Many students struggle with ACT Science. Students, who came to me for tutoring after taking their first official ACT test, typically performed worst on this section. It is very fast and unlike any other science test. This section more than any other is about pacing and strategy. I was able to boost my ACT Science score 5 points with a few tips. So, what simple tips and tricks can you use to boost your ACT Science score right now?
ACT Science Tip #1: Save the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for Last
Every question in the ACT Science section is worth the same point value, so you want to get the most points in the limited amount of time given (35 minutes total or 52.5 seconds per question). To get the most points, you should save the most time-consuming passage for last, which conflicting viewpoints is. If you do not know the 3 Types of ACT Science Passages, read this article first. As a brief summary, there are 3 types of passages, 7 passages used on the test:
- 3 Data Representation Passages
- 3 Research Summaries Passages
- 1 Conflicting Viewpoints Passage
The Conflicting Viewpoints Passage has no graphs or tables. Instead, there are two or more scientists/students/theories presented in short paragraphs. The questions ask you about each viewpoint and the differences and similarities between the viewpoints. You need to read and understand the entire passage to answer the questions. Therefore, this passage will take the longest, so save it for last, so it doesn’t kill your pace.
Conflicting Viewpoints should be THE END
You should be able to speed through the other 2 types of passages using our next tip:
ACT Science Tip #2: Use Only Visuals to Answer Questions in Data Representation and Research Summary Passages
Again, since every question is worth the same point value and you only have 52.5 seconds per question, you want to answer as many questions as you can in the shortest amount of time. Saving Conflicting Viewpoints until the end will save you some time, but not reading the Data Representation and Research Summary passages will save you even more time.
Most of the questions in these 2 types of passages can be answered by using the visuals and not reading the passage, so you will actually save time and answer more questions correctly by not reading these passages! Counterintuitive, I know. Since the majority of the questions ask you about data which is presented in the visuals, you just need to look at these visuals to find the correct answer. Learn more about this in our other article on time management and section strategy. Again, skip reading these passages, jump right to the questions and answer as many as you can with visuals alone. If you can’t get to a final answer, at least use the visuals for process of elimination:
ACT Science Tip #3: Use Process of Elimination
Again, you have very little time on the ACT Science section (5 minutes per passage or 52.5 seconds per question). You need to find ways to make the best use of your limited time. So, as you start to notice what cannot be the correct answer, cross it out. This process of elimination will help you make the best use of your time and will lead you to the correct answer.
If you don't use process of elimination, you may jump to pick an answer before making sure it is the best answer choice. With process of elimination, you know your final answer is the only one that CAN be correct.
If it is wrong, cross it out!
You do not want to let anything slow you down, including the big science terms:
ACT Science Tip #4: Make Sure You Read the Right Figure and Pay Attention to Labels
In my experience teaching students, the most common careless mistake I see is reading the wrong figure and mixing up the labels. If you look at Figure 2 when you're supposed to be looking at Figure 3, you'll make huge mistakes. And you can bet the ACT has trap answers that bait you into these mistakes.
Similarly, graphs often have labeled x and y-axes, and you need to make sure you're looking at the correct axis to find the correct data value.
Check out my guide on reading graphs to make sure you don't make these mistakes.
ACT Science Tip #5: Don't Get Stuck on Big Science Terms
ACT Science is really a misnomer; the test should be called the “reading with very confusing big words and tricky visuals” section. The reason ACT Science does not force you to memorize AP level Bio or complete IB Physics HL problems is that not everyone takes all of that math in high school. For ACT Science to be a fair standardized test for all high school students, the test asks you about basic science concepts in tricky or confusing ways. The ACT Science does not expect you to be familiar with the big science terms it throws at you.
ACT Science Tip #6: Don't Study Science Terms
If you need to know a science term to answer a question, the term will be defined for you in the passage. For most of the large science terms that are not defined, you will not need to understand them to get to the answer. Think of it as a matching game. If a question asks about average change in AGTB and you do not know what that is, simply find the term “average change in AGTB” in a visual (such as a graph) and then see if you can find the data you need to answer the question.
There are only 4 outside knowledge questions on ACT Science that require you to know concepts outside of the passage. We detail every concept you need to know in this guide.
Use these 6 tips and you will see an instant improvement:
- Save the Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for last.
- Try to use only visuals to answer questions in Data Representation and Research Summary Passages.
- Use Process of Elimination.
- Make sure you read the right figure and pay attention to labels.
- Do not get caught up in the big science terms.
- Don't actually study science to improve your score.
Keep these tips in mind before your test and you'll avoid careless mistakes and save time!
These strategies alone may not help you push your score to the maximum. Be sure to check out our other articles for maximum score improvement.
Learn about the different types of questions on the ACT Science section such as factual questions, interpreting trends questions, and experimental design and hypothetical change questions.
Looking for overall ACT Science review? Read our complete guide to the section.
Taking the ACT really soon? Check out our guide to cramming.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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.