Be an ACT Scientist on Science Section

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Put on your lab coat, safety glasses, and thinking cap! Success on the ACT science section calls for science savvy and a strategic approach. Below are the strategies to help you get those Eureka! moments.

In order to maximize your time and score, you want to spend your time on the quickest questions first. Remember that every question carries the same weight. Start with the 3 Data Representation and 3 Research Summaries (Experimental) Passages, and save the 1 Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for the end. This passage takes the longest because there are usually no visuals. The Conflicting Viewpoints Passage requires a different strategy and way of thinking. It will break you out of your focused mindset of reading graphs, tables, and other visuals. So be sure to save it for the very end.

  1. Data Representation (30-40% of Questions) – These questions have you read graphs, interpret scatterplots, and explain information presented in tables. While some knowledge of the subject being tested is helpful, what is more important is your ability to read and understand data.
  2. Experimental (45-55% of Questions) – These questions require you to interpret the design and results of experiments. Again, specific content knowledge isn’t as important as knowledge of the scientific method and data collection.
  3. Conflicting Viewpoints (15-20% of Questions) – The final question type on the ACT science section tests your ability to understand, analyze, and compare alternate viewpoints or hypotheses. These questions will center around a single situation or problem, and you will read two or more different viewpoints and compare the similarities and differences.

Use the process of elimination. Try to get rid of all the answer choices you know are wrong. Then, pick your favorite answer choice among what is left over. Even if you are not 100% sure, bubble it in, and put a small star next to it so you can go back to it if you have time. Do not spend more than 1.5 minutes lingering on a question. You should not spend more than 7-8 minutes on any one passage (unless you have leftover time at the very end of the section to spend it on the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage). If you can’t do any process of elimination, make a guess, put a mark by it, and come back to it if you have time. Remember, there are no points off for incorrect answers, so better to make a wild guess than to leave a question blank. Always choose the same letter as your “guess” letter. Try to avoid getting stuck. In order to avoid getting stuck, you must know yourself as a student:

For the Math thinker, you sometimes get stuck in the numbers and lose site of the main point. Don’t recalculate all of the data or get lost in numerical details. Focus on the main ideas of the passage. If you get frustrated obsessing over numbers and then realizing you didn’t need them to answer the question, you are getting stuck. Try to refocus your attention by looking at the question first, figuring out exactly what you need to answer the question, and then going back and looking for only that information.

For the English thinker, you might get stuck and overwhelmed by the visuals, numbers, or big science terms. Don’t panic over the numbers. Write your own notes in the margins to help you stay focused.

For the Science thinker, don’t get stuck in dissecting the experiment or research or the science terms. Do not overthink the passage content. If you find yourself trying to fully understand the experiment and then realizing you didn’t need to, you are getting stuck.

You Must Read (Skim) The Passages:

Most questions test your ability to understand scientific data by reading graphs, charts, and other visuals (such as diagrams and scatterplots). In order to make the test challenging, the ACT tests these basic skills of reading visuals in unique ways, using strange graphs that you will have never seen before. Labels are very important. For the questions you can’t answer using the visuals, answer them by reading the passage. The only questions you will not be able to answer with visuals or the passage are prior knowledge questions, one to five questions per test. The ACT Science section tries to make the passage more difficult by throwing in large scientific terms. Do not be afraid of them. The ACT typically either explains what the words mean or it is not necessary to know what the words mean to answer the question.

The only exception to the skimming rule is on the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage. You need to fully read the entire passage. You need to figure out how the two scientists, students, or theories differ in opinion.

Conflicting Viewpoints Passages test your reading comprehension ability, very similar to the passages in the Reading section. Be sure to pay close attention when reading Conflicting Viewpoints passages. You should ask yourself questions as you read:

  1. What is the main point of the experiment?
  2. What was the hypothesis?
  3. How were the experiments supposed to validate the hypothesis?

Keep these strategies in mind and you will be shouting, “Eureka!”

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