ACT writers work hard to make you miss questions. When the content they’re testing isn’t very difficult, they turn to well designed traps to make you miss their questions anyway.

On the ACT Science section, one of the most common traps is what I call the “counterintuitive” trap. This trap involves any two things that seem like they should relate one way, but in actuality relate the opposite way.

ACT Science Strategy

Let’s say the ACT is talking about “heat flow,” i.e. the transfer of heat from something hotter to something cooler. The test makers tell you that “insulation” helps preserve heat. They then ask you what would happen in a building if there were more insulation. Many test takers will choose the “there is more heat flow” answer, because if there is more insulation, and thus more heat, it sounds like there would be more heat flow. In fact, however, the answer is exactly the opposite: insulation preserves heat by preventing it from flowing out of the building, i.e. from a hotter to a cooler entity.

How can you avoid this type of trap on ACT Science? First, be on the lookout for it. Anytime the ACT asks how two factors relate to one another, be careful if the factors seem like they would behave the same way. This is a red alert that you might be dealing with the counterintuitive trap. Check the definitions the test makers provide very carefully to make sure you’re understanding them correctly.

Second, double check the data (if applicable) to verify your thinking. Ask yourself how any numbers tied to the two factors explicitly relate—this provides an extra safety net to catch any mistakes you might have made in your reasoning.

Sometimes you will have to rely on your intuition on ACT Science, particularly when relevant information is lacking. Don’t fall into the trap of using your intuition alone, however, when definitions and data are provided.