What You Need to Know About ACT Science

students performing a science experiment while teacher watches

The ACT Science test is the final section of the ACT—and the one that makes students the most anxious. After all, “science” covers a lot of ground! But the ACT Science section focuses primarily on logic and scientific reasoning, rather than testing you on facts and equations. Here’s what you need to know to master this section for test day!

What is ACT Science?

In the Science section on the ACT test, you’ll read passages summarizing scientific research or ideas, graphs, charts, tables, and/or research summaries. Here are the fast facts you need!

  • Science is the final multiple-choice section of the ACT. If you’re not taking the essay, it’s the last section of the test.
  • It lasts 35 minutes.
  • It contains 40 questions.
  • Like the other multiple-choice sections of the exam, Science is scored on a 1-36 scale that makes up 1/4 of your composite ACT score.
  • Although only a handful of questions directly test your factual scientific knowledge, frequently tested ACT Science concepts can include biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth science materials, like geology and meteorology—even space sciences like astronomy.

How many ACT Science passages are there?

The exact number varies between tests, but you’ll find either 6 or 7 ACT Science passages on the official exam.

There are three main ACT Science passage types:

Research Summaries

About this passage type: Research Summaries are pretty much what they sound like: the most common passage type summarizes scientific research (sometimes, you’ll also need to compare experiments). Again, these passages usually come with graphics.

How many passages to expect: 2-3

How many questions to answer per passage: 5-6

Data Representation

About this passage type: These are passages that give you scientific information of the type you’d find in a professional journal, along with accompanying graphics.

How many passages to expect: 2-3

How many questions to answer per passage: 5-6

Conflicting Viewpoints

About this passage type: Think of the Conflicting Viewpoints passage as a “fighting scientists” passage pair. These paired passages give two different viewpoints/hypotheses on the same scientific phenomenon, then ask questions about both. Conflicting Viewpoints passages make up 15–20% of ACT Science passages.

How many passages to expect: 1

How many questions to answer per passage: 7

What kinds of questions are asked on ACT Science?

Across all passage-types, you can expect three categories of questions:

Interpretation of Data

About this question type: For these questions, you’ll analyze the data from the passage and/or the accompanying graphic(s).

How many total questions to expect: 16-20

Scientific Investigation

About this question type: These process questions have you evaluate how an experiment was conducted, what the implications of it were, and other design/prediction-based issues, including those involving the scientific method.

How many total questions to expect: 8-12

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results

About this question type: These questions ask you to determine how valid various information is given the results of experiments, then draw conclusions and make predictions based on it.

How many total questions to expect: 10-14

Is ACT Science easy?

For most students, ACT Science is not the most intuitive section on the exam. This is because it tests scientific materials and processes in a way that very few high school science classes do. Any time we’re tested on material in a new way, it can feel challenging.

The pacing on this section is also pretty tight—less than a minute per question. This can be tricky even if you like scientific reading and are confident in your reasoning skills. To avoid running out of time, you’ll need to train yourself on knowing the quickest way on finding the information you need and using your reasoning skills to get to the answer.

For the easiest questions, this often means not even reading the passage and just using the graphs and diagrams to draw quick logical conclusions. For the hardest questions, though, you’ll need to know how to pinpoint the right information in a sea of scientific jargon and/or use multiple logical steps to get to the answer.

With all that said, the ACT is not testing string theory or any other advanced topics. The actual content in this section is relatively basic; with the right amount of practice, anyone can become a pro at ACT Science!

How to Study Act Science

There are three parts to successful study for any ACT section, and Science is no different! These are:

  • Solid lessons in whatever format works best for you: videos, books, classes, a study guide, etc.
  • Test-like practice problems with thorough answers and explanations
  • Full-length ACT practice tests to gauge your current strengths and weaknesses, measure your progress, and adapt your study plan.

With that in mind, though, there are a handful of specific ways to improve your score in this section, too. Chief among them? Work on your understanding of charts, graphs, and tables.

How to Read Science Graphs

If you’re not used to working with charts, graphs, and other visual presentations of data, it’s never too late to start! Take a look at the intro to ACT Science graphs and tables here, making sure that you understand how to find the basic information on each. Specifically, look for the titles, the axes/columns/rows, dependent variable/independent variable (if applicable), and the units.

Once you’ve mastered reading this information and identifying the most important elements quickly, work on spotting trends and patterns in the data in this section.

How to Improve Science Scores

The best thing you can do to improve your science scores is to read a lot of scientific passages and graphics in publications like Scientific American and Popular Science in order to build your familiarity with this type of material. Then, work on putting this experience into practice with a full-length practice test or a single section, ACT Science practice test. Then, keep building your skills with practice questions over time!

But if time is short, you can still boost your score! Check out these easy tips for the Science section, followed by this video with even more top science tips!.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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