Page 2 Science Study Guide for the ACT

Tackling the Three Passage Types

Data Representation

The Data Representation portion of the ACT Science section presents an introductory text paragraph accompanied by a visual component, usually a graph, chart, or diagram. The introductory text will describe a scientific concept or phenomenon, which is then further elaborated upon with the visual component.

While reading through the introductory passage, make a quick note in the margin that describes in a few words what the main idea of the information is: Is this an experiment comparing results? Is it a description of a particular concept? Underline any details that seem to be important within the context of the paragraph, usually numbers, facts, or figures, but also any potential summary of the research or experiment in question (think of a thesis statement).

Properly reading the visual component of the Data Representation section is paramount for success on this section. Many questions will specifically reference a portion of the graph or diagram, and answering the question correctly will be contingent upon your ability to:

  • read the graph
  • understand the graph
  • analyze and draw conclusions from the graph

In the absence of careful or close reading, analyzing the information presented is very difficult. Any information provided in the question should be directly matched with information provided in the graph or diagram. Questions will use expressions such as “in Figure 3,” “Chart 1 states,” and “according to diagram x.” In every case in which an expression or phrase like this appears, place one finger directly below the specific graph or diagram referenced, then proceed to find and focus on the exact graphic with your other finger.

This is obviously a very trivial action to perform, but it is the first step in ensuring success on a test that primarily focuses on assessing your ability to follow directions. Utilizing a strategy like the one outlined, and making it a habit, guarantees that accidentally looking at or reading the incorrect graph never happens. Employing a system like this will also save you time in the long run because you are already approaching the section with a game plan in mind. And as always, strategies like this work best when routinely practiced.

It is also important that you examine all of the labels and details embedded in the graph or diagram. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • chart/diagram titles
  • axes labels/names (What is the dependent variable? What is the independent variable?)
  • increments of axes increase
  • keys/legends, units/dimensions

After examining and taking note of all of the labels and units, etc., move on to the information presented in the graph or diagram, ensuring to note any obvious trends. Is there a positive/negative/no correlation between the variables? In other words, as one variable increases/decreases, does the other variable increase/decrease as well? Some questions will ask you to draw conclusions from the trend present in a diagram and state where prospective data point is most likely to lie. By already generating this information when analyzing the graphics, you will have a very good idea as to what the answer to such questions will be.

Again, time management is crucial for earning a top score on the Science section, particularly because of the difficulty in making sense of and managing all of the information that is presented to you.

After practicing, you are likely to find that the Data Representation portion is primarily an information gathering and matching test. The test makers have spread a bunch of information across a few diagrams or graphs, and it is your job to first read through and then find the connections across the different diagrams. After doing this, your job will be to match the chart or diagram referenced in a question with the chart or diagram itself and draw the proper conclusion from the trend present in the data.

As you gain familiarity with the specific types of questions asked, you will have a good idea of what information is important in diagrams and graphs that you encounter, which will enable you to cater the notes you take and trends you notice to the questions you are likely to be asked. This will ultimately save you time that you can then spend to ensure you are able to comfortably read through and answer questions in the other two passage types.