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Thomas Broderick

5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Science Topics

If you’re reading this article because you’re struggling with the ACT Science Test, let me offer some perspective. I can still remember the hardest question a science test ever asked me. Above a blank rectangular box was the question, “In the box, draw the human elbow and label all the bones, muscles, and tendons.” To answer that question, I had to pull knowledge from a year’s worth of lessons. Why tell this story? It highlights a very important distinction between the topics on the ACT Science Test and any other science test you’ve ever taken.


The 5 most frequently tested ACT Science topics are more about what you can do when given certain information, rather than what you know before coming into the test.


Though you need to be familiar with scientific terms to succeed on the ACT Science Test, the test’s true ‘topics’ revolve around certain skills. In the following paragraphs I will break down the 5 most frequently tested ACT Science topics so that you know what to expect on test day. This article will also provide helpful links so that you can learn more about each topic and raise your score. Let’s get started.


Reading Charts

Ah yes, the ‘treasure hunt.’ Yet unlike similar on the ACT Reading Test, finding the right answer on the ACT Science Test depends on your ability to read charts. The key to success lies in recognizing labels. Skim the questions first, marking any term that looks important. Once you’ve matched the term in the chart, you know exactly where to look for the answer. The rest of the information (most of it useless) can no longer confuse you or stress you out.


Using Charts

The chart treasure hunt is over. In this topic, you’ll be given a scenario (ex: a variable in the experiment has changed) and use the chart to figure out the possible outcome. Though you’re making an educated guess, the chart will provide all the information you need to answer the question successfully.



While scientists use graphs to visualize data and see patterns in their results, they present unique challenges to the test taker. Questions involving graphs will likely ask you to use both a graph and its corresponding chart. As long as you’re focusing on the keywords mentioned in the question, the excess data should not confuse you.


5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Science Topics -Magoosh

Even in such a ‘busy’ graph, a graph question will typically ask you about a single line of data.


What comes next?

These questions will ask you to decide what the experimenter should do next. The key to these questions is knowing what the experiment is trying to do. Again, it doesn’t require any deep knowledge of science, only skimming the beginning of the passage to find out the experiment’s main idea.


5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Science Topics -magoosh

If we look at the first paragraph, we see that scientists want to know about “high altitudes and the effects of the air pressure changes.” If that’s what the scientists want to learn about, our next step needs to have something to do with high altitudes and air pressure.


Comparing and Inferring

This last topic refers only to the Comparing Viewpoints passage on the ACT Science Test. Ever do a compare/contrast activity in English or history class? If so, you know what you need to do to answer these questions correctly. If not, it all boils down to finding similarities and differences in the two opinions.

In my experience, the hardest part for many students are the inference questions. To improve your inference skills, spend extra time analyzing your results after taking a timed practice test. Most practice tests provide detailed explanations for each answer. If you are making mistakes with inference, analyzing the real answer will help you build the skill you need to succeed.

That’s all for now, ACT scientists. Good luck, and don’t let those graphs and charts psych you out!


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About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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