Most students struggle with the timing of the ACT Science. I really struggled with it when I was a high school student. With only 52.5 seconds to answer each question or 5 minutes per passage, you have no time to waste.
I improved my ACT science score by 5 points between my first official test and my second. Did I learn more science between the first and second test? No, but I did practice certain time management tips and ACT Science strategies specific to the section. In this article, I'll show you the lessons I learned so you can finish the section with time to spare.
As an overview, here are the ACT Science tips I'm going to cover to maximize your score in the limited time you have:
- Skip the instructions
- What passage do you answer first?
- How do you attack them?
- Figure out where you are getting stuck
- How to know when to skip
- What to do if you have blanks at the end
- Keep your energy up
Time-Saving Tip #1: Do Not Read the Instructions
I know you were taught to always read instructions - I know I was. But do not read them on the day of the test. If you've taken ACT Science practice tests before, you know what's coming, and instructions are a complete waste of time. The instructions will just slow you down.
Here are the instructions, read them now and then never again:
“DIRECTIONS: There are several passages in this test. Each passage is followed by several questions. After reading a passage, choose the best answer to each question and fill in the corresponding oval on your answer document. You may refer to the passages as often as necessary. You are NOT permitted to use a calculator on this test.”
Not very helpful, right? The instructions never change; so do not waste your time reading them the day of the test.
But I want to read the instructions!
Time-Saving Tip #2: What Passage Do You Answer First?
Every correct answer is worth the same, so spend your time on the least time costly questions first as this will maximize the number of points you get. To maximize your time and score:
Start with the 3 Data Representation and 3 Research Summaries Passages.
These are very similar; both use visuals as the primary way to relay information. For more information on these types of passages, read about the 3 types of ACT Science passages.
Attack both passages in the same way. Start by trying to answer the questions with visuals alone. Skip the ones you can’t answer with the visuals and come back to them after answering all of the other questions in that passage. Read more about this strategy in our other article.
Save the 1 Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for the End.
This passage takes the longest because there are usually no visuals. You have to read the entire passage to answer the questions. For more information on Conflicting Viewpoints passages, read about the 3 types of ACT Science passages.
If you read the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage first or somewhere in the middle, it'll slow you down on the other passages. The Conflicting Viewpoints Passage requires an entirely different strategy and way of thinking. It'll break you out of your focused mindset of reading graphs, tables, and other visuals. So be sure to save it for the very end.
Try to make sure you have at least 5 minutes to attempt it. If you only have 3 minutes or less when you get to this passage, skip reading, jump to the questions and try to go back and skim to answer as best you can. It's better to read the whole passage first but with 3 minutes or less, you will not have time.
Time-Saving Tip #3: How to Know When to Skip
Keep track of your timing. You should not spend more than 1.5 minutes on any question. Ideally, you should be spending exactly 52.5 seconds on each question. However, some questions you'll be able to answer faster, so it'll allow you to spend a little more time on harder problems.
Use 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're 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.
Don't spend more than 1.5 minutes lingering on a question. Going off of this point, 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).
It'll kill your pace. If you can’t do any process of elimination (more than likely you will be able to do some), leave it blank, put a mark by it, and come back to it if you have time. Try to avoid getting stuck.
Time-Saving Tip #4: Figure Out Where You Are Getting Stuck
This problem is person specific, but I'll try to show places where certain kinds of people get stuck.
For the Math thinker, you sometimes get stuck in the numbers and lose sight 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 questions 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. If you need more visual reading practice, read about how to read graphs, tables, and data. Also, learn the best strategy for reading ACT Science passages.
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 (which you shouldn't), you are getting stuck. Focus on the questions asked, read the questions first, and don't read the whole passage unless absolutely necessary to answer the questions (which it shouldn't be for the Data Representation and Research Summaries Passages).
For the overachiever/perfectionist, you might get stuck wanting to be 100% sure you have the right answer. You do not have that luxury on this time-crunched test. Don’t linger. Move on.
No one wants to end up stuck in the mud
Time-Saving Tip #5: Bubble in the Blanks at the End
Leave yourself 1 minute to 30 seconds at the end of the section to bubble in a letter for the ones you could not get to or skipped. DO NOT leave any blanks.
There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you leave blanks, you are giving up free points. Every 1-2 questions answered raises your score 1 point especially in the 30-36 range. There is no best letter to guess (even if you have heard C is the most used). All letters are used randomly and equally.
Time-Saving Tip #6: Keep Your Energy Up
The ACT Science section is always the last section of the test. You'll be tired. Slash that, exhausted. You'll have already been sitting for over an hour and a half. Your wrist will hurt from writing, and your butt will hurt from sitting. You'll be wondering if you answered that Math problem correctly.
Don't linger on what happened during the other sections
You must let go of what happened on the last three sections of the test and power through. You need to stay focused on this time-crunched ACT Science section.
Have energy-packed snacks to eat at the break for an energy boost. Practice sitting for at least 3 full-length practice tests before you take the actual test. Don't just sit for the 35-minute science section. As I said before, take 3 full-length practice ACTs, all five sections (including the Essay) in one sitting.
- Do not read the instructions!
- Don’t waste your time.
- Start with the Data Representation and Research Summaries Passages.
- Save the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for last.
- Figure out where you are getting stuck and don’t do it!
- Skip if you have spent more than 1.5 minutes on it.
- Use process of elimination, pick your favorite answer to bubble in, mark it to come back to if you have time.
- Give yourself time to fill in the blanks and the end.
- Never leave blanks. You are giving up free points!
- Keep your energy up to get the best score!
I hope you feel ready to maximize your time on the ACT Science! Trust yourself, know when to move on, and you will do great! Continue your ACT Science learning by reading about the 3 types of ACT Science passages, the only actual science you need to know for ACT Science, and the big secret of ACT Science.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.