ACT Reading subscores have been, at least until this year, useless. Reviewing the old English or Math subscores would at least point out areas of weakness a student could improve on. But ACT used to break down performance on the Reading test based on passage content rather than question type. Knowing you were stronger in, answering questions on say, Arts and Literature than Social Studies and Sciences provided very little in the way of actionable feedback. Today, the maker of what is very much a reading test shows a better understanding of what aspects of reading performance to expand upon:
Key Ideas and Details
More than half (55-60%) of the 40 Reading questions test a student’s ability to read texts closely to determine central ideas and themes, understand relationships, and draw logical inferences and conclusions. All standardized reading tests challenge the core skills of understanding the purpose of a passage and separating main ideas from details; this category represents the foundation of higher-level reading.
Craft and Structure
The SAT & ACT love to focus on rhetorical, structural, and stylistic elements in writing. Roughly a quarter (25-30%) of Reading questions require understanding of word and phrase meanings, the implications of word choice, and the finer points of text structure and perspective. Students should be able to interpret authorial decisions rhetorically and differentiate between various points of view.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
A mere handful (13-18%) of Reading questions evaluate the understanding of persuasive writing and argumentation that is highlighted on the ACT essay. Students need to understand authors’ claims, differentiate between facts and opinions, and grasp how authors use evidence and reasoning.
The ACT Reading Test breakdown also ranks Understanding Complex Texts as either Below, Proficient, or Above.
ACT Reading subscores may have been useless, but Science subscores were nonexistent. Again, one gets the impression that the impresarios in Iowa City lacked insight into the very elements of reading that the ACT passage-based sections tested. Thankfully, the new ACT Science Reporting Category presents a useful summary of the skills required for success on this section:
Interpretation of Data
The ACT Science Test is first and foremost a challenge of graphical literacy. A third or more (30-40%) of questions on this section require students to manipulate and analyze scientific data presented in tables, graphs, and diagrams. Sometimes they even throw in a math question or two, which can be tough since students aren’t allowed to use calculators on the Science Test.
Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results
This section was once called the Science Reasoning Test; while the name changed, reasoning remains a major component of success. Many (25-35%) Science questions test the ability to judge the validity of scientific information, draw inferences, and formulate conclusions based on provided data.
Another cornerstone of this test is insight into the scientific method and experimental design. Less than one third (20-30%) of ACT Science is devoted to testing the understanding of experimental tools, procedures, and design. Students should able to identify variables and controls as well as compare, extend, and modify experiments.