How to Conquer Passage-Based Science Questions on the SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The new SAT consciously pulls passages from several subject areas in the field of science. When you’re attacking a science passage, you can use these tactics:

  • Search out the facts. Whatever the topic, a science passage offers information gained from experiments, surveys, or observation (or a combination of all three). Some of the information is in the text and some in the graphic, if the passage is illustrated. You don’t need to know any math to answer a science-passage question, but you should pay close attention to numbers — percentages, populations, rates of growth or change, and so forth.

  • Don’t worry about technical terms, but do know general science vocabulary. If you see a strange word, the definition is probably tucked into the sentence. You won’t encounter a question based on the definition of Tephritidae unless the passage explains what Tephritidae is (a type of fruit fly). Look for these definitions as you read. You should, however, know general terms that pop up frequently in science-related material, such as control group (a group that doesn’t participate in an experiment and serves as a point of comparison) and catalyst (a substance that causes or increases the rate of a chemical process without being affected itself).

  • Identify the argument. Many science passages, and especially paired passages, present a dispute between two viewpoints. The SAT questions may zero in on the evidence for each scientific theory (a claim, backed up by evidence gained from experiments) or hypothesis (an idea to be tested through the scientific method) and then quiz you about each author’s stance. By the way, remember the definitions of theory and hypothesis, two important science terms.

  • Notice the examples, both in print and in graphics. The SAT science passages are chock-full of examples. The questions may require you to figure out what the examples prove.