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David Recine

ACT Science Tips

It’s hard to know what to expect on ACT Science. You don’t get a preview of the specific scientific topics that’ll be covered, and obviously you don’t get to see the passages or questions themselves until you’re right there in the testing room.

Fortunately, the format and skills requirements for ACT Science are predictable. There are a number of specific tips and tricks that can help you on test day, and are good to use during practice too.

  • Keep an eye out for keywords on ACT Science

    Keywords about science facts and ideas are core to answering ACT Science questions correctly. More often than not, ACT Science will make it really easy for you to spot the keywords, the words will be in italics or the words in a question will be the exact same words that appear in the passage. In rarer cases, keywords may be paraphrases of other words. A question might talk about “expansion,” while the passage mentions “growth,” to give one example. So be on the lookout for similes too.

  • Don’t overthink the numbers

    On test day, the ACT Science exam text will warn you that “you are NOT permitted to use a calculator.” This stern-sounding advisory can seem a little scary. I certainly felt a twinge of math anxiety when I took ACT Science and saw that rule.

In fact, math anxiety will only distract you and is completely unnecessary. Yes, ACT Science will throw a lot of numbers at you, but all you need to do with those numbers is read them or compare them. You won’t need to plug numbers into actual calculations. You simply need to know what the numbers are and which numbers are larger or smaller.

  • Use applicable ACT Math and Reading skills

    Think of the ACT Science section as a close cousin to the ACT Math and Reading tests. Your ability to recognize the visuals in ACT Math (geometric figures, XY planes, etc.) will greatly help you understand the layout of the tables and graphs in ACT Science. Science questions that focus on comprehension of the passage require you to make inferences and understand details, just like you would in ACT Reading.

  • Understand the purpose of illustrative diagrams on ACT Science

    Illustrative diagrams seldom contain an XY axis and don’t give information in the same way as other graphs. In fact, you will almost never be directly questioned about an illustrative diagram in ACT Science. But illustrative diagrams are still important. They can help you get a strong mental image of what the passage and the other infographics are really talking about. Take the graphic below (taken from Practice Test 1 The Real ACT Prep Guide). Here, the clear image of the test tube and water solution help you understand that rise of liquid is the same thing as an increase in volume. This becomes important in the question set that follows the passage and graphics.




About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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