Skimming ACT Reading- Science Passages

Our last blog post was about skimming ACT Reading passages, but that one covered Prose Fiction passages. The method is roughly the same, but the intention of the test taker should be different.
 

 

On all ACT reading passages, students should skim the passage. But while skimming prose passages, students should simply look to find the main idea and roughly where specific information is located. While skimming science passages, students should keep in mind the scope of science passages.

Science passages in the ACT Reading section typically outline an experiment. If that’s the case, look for the following: an introduction, a hypothesis, an experiment, a method of data collection, a results paragraph, and perhaps a conclusion. Not every passage will contain all of the above, but most will contain some of those pieces. More importantly, thinking in these terms will appropriately frame your skim. Note the progression of ideas, and you’ll find yourself efficiently moving through the questions with a great sense of exactly where key information is hiding for each question.

Skimming ACT Reading- Prose Passages

Here’s a quick(ish) video demonstrating how a great skim can help you move quickly through the questions, and not just move quickly through the passage. During our Skype ACT tutoring sessions, we emphasize the skimming process on the reading passages. This is the first step to improving your ACT score dramatically!

 

The New ACT Essay- A Comprehensive Guide

The SAT is changing in March of 2016, and the academic world is buzzing with anticipation. But quietly, the ACT has undergone a few changes of it’s own as of late. The latest update to the ACT came in September of 2015, in the form a dramatically altered essay.

 

 

The new essay comes as part of a larger change to the ACT writing section. But don’t sweat it: The other changes to the ACT writing section amount to a few organizational adjustments regarding the ACT’s presentation of scores to colleges and universities. So, the new essay is the only change you’ll have to consider as a test taker.

First, let’s look at the differences between an old ACT writing prompt, and a new one:

 

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As you might have noticed, your task on the new ACT seems more extensive. The simple prompt on the old ACT is complicated by the addition of three view points on the new ACT. Instead of simply making a persuasive argument backed up by good examples, you’re now responsible for placing yourself within the context of other opinions, and justifying your position relative to those other viewpoints. To add to the obvious differences in the format and assignment, let’s face it: The coming technological utopia/dystopia is a slightly heavier subject than the importance of school dress codes.

Some people will tell you that because the new ACT essay is more complex, it is also more difficult. We’ll agree that the task is more complex, but the new ACT essay is actually much EASIER than the old one.

Why? Because the new ACT essay does all the work for you. It’s like ordering delivery as opposed to making your own pizza. It’s fun making pizza at home, but it’s way easier to call it in. And let’s be honest, home-made pizza will never beat the real thing. (If you think we’re wrong, that’s fine. We’re very openminded, willing to eat our words, and certainly open to unsolicited pizza deliveries.)

The old ACT writing prompt was a matter of choosing a view point and, persuasively and creatively, defending that view point. That meant that students had to come up with GREAT examples and reasoning, and then go through the process of critically analyzing the counter-arguments to their examples and reasoning. All of this for an essay about something you probably don’t care about.

The new ACT writing prompt gives us an undeniably more interesting subject, and three ready made opinions. Instead of making up your own ideas and hoping they’re interesting enough (given the dull prompt), all you’ve got to do is choose: Pepperoni? Margherita? Hawaiian? Maybe Pepperoni/Hawaiian if you’re feeling adventurous. Don’t let the world stop you from reaching for the stars.

No matter what you’re opinion is, you’re likely to find one of the three that you roughly agree with, and one of the three that you mostly disagree with. So, without having to call out to the heavens for creative inspiration, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea about what you’d like to say, and what you’d like to draw attention to. Sure, you’ve got to come up with supportive reasoning, but the argument itself pretty much frames itself.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of outlining your essay before you begin writing. In fact, it’s more important than EVER that students spend time planning before writing. The test makers understand that the new essay is more complex, so they’ve changed the time limit from 30 minutes to 40 minutes, and added a more directed outline/rubric to the test.

You won’t be graded on what you write on this page, but it’s pretty obvious that the test makers are looking for VERY organized writing. We suggest spending no less that 8 minutes planning and outlining your essay.

So here’s a walkthrough for how to plan for, and write the perfect ACT essay:

Step 1: Paraphrase each of the three arguments.

Just roughly summarize each position.

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Perspective One: Technology has removed the necessity for basic human respect among members of a society, resulting in a less humane world. (Bad)
Perspective Two: Technology has increased efficiency, which leads to a better world for everyone. (Good)
Perspective Three: Technology is stretching the limits of humanity, and encouraging us to grow as species and society. (Very Good)

2. Take a Position. This will probably happen naturally. Don’t overthink it. The ACT hasn’t inserted one right answer and two wrong answers in order to trick students. They’ve listed three compelling opinions, all of which are considered equally valid by the test makers.

In my case, I’ll go with Perspective Two. I honestly think all three perspectives are reasonable, or plausible, but Perspective Two is something that I absolutely agree with.

3. Write a Thesis. Definitely the most important part of your whole essay. The thesis will make or break your essay. BUT IT ISN’T DIFFICULT! Remember: The ACT LOVES SIMPLICITY. The more complicated your writing, the worse your score will be. So, here’s my thesis:

While many of the eventual effects of an increasingly technical world are unknown, it must be granted that technology has enabled an increase in efficiency, and an improvement to human living standards.

Simple. I’ve pretty much said, “I don’t know for sure whether technology is ultimately very good (Perspective 3) or very bad (Perspective 1), but I do know that running water and internet access is better than no running water and no internet access.”

4. Stock Up. We’re going to use our paraphrased perspectives from part 1, and build on them. We’ll write one or two sentences supporting each perspective, and one or two sentences arguing against each perspective.
Perspective One: Technology has removed the necessity for basic human respect among members of a society, resulting in a less humane world. (Bad)
Agree: My students think phone calls are awkward and have a hard time communicating verbally because they’ve been raised to text each other.
Disagree: My students are some of the most compassionate and sensitive people I’ve ever met. If technology was de-humanizing them, I’d expect more hate mail. People seem in some ways to be more polite and sensitive than ever.
Perspective Two: Technology has increased efficiency, which leads to a better world for everyone. (Good)
Agree: Thanks to Skype, I don’t have to drive to lessons anymore. No gas, no traffic, no wasted time.
Disagree: People lose their jobs to machines as companies become “more efficient”.
Perspective Three: Technology is stretching the limits of humanity, and encouraging us to grow as species and society. (Very Good)
Agree:  Thanks to technology, I work with people from all over the globe, which challenges me to think about things from different viewpoints and to grow.
Disagree: Sometimes people are really mean on the internet. Is this really making us better people?

5. Prepare for the Critics. Now that I have some idea of the good and bad for each point, let’s figure out how to counter our critics who disagree with us. My negative for Perspective Two is that “as technology grows, people lose jobs.” If I’m arguing that perspective two is the best one, I’d better know how to counter that argument. Here goes:

While some might point to dwindling jobs in industrial markets as a sign of the negative effects of technology on the economy, we must take into account a booming technology sector, which offsets many of the lost industrial jobs. Furthermore, each machine that replaces a human being actually frees that human being to do something more useful for society.

6. One for Good Luck. Let’s just grab one extra reason why we’re right. This should be easy.

Technology has increased efficiency of communication, making it possible to get emergency medical care to people that otherwise might not survive.

7. Ready to Write! Essentially you’ve already written your essay. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a rubric for how a well written ACT essay should look:

Paragraph 1:

-Thesis
-General Reasoning
-Example
-However, other views
-Nevertheless, why I’m right

Paragraph 2:

-Other viewpoint 1
-They’ve got a point
-But ultimately, they’re wrong
-Why I just won this debate, and transition to next viewpoint

Paragraph 3

-Other viewpoint 2
-They’ve got a point
-But they haven’t considered something
-So ultimately, my perspective is better, which transitions to…

Paragraph 4
-My viewpoint
-Some think I’m wrong because…
-But I’m right because…

Paragraph 5
-I love pepperoni and pineapple pizza. I mean, my viewpoint is awesome.
-Other viewpoint 1 is wrong because…
-Other viewpoint 2 is wrong because…
-Conclusion. (So clearly, I deserve a perfect score. )

You’ve pretty much written all this stuff. Almost every line written below is copied and pasted from our outline.

Paragraph 1:

-Thesis: Technology increases efficiency

-General Reasoning: While many of the eventual effects of an increasingly technical world are unknown, it must be granted that technology has enabled an increase in efficiency, and an improvement to human living standards.

-Example: Thanks to Skype, I don’t have to drive to lessons anymore. No gas, no traffic, no wasted time.

-However, other views: Some people think there are far reaching social problems, and still others think that technology will save humanity and drive us to new heights.

-Nevertheless, why I’m right: The positives and negatives of technology are endless. It’s impossible to categorize technology as good or bad without looking at the issue from many sides.

Paragraph 2:

-Other viewpoint 1: Technology has removed the necessity for basic human respect among members of a society, resulting in a less humane world. (Bad)

-They’ve got a point: My students think phone calls are awkward and have a hard time communicating verbally because they’ve been raised to text each other.

-But ultimately, they’re wrong: My students are some of the most compassionate and sensitive people I’ve ever met.

-Why I just won this debate, and transition to next viewpoint: If technology was de-humanizing them, I’d expect more hate mail. People seem in some ways to be more polite and sensitive than ever.

Paragraph 3

-Other viewpoint 2: Technology is stretching the limits of humanity, and encouraging us to grow as species and society. (Very Good)

-They’ve got a point: Thanks to technology, I work with people from all over the globe, which challenges me to think about things from different viewpoints and to grow.

-But they haven’t considered something: Sometimes people are really mean on the internet. Is this really making us better people?

-So ultimately, my perspective is better, which transitions to…[Paraphrase of thesis] In some ways, it seems that people are advancing the species using technology. In other ways, it seems people are devolving. In reality, people are still just people.

Paragraph 4

-My viewpoint: Technology has increased efficiency, which leads to a better world for everyone. (Good)

-Some think I’m wrong because… People lose their jobs to machines as companies become “more efficient”.

-But I’m right because…While some might point to dwindling jobs in industrial markets as a sign of the negative effects of technology on the economy, we must take into account a booming technology sector, which offsets many of the lost industrial jobs. Furthermore, each machine that replaces a human being actually frees that human being to do something more useful for society.

Paragraph 5
-I love pepperoni and pineapple pizza. I mean, my viewpoint is awesome. Technology has increased efficiency of communication, making it possible to get emergency medical care for people that otherwise might not survive.

-Other viewpoint 1 is wrong because… Some people are still really nice. People are really sensitive. The medical example above proves that technology can be used to help people treat each other better

-Other viewpoint 2 is wrong because…Some people are trolls. Not everyone is advancing the species by using technology. We don’t know how this will all turn out.

-Conclusion. (So clearly, I deserve a perfect score. )

How Your Essay is Graded:

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You’ll notice that we’ve naturally covered “Ideas and Analysis”, “Development and Support”, and “Organization”.  In order to get a great score in “Language Use and Conventions” you’ll have to write with some style, use good transitions, and vary your word choice.  You’ll also have to be persuasive!

You will receive a score of 1-6 from two graders.  The sum of the two graders’ scores will be your score in each section.  And no, you’re not going crazy, 12+12+12+12 does not equal 36.  They’ll scale your score accordingly, and you’ll get a scaled score of 1-36, just like on every other section of the test.

Here’s a look at how the test makers define a score of 4-6 in each individual domain:Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 6.16.42 PM

We’re assuming you’re only interested in getting a good or great score.  All the information for the essay is available here: http://www.actstudent.org/writing/enhancements/

For all the best ACT and SAT advice, get in touch!  Over and out!