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How to Do Well on ACT Science for Non-Science People


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.

If you're one of those people who runs away from Math and Science Questions or considers themselves a writer or artist rather than a scientist or mathematician, do not fear! You can still get a 36 on ACT Science.  

The keys to success on ACT Science for non-science people are:  

  • Focusing only on what you need to know and practicing those skills, specifically:
    • Scientific Method
    • The 13 topics the ACT Science section expects you to know
    • Reading visuals
  • Avoiding the science terms
  • Focusing on the reading aspect

I'll delve into these three topics below. 


Focusing Only on What You Need to Know and Practicing Those Skills

As I mentioned above, there is very, very little actual science you need to understand for ACT Science. However, you do need to have a basic understanding of these three categories.


Scientific Method

This is the basis for all of the passages in the ACT Science section. I will give you a basic summary of the scientific method, and you can read more about it in my Experimental Design question article. Scientists use the scientific method for all experiments.

Scientists begin by observing something they want to study such as the freezing point of water. They notice water freezes somewhere between -5 and 5 degrees Celsius and want to know at exactly what temperature it will happen. Scientists then make a prediction or a hypothesis about what will happen. These scientists predict that the water will freeze at 1 degree Celsius. 

Scientists then conduct an experiment to test this hypothesis. To conduct an experiment, scientists use independent variables and dependent variable. The variables that the scientists actively change are the independent variables. The variables that they then observe are the dependent variables. In this case, the scientists put 5 g of water into 11 freezers. Each freezer is set to a different measurement: -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 degrees Celsius. The freezer temperature is the independent variable. After 2 hours, the scientists check each freezer and note whether the water in the freezer is solid or liquid. Liquid or solid is the dependent variable.

Scientists then draw a conclusion from the results. The scientists find that all water at or below 0 degrees Celsius froze while all water at or above 1 degree Celsius remained a liquid. So, their hypothesis was incorrect. Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.

ACT Science Tip: You do not need to memorize the steps of the scientific method to ace the ACT Science section. You just need to understand that Scientists are looking to see how a change in one thing affects the outcome. How a change in the independent variable affects the dependent variable. You need to be able to distinguish between these variables on the test. Check out our Experimental Design article for more practice on this topic.


The 13 Topics ACT Science Expect You to Know

There are 13 science topics that the ACT Science section expects you to know, ranging from basic cell biology to how gravity works. There will only be 4 questions per test on these topics (out of 40 questions), and the ACT will not give you information on these topics in the passage. Check out this previous knowledge question below:




In order to answer this question, you need to use the information from the passage, that “A pre-MS star becomes an MS star when the star produces the majority of its energy by fusing hydrogen nuclei (protons) at its center to make helium nuclei.” On top of this information, you need to know that protons are positively charged and like charges repel each other. So, the answer is G.

I wrote an entire article covering all 13 topics: check it out here. Make flashcards for each topic and drill them until you know them. If you are looking to score a 30 or below on ACT Science, do not stress too much about memorizing these topics as you could get all 4 questions wrong and still score around a 30. Instead, focus on the next skill covered, as it is the most tested:  


Reading Visuals

This is the key to success on all ACT Science Passages. This is the most tested skill on the ACT Science section. Learn the basics of reading graphs and other visuals through our article on Factual Questions: How to Read Graphs, Tables and Data. Continue to practice this skill by taking ACT Science Practice Tests: check out our article on where to find the best practice tests


Avoiding the Science Terms

As I said before, ACT Science is really a misnomer. You DO NOT need to comprehend the large science terms used in the passages. If you do need to know it to answer a question, the passage will explain what it means. See the example below:




You can see in this passage they give you definitions for most of the terms: refracted, seismograph, focus, shadowzone, the types of seismic waves, the difference between p and s waves.

When the ACT Science section doesn’t give you the definition of a word, don’t sweat it. Think of ACT Science questions as a matching game. You see a word you don’t understand in the question like average change in AGTB, and you match the word to its partner in the visuals:




You never actually have to explain what it means. DO NOT stress over these big terms. Think of them as placeholders. 


Focus on the Reading Aspect

As I’ve said many times, ACT Science is not really a science test; it is a reading test. So if you are a writer/artist, who loves to read, focus on that aspect. Think of it as reading section #2 where you happen to read about science experiments or studies. Read our article on The Best Strategies for Reading ACT Science Passages to make sure you are getting the most out of your reading skills.



Do not worry about your dislike of science; you can still get a 36 on the Science section. Study the material you need to know:

Do not get caught up in the big, scary science terms. Instead, think of the section as a matching game. Focus on the reading aspect if you enjoy reading!      


What’s Next?

Keep practicing by learning about the different types of ACT Science questions such as factual questions, interpreting trends questions, experimental design questions, and interpreting experiments questions.

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

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.

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