The ACT Part 5: Science

This is the fifth in a six-part series on the ACT.

Read: Part 1 – Intro, Part 2 – English, Part 3 – Math, Part 4 – Reading

If the Science section looks intimidating, that’s because it’s designed to be. The test makers like to brag that the ACT tests what you learn in school. And yet one of their favorite subjects on the Science section is geology. No one takes geology in high school! You will see words and concepts that are completely foreign to you. But don’t panic! You don’t really need to know what’s going on in all these studies and experiments. Most of the questions test your ability to read charts and graphs, which really isn’t that difficult. The hardest part about the Science section is dealing with information overload. The good news is: you don’t need all that information. In fact, you don’t even have to read 90% of it. And that’s good because you don’t have time.

ACT Science
40 questions
35 minutes
7 passages
5 minutes per passage

Some students who excel at science classes in high school will actually bomb the ACT Science section the first time they take it. Why? Because they try to read and understand all the paragraphs, charts, graphs, and tables before going to the questions, and they inevitably run out of time. Most of that information is irrelevant anyway. Some passages will even contain one or more charts or graphs that the questions don’t even ask about. They’re just for show!

Go straight to the questions. Most questions will tell you exactly where to look. If a question says, “According to Table 2 . . .” then the answer is on Table 2.

Important: The easiest way to miss a question on the Science section is to look in the wrong place. Table 2 is not the same thing as Figure 2.

If a question says, “According to Experiment 1 . . .” then find the chart or graph associated with Experiment 1. (It’s usually right below it.) Nine times out of ten you do not need to read the paragraph introducing Experiment 1. Read these paragraphs only if the question directs you to. For example, if a question says, “According to the hypothesis of the scientist in Experiment 3 . . .” then you need to read Experiment 3 so you know what the hypothesis is. These questions are rare. Also, if you ever feel completely lost, you might want to read the introductory paragraph, which is usually pretty short.

A few tips:

When looking at a graph, always read the labels on the axes. You need to know what’s being measured, and in what units.

The last question on any passage is usually the hardest. Remember: on the ACT you have to keep moving. If you’re stuck on a question, it’s best to guess and move on.

The Conflicting Viewpoints passage is the hardest one. You’ll recognize it because it has fewer charts, graphs, or illustrations than the other passages (usually none at all). It will also have passages labeled “Scientist 1” and “Scientist 2” or “Student 1” and “Student 2” or “Hypothesis A” and “Hypothesis B” or something similar. Occasionally there will be more than two viewpoints. Since there are few (or no) charts and graphs, you will have to do some reading on this one. Read the intro paragraph and the first sentence of each viewpoint. Then you can go to the questions. You can find the answers to most of them by scanning for key words. For example, if a question says something like, “Scientist 2 would most likely state that the vertical circulation that is present in most of the oceans today is maintained, at least in part, by the presence of . . .” then you should scan Scientist 2’s paragraph for the words “vertical circulation.” The sentence with that phrase will probably contain the answer to the question. If you struggle with time on the Science section, it might be a good idea to guess on the Conflicting Viewpoints passage.

In our final post of this series, we’ll take a look at the Essay section.

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