6 Strategy Tips for ACT Science Data Analysis

Data Analysis comes up in two of the three ACT Science passage-types: Research Summaries and Data Representation. Data can be presented in tables, charts, graphs, etc. Use these strategic tips to achieve better scores on approximately 2/3 of your ACT Science questions!


  • Pause to read the labels

    Lots of students ignore the labels and go straight to the questions – don’t! Mentally categorize each graph, chart and table. (EX: “This is a chart that shows the relationship between time and distance for various lightwaves.”) Do not just skip the statistics entirely and go straight to the question! While you may think this will save you time, it actually significantly decreases your accuracy. Data Analysis questions are like an open-book test. You wouldn’t skip an ACT Reading passage, so don’t skip the data. Make sure you read every tiny piece of writing on or near the data, including titles, the labels for the x and y-axes, column names, and even footnotes.

  • Check out the units

    Once you understand the labels, take special care to note the units (mph, m/sec, cm2, etc.). Are we dealing with seconds, minutes, or hours? Does one graph represent the month of June, while the other graph represents the entire year? The units may change from graph-to-graph or chart-to-table, and some ACT Science questions might ask you do simply conversions.

  • Look for direct/inverse variation

    Quickly note the relationship between the variables in each table, chart, or graph. Do they have a direct or indirect correlation? Where does the data spike or significantly decrease?

  • Treat the passage like an open-book test

    One of the most common mistakes on the ACT Science Test is using the wrong data. You don’t have to rush to answer. The data you need IS in the passage, you just have to know where to look. Make sure you first understand what the question is asking, then stop and consider which table, graph, or chart provides the information you’ll need to solve for the correct answer. Harder ACT Science questions will require you to use more than one statistic. Don’t rush through this step! The questions may be multi-step, so look closely for key phrases in the question that refer to the labels you carefully studied earlier.

  • Approximate when needed

    You may be able to approximate an answer by rounding off numbers for certain questions. Make sure to be consistent in how you approximate, and only do so if the answer choices are far enough apart that estimation makes sense.

  • Look for the general direction behind the reasoning

    Most scientific reasoning either goes from broad to specific, or from specific to broad. It can be helpful in certain Conflicting Viewpoints questions whether the scientists are using a specific instance to make a generalization, or whether they are trying to apply a generalization to a specific rule.