While most standardized tests break section scores into smaller subscores, ACT aligns its flagship college entrance exam along Reporting Categories that serve the same general function of sorting content into discrete categories. College admissions officers show no interest whatsoever in student achievement in specific ACT Reporting Categories, but that doesn’t mean these categories have no value. On the contrary, the blueprint by which the test is designed tells us a great deal about the knowledge, skills, and strategies each section of the ACT rewards.
For example, delving into the ACT Science Reporting Categories reveals a shocking truth about the test: its primary purpose is not to evaluate science knowledge. Instead, certain core skills are valued much more than discrete facts and figures.
The three ACT Science Reporting Categories each focus on a specific competency area in the understanding and practice of scientific inquiry:
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 locate, identify, translate, extrapolate, and interpolate data and features from tables, figures, and diagrams. The data presentations on the test can range from basic to baroque, but nearly every passage will send students chasing down and interpreting information across one or more graphs, tables, or figures. Sometimes, the test makers 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
Many (25-35%) Science questions test the ability to judge the validity of scientific information, draw inferences, and formulate conclusions based on provided data. Models are a major component of the dreaded Conflicting Viewpoints passage type, where students need to demonstrate the ability to understand, compare, contrast, and deconstruct different hypotheses. On other passages, questions in this category may focus on whether a hypothesis or conclusion is supported or contradicted by new or existing information, which finding would support or contradict a model, or what results might be predicted based on new information.
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.
For most of its history, this particular section of the ACT was called the Science Reasoning test. While its current handle may be more succinct, the older one was definitely more accurate. This exam really does prize the tools of science reasoning over memorization of specific facts. If you see science as a process and way of understanding the world, you are already that much closer to a superior ACT Science score.