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ACT Science Strategies

While the ACT Reading, Math, and English sections tend to be straightforward, the ACT Science section can be a bit challenging for students to tackle.

Contrary to what many students might assume or expect, the ACT Science section does not cover typical high school science subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics. Instead, it tests whether students have the analytical, evaluative, and critical thinking skills needed to do well in these subjects.

Many students, especially those who have not had much experience reading and analyzing figures like tables and graphs, find this section of the test difficult. However, it is entirely possible to get a high score, or even a perfect 36, on this portion of the ACT.

Here are a few strategies that can help you improve your score on the ACT Science section:

Learn the ACT Science test format

The most important step you need to take to prepare for the ACT Science section is to learn the test format. If you are unfamiliar with the way this section is structured, you will have trouble studying effectively, and you will not know what to expect on test day. 

As a result, you are more likely to make avoidable mistakes: 

  • You might spend too much time on earlier passages thinking that there are fewer passages than there actually are on this section. 
  • You might be surprised to see graphs and other figures and have no clue how to go about analyzing them. 
  • You might not budget your time efficiently because you are not sure how much time you have to answer each question.

When you learn the format of the ACT Science section, you can begin to work on strategies that will help you do well on this section.

There are three main formatting features you should know: time constraints, subject matter, and passage-types.

Timing

The ACT Science section requires students to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. This means you will have just under a minute to answer each question. 

Subject matter

According to ACT.org, the “science section measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.” As such, each of the questions that you will have to answer on the ACT Science section fall into one of the following three categories: interpretation of data, scientific investigation, and evaluation of models, inferences, and experimental results.

Passage-types

The questions can be answered using information from the six different passages that are in this section. There are typically multiple data representation passages and research summary passages on the test, as well as one conflicting viewpoints passage.

Have a game plan for each passage type

The way you approach research summary passages should be different from the way you approach data representation and conflicting viewpoint passages. Find strategies that work best for you for each passage-type you’ll encounter on the test, and you will do better on the ACT Science section.

For instance, on the data representation passages, which typically center on charts, graphs, tables, and other figures, you might look at the figures first to try and spot trends that will help you answer the related questions. For conflicting viewpoints passages, which are structured more like the passages in the ACT Reading section, you might start by reading the questions first before reading through the passages.

Because each of these three types of passages are different, you should plan to tackle them in different ways.

Write in your test booklet

Between the charts, graphs, tables, and reading passages in this section of the test, the ACT Science section will require you to look at an almost overwhelming amount of data and information.

It will help you save time to make notes as you go through each passage so that you can reference and refer back to key information when you are answering test questions.

Is there a pattern or trend that you noticed within a specific data set? Make a note next to it so that you won’t forget it or have to figure it out again later. 

Do you see important information in the middle of a paragraph? Circle it or underline it so that you won’t have to search for it again.

Drawing arrows to connect key ideas, jotting down patterns, and underlining critical parts of your passages will help you have a better understanding of the passages and answer questions more efficiently. 

Complete figures when necessary

Have you ever wished you had just one more data point on a table or chart you were looking at for the ACT Science section? Have you ever thought it would be helpful to have the x-axis on your ACT Science section graphs extended just a little bit more to help with your analysis?

You can make this happen with a few strokes of your pencil!

Just because a graph or a chart stops in a particular place does not mean that any trends you notice end there, too. Feel free to extend your graph or add an extra row or two to the tables in your test booklet to see how the trend would continue with more data points.

Review your mistakes

When you miss ACT Science questions on your practice test, it is not good enough for you to acknowledge the questions you answered incorrectly and move on. You need to review each and every one of your mistakes so that you don’t repeat them the next time you take the test.

Sometimes students gloss over questions they miss because they feel like they actually knew the answer and just made a simple mistake. However, this mindset is dangerous because simple mistakes are mistakes nonetheless, and ignoring simple mistakes prevents students from recognizing gaps in their knowledge.

I recommend that for each question you miss, you write down:

  1. The actual question and what the question is asking you to do
  2. The correct answer
  3. A detailed explanation of why the answer you chose couldn’t possibly be correct and why the correct answer must be the only right option

The more you review your mistakes, the easier it will be for you to learn from them.

Hire a private tutor

If you want to make the most of the time you have to study for the ACT Science section, working with a private tutor will help. A qualified ACT tutor will help you improve your weak areas on this section of the test while also continuing to develop your strengths. If there are certain types of passages or questions that tend to give you trouble, a tutor can help you learn how to approach them more effectively.

Countless students benefit from the private tutoring offered through Prep Expert. At Prep Expert, our expert tutors scored in the top 1% on the ACT, and they know how to teach the content and strategies you will need to do well on the ACT.

Sign up for private ACT tutoring today when you visit the Prep Expert website.

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