The ACT natural science passage is one of four passages on the ACT Reading section.
One difference between the ACT and the SAT you can use to your advantage is that the ACT Reading passages are always in the same order: prose, social science, humanities, and natural science. That makes it easier to change the order of how you might do these passages, especially if there is a passage that you struggle with or one that takes more time to do.
In this post, we’ll cover strategies for the natural science passage you’ll see on the ACT.
What is the ACT Natural Science Passage?
Natural science passages can cover a wide variety of topics, like earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, or environmental science. The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to have any prior knowledge of the subject manner in order to answer the questions asked at the end of the passage. The natural science passage has a totally different purpose than a story (or a prose passage) does: the natural science passage’s main purpose is to inform.
What to Look for in the Natural Science Passage
Since the main purpose of the natural science passage is to inform, you must focus on totally different elements than you would a prose passage.
You have to pay attention to the structure of the passage and the main idea of each of the paragraphs. The natural science passages are filled with details, too many to digest. So as you read you ask yourself: How is the passage structured? What are the main ideas? Be on the hunt for transition words, like “on the other hand” or “in contrast” or “in fact” or “consequently.” Transition words tell you when a point is being made. Note the elements that support the argument or premise of the passage, as well as any counterexamples.
You have to pay attention to the structure of the passage and the main idea of each of the paragraphs. The natural science passages are filled with details, too many to digest. So as you read you ask yourself: How is the passage structured? What are the main ideas?
It is unlikely that you will remember or understand all of the details from these kinds of passages because they are full of details. So, you are probably going to have to return to the passage to answer many of the detail questions. Therefore, you need to save that time by going through the passage quickly. This is why you are paying attention to the structure, so that you remember where the important details can be found – but you’re not remembering the details themselves!
Pacing Your Reading
This brings us to an important strategy for this passage: your reading pace. You’ll need to read the passage quickly. Because you’re reading for structure rather than details, you’ll have to return to the passage frequently while answering the questions. That means you need to leave extra time for answering the questions!
So how can you read so quickly? You skim.
How to Skim Read
You can skim the passage by “hearing” with your brain voice only the important words and topic sentences. The rest of the time, you allow your brain voice to mumble (literally) through the details.
Important words and topics to look out for are transition words (like “on the other hand” or “in other words” or “therefore” or “however”) that tip you off that the author is about to make a point.
What you hear in your head when you skim over the details is a matter of preference. When I skim, it’s like my brain starts fast-forwarding through the text and the words start to blur together, like a mumble. Since I’ve learned to recognize important words, when I encounter them it sets off a little alarm in my head and I know to stop skimming and read more carefully.
You may find that there are times when you have to re-read a sentence because you come upon a transition word indicating that what you just skimmed over in the sentence before is more important than you previously thought. If this happens, you go back to a re-read that sentence to make sure you understand the point that is being made.
Practicing Your Skimming
You’ll want to try this strategy out during your study sessions, as skimming takes some practice if you don’t already know how to do it. Set a timer for 10 minutes and practice skimming a natural science passage and then answering the questions. The more you practice, the quicker you should complete the passage the more accurate your answers should be!
The Key Strategy for the Natural Science Passage
Ignore the details in this passage (there are way too many!) and focus on the main idea and the structure of the passage. You do not need to understand the passage completely, but you do need to understand the main idea, the argument, the structure of the passage, and if the author presents additional or conflicting viewpoints. You will need to read at a quicker pace that allows you to skim the passage by hearing with your brain voice only the important words or topic sentences. The rest of the time, you allow your brain voice to mumble (literally) through the details.
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