Tips From an Online SAT Tutor: ACT Science Isn’t Science!

The SAT is no longer the sole option for students who are looking to use standardized test scores to aid in college admissions.  In the past few years, the ACT has essentially become its equal: nearly every college will now accept ACT scores in lieu of the SAT - our experienced online SAT tutors are only a click away. This is good for students because it means they have another option when considering which test to take or which score to send.  “Bad at the SAT?  Not to worry, maybe the ACT is for you!” 

Unfortunately, the exams are very similar.  After all they are both testing for the same thing: your ability to succeed in college-level classes.  This means that they are testing that you have sufficient reading, writing, and math skills for a college student.  It also means that they are checking how well you can apply those skills in new ways via logical and critical thinking.  You won’t find calculus concepts on these tests, nor will you need to know any complex figurative language or English class vocabulary.

Do you know what else you won’t need for the SAT or ACT?  Science class knowledge.

A frustrating part of teaching and tutoring for these tests is hearing some of the bad advice that is often thrown around by parents, teachers, and even guidance counselor.  Chief among these is the most common advice students hear about how to choose between the ACT and SAT: “The ACT has a science section, so if you’re good at science, take the ACT.  If you’re bad at science, take the SAT because there is no science section.”

This is terrible advice.  The Act will not quiz you on anything you memorized to get your ‘A’ in biology class.  There won’t be a periodic table you need to reference or chemical equations to balance.  There are no questions that involve a physics formula.  And how could there be?  Topics in science classes vary wildly, and students taking the ACT will have taken many different combinations of classes like earth science, biology, environmental science, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, applied science, research skills, engineering, and more. 

Instead, the ACT science section is testing your reading and comprehension skills. 

So, why is it called the science section?  Because you will be reading exclusively about scientific topics.  You will read summaries of scientific research, see graphs and visual representations of data, and compare scientific writing.  The science you read about will likely not be something you know anything about.  This is okay.  You are not supposed to already know about the topic.  They are testing to see if you can read about something new and understand it well enough to answer some questions.

This is similar to the SAT’s reading section.  The difference is that the SAT can give you topics from literature, history, OR science.  Like the ACT section, the SAT also doesn’t expect you to know anything about the topic you’re reading.  These tests are about reading new, unfamiliar material ,and using your reading and comprehension skills to answer questions.

The sections are not the same, however.  The ACT science sections will have you interpret more graphs, charts, and other visual representations of information than the SAT will.  The science section will also be written in a style consistent with scientific articles.  If this kind of formalized, analytical writing is difficult for you, then you might want to check out the types of passages you’ll be reading on the SAT and see if those go any better. 

 Like any standardize test, the best preparation is by taking practice tests and doing so early.  Choosing between the SAT and ACT is not a difficult choice: take a practice test (or ideally take two) of each, and go with the test that you get a better score on.  Simple.  But don’t skip the ACT just because you think you forgot everything from freshman biology and are scared of the “science” section.

Peparing for the SAT? Our experienced onliine SAT tutors are here to help!

Michael C. is currently a private online math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.