Don’t panic about unfamiliar terms in the Science and Social Science passages

Science and social science passages are taken from sources that are meant to be read by the general public rather than experts. This means that technical terms that are necessary for comprehension will often be defined or clarified.

Example 1

If you want to waste a few hours in a rabbit hole of detail, start with vexillology. This technical study of the design and use of flags has a long history and definite parameters that you can quickly learn enabling you to identify the differences between good and bad flag design.

Yes, vexillology is merely the study of flags. The sentence that follows the term clarifies the term, as long as you don’t overthink things.

Example 2

The problem with the placebo effect–a beneficial effect when the placebo should have no effect–is that it is tricky to track and adjust for.

Placebo effect’s definition is place in between the dashes.

What to do if you hit a word you are unfamiliar with

  1. Carefully read the sentences around the first mention of the word as there will likely be a definition or explanation.
  2. If the word appears only once in the entire passage, don’t waste a lot of time trying to understand it if no questions seems to relate to the term.
  3. Remember that Topic, Main Idea and Tone are the key elements for understanding the passage and addressing the questions. Correct answers will align better with the Topic, Main Idea, and Tone of the passage than wrong answers.

How to prepare for these passages

Understand the types of terms commonly used in scientific studies such as Control Group, Placebo, Hypothesis, DNA, and variable. (for a more complete list check back here or sign up for my mailing list–the SAT book focusing on the Science Passages is coming soon)

Practice with read the types of passages on the SAT. Here is a list of links to the complete Science passages from which SAT passages in the released tests were taken. You can also practice by reading ACT science passages.

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