ACT Science Practice Questions: Research Summaries

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

The ACT generally has three research-summary passages with five to six questions each. The research-summary questions make up around 18 of the 40 questions on the Science Test. These passages usually include one or more tables or diagrams.

Here is a practice passage with questions for you to try.

Sample passage and questions


In the pole vault, the pole acts to convert the energy generated by an athlete running down a runway into a force that lifts the athlete over a crossbar. The most advanced vaulters use stiff poles that quickly convert the horizontal energy into the lifting force. Beginning vaulters are not strong, fast, or skillful enough to bend a stiff pole as needed to generate substantial vertical lift. Beginning vaulters must use more flexible poles.

To test the suitability of two materials for use in poles, scientists subjected three miniature poles to two laboratory tests. Pole No. 1, made of fiberglass, is 50 cm long, with a diameter of 1 cm and a mass of 1 kg. Pole No. 2, also made of fiberglass, is also 50 cm long but has a diameter of 1.5 cm and a mass of 2.25 kg. Pole No. 3, made of carbon fiber, is 50 cm long, 1.5 cm in diameter, and has a mass of 1 kg.

Study 1

Scientists tested the three poles to determine how much force is required to bend the poles to an 85-degree angle. Table 1 shows the results.

Table 1 Results of Bent-Pole Test
Pole Force in Newtons (N)
1 4.9
2 5.8
3 6.3

Study 2

Scientists bent each pole to an 85-degree angle and then allowed the pole to snap back to a straight position. Table 2 shows the time required for each pole to snap back.

Table 2 Results of Snap-Back Test
Pole Time in Milliseconds (msec)
1 733
2 626
3 591
  1. Ideally, vaulters like to use long poles because the poles reach closer to the crossbar. If a pole is too long, though, a vaulter has difficulty carrying it down the runway because of its mass. Given these considerations, the material that is best suited for a very long pole is:

    (A) fiberglass, because it snaps back relatively slowly.

    (B) fiberglass, because it has a relatively high mass-to-volume ratio.

    (C) carbon fiber, because it is relatively stiff.

    (D) carbon fiber, because it has a relatively low mass-to-volume ratio.

  2. On the basis of the entire study, which of the following would be the most appropriate pole for the beginning pole vaulter?

    (F) Pole 2

    (G) Pole 1

    (H) Pole 3

    (J) either Pole 2 or Pole 3

Answers and explanations

  1. The correct answer is Choice (D).

    The question tells you that the vaulter needs a pole that isn’t too massive when it’s long. Focus on Choices (B) and (D) because they concern mass. Because low mass is the objective, Choice D is correct.

  2. The correct answer is Choice (G).

    This passage’s introduction tells you that beginning vaulters need poles that are relatively easy to bend. That means that Pole 1 is best for beginners.