the next question.

Regarding the question in Reason #2, it would be easy to misread the two sentences you need to answer the question correctly. If you were reading too quickly, you may think that the small seeds were abundant during dry years and answer incorrectly.

ACT Science Tip: Take Your Time and Make Sure You Understand What You Read, so You Get the Correct Answer.

Again, try taking untimed sections. Circle and underline key information as you read the passage to make sure you do not misread it. Sometimes reading the passage and visuals to answer the questions is just not enough. There are rare cases where you need outside knowledge to answer the question.

 

Reason #5: Not Knowing a Science Fact

If you read our article on the only actual science you need to know for ACT Science, this mistake is on those questions. These questions only appear about 4 times per test and require outside science knowledge. To make sure the mistake is because of a lack of outside knowledge, re-read the entire passage and make sure they do not give you the information you need to answer the question. If you still think it is an outside knowledge question, make a flashcard with the information you didn’t know. Below is an ACT Science practice question, more specifically an example of a question that requires outside knowledge:  

 

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The question expects you to know that protons are positively charged, electrons are negatively charged, like charges repel each other, and opposite charges attract each other. Nowhere in the passage is this property of charges stated - you just have to know this from your science class experience. Knowing what you do, you can eliminate F and H. In this case, the passage stated the reaction uses protons, so the answer is G.

 

ACT Science Tip: Study the Flashcards, so You Get the Scientific Information Down.

You should make flashcards for all of the topics from the only actual science article and drill yourself. Also, be sure to do some additional light research to refresh your memory of that concept. It is not necessary to read a book on the subject, but just be sure you have a basic understanding of the concept.

Because there are 13 topics mentioned in that article and only around 4 used per practice test, it is possible you may not come across all of them in your studies. You do not want to be surprised the day of the test, so make flashcards and make sure you know them! NOTE: Knowing this material is the only way to get a score between 31 and 36.

If you are aiming for a score of 30 or below on the ACT Science section, you do not need to spend as much time focused on these questions, since they only account for about 4 questions per test. In addition to outside science knowledge, you need some basic math knowledge to answer certain questions. If your math skills are off, you may miss questions for this reason:     

 

Reason #6: Calculation Error

These errors are only on Calculation Questions (article Coming Soon!), in which you need to use math to answer the question. You are not allowed to use a calculator on the ACT Science section, so make sure you are still able to do basic math in your head. Did you make a small calculation error in question that requires basic math? Did you do the wrong math calculation? Find the average incorrectly? Here is an ACT Science practice question, more specifically an example of a calculations question:

 

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For this question, you need to interpolate (fancy word for find the in between numbers). You need to find the value of average change in AGTB at 75 m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing. After examining the scatterplot, I see there are points marked at 70 and 80 m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing, but not at 75 m, this gap in data is what makes this an interpolation question! You have the data that surround the point, but you need to figure out what the point is.

What mathematical calculation could you do (using the data you do have) to find the approximate average change in AGTB at 75 m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing? Perhaps, averaging the average change in AGTB for 70 m and 80 m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing? At 70m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing, the average change in AGTB is about -3.1. At 80m from the center of the plot to the nearest clearing, the average change in AGTB is -2.2.  Now, calculate using the average formula:

Sum of the values / (divided by) the number of values:

((-2.2) + (-3.1)) / 2

= -5.2 / 2

= -2.6

Then, compare it to the answer choices. So, the answer is G. It would be easy to make a small mathematical error here. Did you subtract instead of add? Did you multiply instead of divide?

ACT Science Tip: Make Sure You Apply the Correct Calculation (Typically Average Formula) and That You Didn’t Make Any Sort of Careless Math Mistake.

Which leads us to our next topic:

 

Reason #7: Careless Error

Did you misread the question? Did you not see a NOT or EXCEPT? Make sure to read the questions closely and circle or underline the NOT or EXCEPT so you don’t miss it. 

 

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It would be very easy to read this too fast and think the question is asking which of the following is true. I have watched many of the students I tutor make that mistake, and I have made that mistake myself. Try to read carefully to avoid these careless mistakes.

ACT Science Tip: Circle the NOT or EXCEPT to Make Sure You Do Not Forget It.

The next two reasons are from the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage. Read more about this type of passage in the 3 types of ACT Science passages article.        

 

Reason #8: Not Understanding the Point of View

If you read our article on the 3 types of Act Science passages, this mistake is usually connected to understanding of viewpoints questions (article Coming Soon!). NOTE: This mistake will only occur on the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage (article Coming Soon!).

ACT Science Tip: If You Continue to Struggle With Theses Types of Question, Circle and/or Underline As You Read the Passage to Make Sure You Remember the Point of View of Each Student/Scientist.

What is their argument? What do they believe? Write yourself a three word or fewer summary after reading the paragraph i.e. “pro-comet theory,” “anti-comet theory.” 

 

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Answering this question requires understanding Student 2's point of view. In this case, Student 2 said that Algol B became a part of the Algol system because Algol B intersected orbits with the original Algol system. So, the original Algol system exerted a gravitational force on Algol B. Therefore, the answer is H. If you did not understand Student 2's argument, then you would get this question wrong. There is only one other kind of mistake you can make on the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage.

 

Reason #9: Not Understanding the Differences and Similarities in the Points of View

If you read our article on the 3 types of act science passages, this mistake is usually connected to comparing viewpoints questions (article Coming Soon!). NOTE: This mistake will only occur on the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage (article Coming Soon!). Were you able to differentiate between the two scientists/students? How were their viewpoints similar? 

 

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Answering this question requires understanding both Scientist 1's and Scientist 2's point of view and knowing the similarities between them. In this case, both agreed the object exploded at 8 km above the Earth, so we can eliminate B, C, and D. Therefore, the answer is A. If you did not know this key similarity between them, you probably would have answered incorrectly.

 

Recap

There are 9 reasons you miss questions, and there are several ACT Science strategies to fix them!

  1. Misreading the visuals
    1. Take untimed sections until you get your score where you want it.
    2. Read our other article on Factual Questions: How to Read Graphs, Tables, and Data for more practice on these questions.
  2. Not understanding a trend
    1. Take untimed sections until you get your score where you want it.
    2. Read our other article on Interpreting Trends for more practice on these questions.
  3. Not understanding the setup of the experiment
    1. Take untimed sections until you get your score where you want it.
    2. Read our other article on Experimental Design Questions for more practice on these questions.
  4. Misreading the passage
    1. Take untimed sections until you get your score where you want it.
    2. Practice with one of the many free ACT tests available.
  5. Not knowing a science fact
    1. Create flashcards after reading our other article on the only actual science you need to know for ACT Science
    2. Study the flashcards until you have them down.
  6. Calculation error
    1. Take untimed sections until you get your score where you want it.
    2. Read our other article on Calculation Questions for more practice. 
  7. Careless error
    1. I know these are frustrating, but just try to take your time.
    2. Circle and/or underline NOT or EXCEPT, so you do not miss it.
  8. Not understanding a viewpoint
    1. Write brief notes to yourself after reading each viewpoint, so you remember their argument.
    2. Read our other article on Attacking Conflicting Viewpoints Passages and Questions for more practice on these questions. 
  9. Not understanding how viewpoints are related
    1. Again, try to write brief notes for yourself to help you identify the main difference between the viewpoints.
    2. Read our other article on Attacking Conflicting Viewpoints Passages and Questions for more practice on these questions. 

 

Conclusion: Practicing and Noticing These Mistakes

You should practice using real ACT Science Practice Tests; check out our upcoming articles for more information on where to find them. After taking an ACT Science practice test, you should always review. This is the most important step in your study process as it is how you learn. Read more about review and how to study and practice for ACT Science in our other article.

When reviewing your missed questions from your practice tests, categorize your missed questions into 1 of the 9 categories above. Tally up the number of mistakes in each category. If most of your mistakes fall into 1 or 2 categories, focus on improving that particular skill by working on the related question type (factual, calculation, interpreting trends, understanding viewpoints, etc.). Find more information on each question type in our other ACT science articles.

 

What’s Next?

I recommend continuing your reading by learning about the 3 types of ACT Science passages

Also, understand the reasons you make mistakes. Learn the hardest ACT Science questions and strategies to solve them. Also, learn the best ways to study and practice for ACT Science

 

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.



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