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9 ACT Science Tips You Need To Know

If you’re not familiar with the ACT, you might be a bit nervous about the Science Test. After all, science is a tough subject for many, especially those of us who are more left-brained. Nor is science something that’s tested on the more well-known SAT, which was the first test we offered a prep course for many years ago. But, there’s no reason to panic. Coming right on the heels of the Reading Test, the Science Test is actually a test of your reasoning and data interpretation skills. What does this mean? Rather than topics like bio, chem, or physics, the test makers want to gauge your ability to read and analyze data. So, if you’re able to get a handle on these basic skills, you should be well on your way to a 36.

Below are a few things to keep in mind as you tackle the ACT Science Test.

You Don’t Need to be a Science Wiz to Ace This Test

The ACT Science Test requires no background knowledge in science.

Particularly for students who are more familiar with the SAT, which doesn’t have a science component, the ACT Science Test can be a worrisome part of the exam. This is especially true for students who aren’t strong in the sciences, or perhaps haven’t completed courses such as chemistry or physics. However, there’s no need to worry: the Science Test, technically called the Science Reasoning Test, is really more about your ability to analyze and interpret data than it is about your knowledge of the areas of science typically studied in high school science classes.

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Do you know how to read line graphs, scatterplots, tables and pie charts? If you do, and you’re good at paying close attention to detail, then you have it within you to ace the Science Test. If you’re a bit shaky with the above, a test prep course like Prep Expert’s can provide you with a great overview of data representation and put you in good stead for the exam.

There are a very limited number of science topics that are helpful, but not essential, to know.

Knowing a little bit about these areas of science will make the test easier for you.

As stated before, you don’t need any concrete knowledge of science topics to get a 36 on the Science Test. All the information you need to answer its questions is contained within the associated passages and data. If you don’t know what a particular scientific term means, you can use context clues to help you decipher its meaning.

That said, if you go into the exam knowing the basics of the following science terms and topics, you’ll save yourself the extra step. These concepts, listed under their respective fields of science, are:

Biology: cell biology; DNA, RNA and ribosomes; natural selection

Chemistry: basic molecule structure; freezing and boiling points of water in Celsius; pH scale; molar mass concepts; how charges interact; phase changes

Physics: gravity; density formula; density rules

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Don’t let this list send you into a mad frenzy of studying your old science textbooks. You only need a basic familiarity with these topics for the Science Test. Spend your time taking practice Science tests to improve your score, rather than burying your nose in your physics book.

Go Straight To The Questions

You don’t need to read the passages first on the Science Test.

On the ACT Reading Test, it’s recommended to read the passages in full before answering the associated questions. The opposite is true on the Science Test, with one exception.

For most of the Science passages, you’ll notice the questions provide you with the exact location of the information you need (Table 1, Figure 2, etc.) to answer the questions. This makes it unnecessary to read the passages ahead of time—you’ll encounter the information as you need it.

Is there any harm in reading the passages ahead of time? Not really, although it will eat up a bit more of your time. That said, not many of my students have a problem finishing the Science Test in time.

As mentioned, there is one exception to this piece of advice: for the conflicting viewpoints segment of the Science Test, where you are asked to compare the views of two scientists (or two students, or researchers, etc.), you should read the passages ahead of time, so that you understand each respective scientist’s view before you attempt to answer questions about the similarities and differences between the two views. The conflicting viewpoints segment is easy to identify, because it is the only portion of the Science Test where two different viewpoints are discussed.

Use The Questions As Your Guide To Find Information

On questions that don’t point you directly to information, rely on keywords to find an answer.

As mentioned, one of the great things about the Science Test is that the vast majority of the questions point you to the exact data you need to answer them. So, unlike on the Reading Test, you won’t often find yourself scrambling to locate the information you need. This is why you’re better off jumping straight to the questions on the Science Test, rather than reading the passages and various charts, graphs and other figures first.

There will be a few questions, however, that don’t point you in the direction of the information you need. Typically, these questions are related to something discussed in the prose paragraphs of the passage. Each passage typically has two or three paragraphs discussing the hypothesis and its associated experiments. To answer the related questions, use keywords from the questions—specifically, scientific terms and concepts—to find the information in the passage.

Note-Taking Will Save You Time Re-Interpreting Data

Taking notes is mission critical for success on ACT Science.

While it’s not as essential to take notes on the Science Test as it is on the Reading Test, annotation still helps on this final section of the ACT. You will be looking at the same tables, charts, graphs and figures over and over again to answer the questions. So, the first time you look at a particular table or chart, write down in your own words what it tells you, so that when you’ve moved on to another question and need to reference the same figure again, you have a solid grasp of the information it provides.

I always tell my students that annotation is not for everyone, but that they should also experiment with different approaches to taking the test until they find the one that is best for them. If you often miss crucial details on the Science Test, slowing down a bit and taking notes might just be your recipe for success.

Pay Close Attention To Details, Especially Long Numbers & Decimal Places

The Science Test requires some addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

You’ll need to do a little bit of math to solve some of the questions on the Science Test. Although you’re not allowed to use your calculator, as you are on the Math Test, fear not—you won’t be required to do anything more complicated than basic addition, subtraction, division, or multiplication. Pay attention to detail, though—on the Science Test, you’re often dealing with long numbers with many decimal places. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to make lots of simple mistakes.

Use Time To Your Advantage: You Have More Of It On The Science Section

The Science Test is less of a slog than other parts of the ACT.

When it comes to time management, the Science Test is probably the easiest of the four parts of the ACT to finish in time, which will probably come as a relief after the long slog through the English, Math and Reading tests. On the Science Test, you have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, so as long as you don’t waste too much time struggling with the more difficult questions, you should have plenty of time to finish.

As it so happens, you need to keep a careful pace to do well on the Science Test. Since you’re dealing with data, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers and reference the wrong information, accidentally drop a decimal place, etc., if you’re going too fast. Take your time, and you’ll notice all the small details you need to answer the questions correctly.

Timed Practice Tests Will Boost Your Score

For the ACT Science Test, practice makes perfect.

More than any other section of the ACT, the Science Test can be learned and mastered through repeated practice. If you take lots of practice tests, you’ll become familiar enough with the types of questions the Science Test asks that it will be quite doable for you to score a 36. Of course, this is possible on all parts of the ACT, but I have seen some of the biggest gains on the Science Test. So, again, if science ain’t your bag, don’t despair: with enough practice, you can get where you want to go.

Take A Prep Course If You Need To

Prep Expert can help you improve your score.

Because the Science Test rewards practice, it’s also helpful to take a prep class if you need to improve your score. A course like Prep Expert’s will give you a solid understanding of data representation, as well as of the underlying scientific knowledge, you need to get a jump on the test. This is in addition to a variety of different tips and techniques to identify wrong answers and to tackle the tougher questions.

Best of luck on the exam!



Clay Cooper

Clay has scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT, ACT, PSAT, LSAT, and ISEE, among other standardized tests. He has taught and developed courses for high school, college, and graduate-level standardized tests extensively around the country, and specializes in the field. He has studied law at Georgetown University Law Center and worked in the legal field as well, for attorneys, judges, and the Tennessee Attorney General.