10 Must-Know ACT Science Tips

The ACT Science Test can be a lot more manageable than you think (after all, it’s basically an open book test, just like the Reading Test!). Even if your knowledge of Science is limited, you can still get better scores through discipline and hard work.

On Test Day, the ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 6-7 passages with 5-8 questions each; you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them.

[ GOOD TO KNOW:  Top 10 Tips for ACT English    Top 10 Tips for ACT Math    Top 10 Tips for ACT Reading ]


ACT Science Tip #1: Know the ACT science passage types

  • Research Summary (3 of this type): presents a series of experiments
  • Data Representation (2 of this type): presents information about a topic
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (1 of this type): discusses multiple theories about a single topic

ACT Science Tip #2: Adopt a strategy for each of the 3 formats

ACT Science Test passages come in three forms: Data Representation, Conflicting Viewpoints, and Research Summaries. You will need to modify your approach slightly for each one. Data Representation focuses mostly on charts, graphs, and tables, so you will need to practice identifying variables, units, and trends. The Conflicting Viewpoints passage typically has no diagrams and is more like the paired passage you will encounter on the Reading Test. Research Summaries describe one or more experiments. You will need to understand the Purpose, Method, and Results for each experiment and know what the similarities and differences are between them. Don’t treat these 3 formats all the same; they are each quite unique.

ACT Science Tip #3: Mark up the passage

As you are reading, do not hesitate to underline, circle, and make small notes in your test booklet. This type of note-taking is an efficient way to help you stay focused and on target with your pacing.  Noting similarities and differences between multiple experiments will help you when it comes time to deal with the questions.  

ACT Science Tip #4: Know the ACT science question types

  1. Interpretation of Data — examine tables & graphs
  2. Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results — make judgments about theories, data, and other scientific information
  3. Scientific Investigation — understand the reasons behind an experimental setup

ACT Science Tip #5: Practice your pacing

Don’t wait until two weeks before your test to get started. You will only have about 5 minutes per passage, so you may want to start by only doing 5 passages, allotting 7 min per passage. Once you can confidently do 5 passages with reasonable accuracy, work your way up to 6 and then 7. If you have a limited time to study and your accuracy significantly drops after 5 passages, just stick to 5 on Test Day. Better to do 5 really well and use your “Letter of the Day” on the last one than to do all of them haphazardly.

ACT Science Tip #6: Always refer back to the passage

You won’t be able to memorize the information presented in the passages; it’s too overwhelming. Read the passages to understand the gist and the data that is presented, but also move back to the passage to locate the information you need to answer the questions. Memory alone will not suffice. You may find it helpful to jot down a few short notes on each passage. Drawing arrows and circling important info is also a great idea.

ACT Science Tip #7: Trends continue

When asked about a data point that is not explicitly shown on a table or graph, you can assume that the trends presented in the passage will continue. Use this to extend the line or to estimate the value of the new point. Don’t be afraid to draw in your test booklet!

ACT Science Tip #8: Know the commonly used terms

  • Independent variable: the variable that scientists change on purpose
  • Dependent variable(s): the variable(s) that the scientists are measuring
  • Constants: parts of the experiment that the scientists keep the same
  • Direct relationship: As the independent variable increases or decreases, the dependent variable does the same
  • Indirect relationship: As the independent variable increases or decreases, the dependent variable does the opposite

ACT Science Tip #9: Know your overall exam strategy

  • When tackling the ACT science section, ask yourself:
    • What did the scientists study and how did they do so?
    • Why is the experiment set up this way?
    • What is measured? What is controlled by the scientists?
    • What did the scientists find? What are the patterns?
    • What are the similarities? What are the differences?
  • The halfway mark is at about 17 minutes, so you should be done with at least 3 passages and about 20 questions at that point.
  • Circle detail words in the question stem, such as “NOT,” “Experiment 1,″ or “Table 1.”

ACT Science Tip #10: Timimg, timing, timing

Set a timer the next time your work on an ACT Science practice test, and see if you can stick to these checkpoints. This is the ideal timing for the actual exam:

:00 … Set the clock and begin!

:06….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 1

:12….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 2

:18….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 3

:24….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 4

:30….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 5

:35….Finish gridding in the answers for Passage 6

If there are 7 passages in the section, you’ll want to spend about a minute less on the shorter passages with fewer questions to bank time for the extra passage.