Before reviewing specific tips for the section, let’s ensure you know the structure of the ACT Science section.
WHAT’S THE STRUCTURE OF THE ACT SCIENCE SECTION?
The ACT Science section has 40 questions in 35 minutes. The 40 questions are divided among three types of passages: figures & tables (6 questions each), experiments (7 questions each), and debating scientists (7 questions each).
Now for the top 10 expert tips…
tip 1: Play hide-and-go-seek
The answer is always in the passage; it’s that explicit. Everything’s there, waiting for you to find it.
tip 2: Know your pace
Remember the ACT Science section isn’t about science; it’s about combining your reading and data analysis skills. Pacing is essential. Like the ACT Reading section, your score may improve if you know when to invest time in a question and when to skip around.
tip 3: Annotate
The science passages are incredibly dense and provide tons of extraneous information. While referencing a section, underline key information, sketch in the margins, or feel free to put little arrows for diagrams. Do what you need to break up the content into digestible pieces.
tip 4: Relive 3rd grade science class
Although the test uses scientific terminology, very little knowledge of science is needed. In the 1 or 2 questions (out of 40) that require specific scientific knowledge, the content will be quite basic: opposite charges attract and like charges repel; the difference between an independent variable and dependent variable. No chemistry or biology knowledge required.
tip 5: Remember – it’s just a reading section in disguise
Whatever is being asked, the answer is in the passage; the answer is in the figure; the answer is in the table. You just have to go back and find it. I tell my students all the time, “if you had all day to do the science section, I would expect you not to miss a single question because everything you need to answer the questions is provided to you.” What makes the science section challenging is the time pressure. Solution: practice and become comfortable so you won’t feel surprised.
tip 6: Know types of passages
Figures & Tables passages will require you to interpret or analyze information provided in charts, graphs, and tables. Experiments passages test the design, execution, and results of experiments described. The Debating Scientists passage requires you to analyze and compare different viewpoints, theories, or hypotheses on a specific scientific phenomenon.
tip 7: Trust the question
If a question says, “according to Table 1,” then the answer is in Table 1. If a question says, “according to Figure 1 and Figure 2,” then you won’t be able to answer the question without synthesizing information from both of those figures. You can trust the question. No trickery or lying is allowed. If you are told where to look, that’s where you want to look.
tip 8: Embrace your inner scientist
Again, you’re not being tested on specific scientific content, but you are being tested on your ability to recognize patterns. Consider two scientists debating why dinosaurs went extinct. On what do the scientists agree? What are differences in their opinions? Use your inner scientist to recognize patterns and observe overlap or difference in opinion.
tip 9: Love relationships
Direct and indirect relationships are frequently tested. Direct relationships mean that two variables go in the same direction. If one goes up, the other goes up and if one goes down, the other goes down. In indirect relationships, variables go in opposite directions: if one goes up, the other goes down. That’s it.
tip 10: Look for similarities and differences
As an example, consider an experiment conducted at 10° and then at 20° and then at 30°. In what ways did the rising temperature influence the results? In what ways did the results stay the same? That’s what you’re really trying to understand and take away.
What’s the take home message?
As you dive into the ACT Science section, be prepared to make pacing decisions. At multiple points, you’ll have to decide whether to stick with difficult questions within a passage or move on to the next passage hoping to find easier questions. Practice your pacing and you’ll know what choice is the right one.
For the other ACT sections, you can also see Expert Tips for ACT English, Expert Tips for ACT Math, and Expert Tips for ACT Reading. To learn how the ACT Writing section is organized and different from the SAT Essay, see ACT Writing vs. SAT Essay. Happy studying!
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