Increase Your Speed on the ACT Science Section

If the ACT Science section was six hours long, almost everyone would get a perfect score. Unfortunately, you only have 35 minutes. Here are 6 tips to increase your speed:

1. Don’t pause between questions.

When you take school tests or other standardized tests, you might be used to looking over your answer for a second before moving on, just to be sure it’s correct. This is a great habit that will serve you well in the future. But on the ACT Science section? Forget it. As soon as you’ve chosen your answer, move your pencil to the next question.

2. Consider doing difficult Dueling Scientist passages last.

The Dueling Scientist passage takes the most time because you’ll actually be reading all of it (the one passage that presents two opinions and questions that ask you to analyze these opinions). If it shows up in Passages IV through VII, you might want to leave it for last. On the other hand, if it’s Passage I, II, or III – or if it looks like an easy read – you may as well do it now.

3. Do your favorite topics first. Leave ones you don’t like for later.

Even though very few questions require actual science knowledge, everyone has topics they feel confident about and topics that just seem hard. For example, Jeremy is currently taking Biology, so he likes passages about animal populations and genes. However, passages about kinetic and potential energy intimidate him because he hasn’t taken Physics yet. On the ACT Science section, be your own boss and do passages that seem easy to you first, then tackle the ones that look harder.

4. If a passage really confuses you, move to the next one.

Once in a while, you’ll encounter a passage that just makes no sense. Maybe there’s a bizarre diagram full of Greek letters. Maybe the descriptions of the experiments were so badly written you couldn’t understand them. This happens to everyone, but high-scoring students don’t let it faze them, even if it’s Passage I. Instead of worrying or re-reading, move calmly to the next passage and come back later if you have time.

5. Prioritize table-reading questions over conceptual questions.

The first few questions of each passage are usually the easiest. Why? Because those are the questions that simply ask you to read the tables and graphs. Questions that ask you to analyze or explain data usually come at the end of a passage. Therefore, don’t get stuck on the last question of Passage V when you could do the first three questions of Passage VI in the same amount of time.

6. Take timed practice tests.

The only real way to get a feel for ACT Science pacing is to take a timed section. Pick up The Real ACT Prep Guide or sign up for an online program like the WilsonDailyPrep, sit down at the kitchen table, and then set a timer for 35 minutes. Remember, the more you practice, the quicker you’ll get.

Subjective vs. Objective

I receive many questions about understanding the difference between these two key terms — here is my answer! Subjective questions and readings are tied to EMOTION. Objective questions and readings are tied to FACT. When reading a science passage, ask yourself, “Is this an objective or subjective piece?” If the passage is objective, the questions revolve around factual words – analyze, data, empirical, pragmatic, etc. If it is subjective, the questions revolve around emotional words – conjecture, hypothetical, observation, etc.

Knowing whether a passage is subjective or objective is important because the correct answers will reflect this stance. If a reading is objective, you should choose an answer containing an objective word. Similarly, subjective readings should lead you to answer choices containing subjective words.

A few tips:

1. Start the reading with these two words in mind.
2. Do not apply this method to just science readings. You may come across a double passage reading in which the first passage is from a personal/subjective stance, while the second passage analyzes the same topic from an objective standpoint. Be aware and observant.
3. If a passage begins with the word “I,” it will probably be subjective.
4. Tone is a key component to decoding the questions and finding the correct answers. Knowing whether a passage is subjective or objective helps guide you to the tone of the passage.
5. Create a subjective/objective list of words to help you. Add to this list as you continue to practice. Here is a start:

Subjective

Emotional

Personal

Conjecture

Hypothetical

Feelings

Speculative

Theoretical

Provisional

Objective

Neutral

Clinical

Fiscal

Empirical

Analyze

Data

Pragmatic

Concrete

Add Flavor to your Essay- Bring in History

I have read literally thousands of SAT essays, and I know that many students mention examples from history in their 25 minute essay. However, students do just that – they mention history. In 25 minutes, the average student has difficulty coming up with the details necessary to really support an essay and therefore only brings in superficial examples without adding any juicy details. The goal is to memorize and include concrete examples and interesting facts (and, if possible, even a date) for three historical moments.

Take a look at this weak historical detail included in response to the following prompt: “Can success be disastrous?”

During the Civil War, the North was competing with the South, and the North succeeded, freeing the slaves but leaving some people unhappy.

What is this proving? Everyone knows that slavery was abolished. This is a superficial, boring account of the Civil War, exactly the type of account that will prevent you from achieving a top score on the SAT essay. And, “some people unhappy”? This is another superficial statement that gives less-than-clear direction.

As a grader, I need concrete examples! Add flavor to your essay with battles, dates, names, places, etc.

From 1861 to 1865, the northern and southern United States entered into a period of bloody civil war; although the North’s success emancipated slaves, the country was thrown into a period of economic and social instability.

Ooh – much more interesting. I have a date; I have a place; I have a direction as to where the essay will be going. Now the writer can bring in details of the Reconstruction Era. These are new details – about the birth of the KKK, tax increases for the South, the oppressive Black Codes, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

I recommend that your historical moments include one war, one era, and one historical figure. These should be disparate moments in history so that all possible essay topics are covered. Don’t choose the Civil War, the Civil War Era, and Abe Lincoln!

To find a list of recommended historical moments to “own,” check out Write the SAT Essay Right(on Amazon or at www.barnesandnoble.com) and look at page 63.

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