The Facts About ACT Science

The Facts About ACT Science

As you begin to think about the upcoming school year, you’ll probably be considering how to prep for your ACTs. One of five sections on the test, the Science portion of the ACT is designed to test your reasoning and reading skills.

Let’s take a closer look at the Science portion of the ACT to understand some of the nuances of the exam.

The ACT Science section, explained

The ACT Science format consists of 40 questions with 6-7 passages in 40 minutes. All answers are in the text or diagrams, so if you need to, guessing strategically is possible.

If you’re shooting for a 36 on the ACT Science section, keep the following things in mind:

  • The Science section is the most time-sensitive part of the ACT
  • Time management is required to finish and answer all the questions
  • The Science portion is testing your reasoning and reading skills

The ACT Science section will require you to use basic scientific knowledge on a few questions. But that does not mean you should spend all your time studying obscure facts, as those will not likely be on the exam.

You will also see complex scientific terminology; do not think that you should know all of these terms. You should be able to use context clues from the text or diagrams to figure out an unknown word, if necessary.


Preparing for your ACT

The ACT is known to have unfamiliar material on each portion of the test, including Science. As you complete your ACT prep and study, it is essential to practice with ACT Science practice questions and practice tests so you don’t panic on test day. The goal is to have a strategy for answering all the questions.

The most practical way to prepare for the ACT is to schedule a series of ACT lessons with a tutor. Students find taking practice tests to be the easy part of studying for the ACT. The more complicated part is evaluating your results with more than just a score. You want to know why you thought about the question or answers differently than the test maker and how to correct your reasoning for future questions.

The ACT Science section will always contain three types of passages

When working through the ACT Science section, don’t take notes on the passage, but instead first notice labels on diagrams and context clues.

Skim the passage and go straight to the questions. Then, after you read the questions and the possible answers, go back to the passage and find keywords or phrases to focus on the parts that take you to the correct answer.

The key to cracking the ACT Science text lies within the format of the test itself.

1. Interpretation of Data or Data Representation

This format will ask you to understand and interpret information presented to you in graphs or tables. There will be 2 passages with 6 questions each. These will always have diagrams and test your ability to look at information and interpret it to fit the question.  

2. Experimental Results or Research Summaries

If you’ve taken Biology, Chemistry or Physics, you already have a strong understanding of what experiments are and how they work. Passages on the ACT that require scientific investigation skills usually have diagrams. There will be 3 passages with 7 questions each.  

Key terms to know about scientific investigation are the following:

  • Hypothesis: always a statement, not a question
  • Experiment: a test of the hypothesis
  • Experimental Group: can have multiple groups; each one will have one change or difference from the control group
  • Control Group: test that is as normal as possible used as a point of reference
  • Independent Variable: the change you make in the experiment, always on the X-axis of a graph
  • Dependent Variable: the result of the change you made, always on the Y-axis of a graph
  • Constant: parts of the experiment you need to keep the same in all trials

3. Evaluation of Models or Conflicting Viewpoints

These questions ask you to judge the validity of scientific information and formulate conclusions and predictions. The answers for these types of passages on the ACT Science text may have diagrams, but will be mostly text. There will be 1 passage with 7 questions.  

Dual passage strategy

Some questions will require you to use information in multiple passages. When you encounter these kinds of questions the following steps can be used to help you find the right answer:

  1. Look at the questions first, and label each a 1 or a 2 to correspond to the scientists’ points of view or theories in the passages
  2. Find the main point of the conflict and underline words or phrases that answer the main issue for each passage
  3. Read each passage and underline how it agrees and disagrees with the other

You can answer the questions in any order you want. This means you can work through the passages in the order that works best for you. If you are unsure about which passage to do first and which one to leave until last, keep these ACT Science strategies in mind:

  • Figure out the main idea of the passage. It is much easier to do this when looking at diagrams compared to reading text.
  • Look for passages with small graphs and tables.
  • Look for clear trends in the data.
  • Look for data, graphs, or charts with numbers compared to only variables.
  • Look for a passage that has short answers associated with the questions that follow it.

If you are unsure about one of the types of questions listed above, chat with your ACT tutor to streamline your preparation. A tutor can also help you brush up on the metric system and conversions, and help you determine the best approach for answering and reading passages on the ACT.


Strategies for the ACT Science section

The purpose of taking the ACT in the first place is to provide colleges and universities with a standard by which they can judge admission for all high school students. In addition, colleges know that high schools can offer a wide variety of courses to their students. So the ACT is not a test about all the content learned in high school, but rather reasoning skills learned in all your classes.

Here are some strategies to follow when you’re prepping for the test, and on test day itself:

1) The answers to every question, in any section, are written in a passage or a diagram. Therefore, to have only one correct solution, the ACT cannot have you come up with your explanation like you do in class. You’ll be able to use contextual information in the answers to pick the correct one.

2) Paying attention to labels, titles, axes, and keywords or terms will help you answer most of the questions in the Science portion of the exam.

3) Since the Science portion has lots of diagrams, make sure you use the correct one when answering the question. Any small, typical mistake that students could make will be a possible answer choice for the question.

4) Don’t panic when you see a complex term or unfamiliar word. A question is not going to ask you to define a word on your own. Usually, the first time the word appears, it will have some explanation. If you cannot see its definition, you might only need to use it within a graph or table.

5) Knowing basic science knowledge is valuable a couple of times on the exam. And these questions will stand out because a term in the question will not be explained in the passage.  

6) Wrong answers on the ACT will be written in a different order, will not be relevant, or will contradict themselves.

7) If answers seem to be a sequence of numbers or values, let this information direct you to the diagram or part of the passage where those occur.

8) Numbers will appear in evenly spaced intervals, and these will mirror the exact spacing of the graph or table. Ensure you are looking at the correct diagram not to mark an answer that corresponds to the wrong chart.

9) When answering YES / NO questions, look to see if there are 4 or 2 reasons.

  • If there are 4 different reasons, look at those to eliminate choices.
  • If there are 2 different reasons, work with the YES / NO selection first and then choose the right reason.
  • Remember that in science, the 2 choices could also be UP/DOWN, HOT / COLD or any opposite values to start the answer choices.

10) Finally, the ACT is written to make most students question their science knowledge. Everyone taking the exam will encounter something they have never read or seen before. Remember, the ACT tests your reasoning skills. If you have prepared correctly, you will catch slight differences in answers and important details.


It is wise to create a timeline when preparing for the ACT. Knowing when you might be busy with school or other activities will allow you to plan when you can focus on each section and give yourself time to review and correct your mistakes. Remember, a tutor has worked through the ACT content and knows the patterns and how to help you see them on the actual exam. If you find yourself plateauing, it might be a good time to reach out for more personalized studying and earn your goal score.

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