Unlike the ACT, which contains a 35-minute section devoted entirely to science, the SAT does not specifically test science content. However, two passages of SAT reading — or one passage and one passage pair — and about 25% of the SAT writing and language section cover natural science topics, making scientific literacy an indispensable skill on this assessment.
Here are four ways to sharpen your science analysis skills for the SAT:
— Read scientific publications.
— Study science vocabulary.
— Train yourself to think like a scientist.
— Practice explaining scientific concepts.
Read Scientific Publications
One natural way to increase your comfort level with SAT science passages is to gain exposure to scientific writings in general. Note, however, that not all science content is equally worthy of your time. Biased junk science abounds on the internet, so be highly selective about which texts you read. Some high-quality sources to consider are Science, an academic journal, and Scientific American magazine.
Look for publications that address real science issues in depth, especially timely ones such as environmental pollution. Ideally, articles will be accompanied by charts, diagrams and graphs since you are bound to encounter similar visuals in SAT science passages.
For each visual, take a careful look, determine the main idea and try to summarize it in a sentence. Remember that you will not need to perform math on SAT science passages, but you will need to understand the gist of accompanying visuals.
Study Science Vocabulary
To understand SAT passages that are scientific in nature, you need a solid sense of science vocabulary. While more technical terms vary dramatically between the different branches of science, there is also plenty of vocabulary that they share and that is worth learning.
For instance, it would serve you well to know the meaning of “hypothesis” versus “theory” in a passage about a science experiment, whether the passage pertains to biology, chemistry, physics or something else. A hypothesis is a person’s belief or prediction — for example, about an experiment’s outcome — whereas a scientific theory refers to an explanation of a phenomenon in the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified.
Other examples of helpful SAT science words include “replicate,” “microbe” and “diffusion,” which you may have come across in your high school science classes. If you are unsure of which words to study for SAT science passages, start by reviewing premade vocabulary lists on Vocabulary.com or Quizlet.
Train Yourself to Think Like a Scientist
A scientific mind calls ideas into question, makes connections and looks for evidence, all of which you must do to answer SAT science questions. To practice these skills, watch videos on YouTube channels such as SciShow, Inventor 101 and Home Science.
The key is to watch videos that outline scientific methods and thought processes, rather than ones that merely explain facts.
Take notes as you watch, asking yourself questions like: “How do they know that?” “What’s the relationship between X and Y?” or “What might happen next?” Write down your potential answers.
More than noting what is happening in the video, you want to make inferences about information that is less obvious but still ascertainable from the experiment. All these actions will train you to analyze SAT passages like a scientist. You might even come to predict which kinds of questions will likely follow.
Practice Explaining Scientific Concepts
The true test of your understanding of a concept is whether you can teach it to someone else. This is where the Feynman Technique comes in as an excellent instructional model.
There are four steps in the Feynman Technique, which was created by 20th-century physicist and author Richard Feynman. First, identify the subject, for example evolution or cellular respiration. Second, teach it in plain language, as if to a child. Third, identify your knowledge gaps and close them through study. Fourth, tell a story using simple sentences and analogies.
You can practice the Feynman Technique with friends or classmates, but it may be even better to try it with family members or others whose science knowledge is less fresh. This will force you to simplify your explanations even further and make you think about science concepts from another perspective. The more concise and lucid your explanations become, the more prepared you will be to face science passages and their accompanying questions on the SAT.
You can be successful on SAT science passages if you invest just a little extra time in more specialized study.
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