5 Ways to Succeed on the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science Test is a source of anxiety for many students, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, three or four years’ worth of high school science is a lot to review! How well do you really remember that lab activity about springs from ninth grade physics? Fortunately, the test doesn’t test the content of high school science nearly as much as it tests a very narrow set of skills developed in high school math and science classes. Here are five things you need to know in order to succeed on on the ACT Science test:

1. This Is Not A (Science) Test

In fact, the ACT Science test might be more accurately described as a hybrid of a data analysis and reading comprehension test. A student’s ability to deal with graphs and tables is far more important to success on the test than her ability to label a diagram of a cell or balance a chemical equation. Any formulae needed to answer questions (and there are very few) are provided in the passage, and you won’t need to learn any complicated scientific concepts on the spot.

On the flip side, don’t skip over the data in the passage and start answering questions because you think that you already know all there is to know about acids and bases. Just like in the ACT Reading test, make sure you’re only using the information provided.

2. Manage Time Wisely

The Science test consists of 40 questions in 35 minutes, and pacing is a big issue for many students. The most efficient way to work through the test is to complete the data analysis passages first, followed by the research summaries, and leave the opposing viewpoints passage for last. You might notice that this list moves from figure-heavy to text-heavy passage types. That’s because it’s easier to pull information quickly from a table or a graph than from a chunk of text. Because all of the questions are weighted equally, starting with the quicker, figure-heavy passages makes the best use of your time.

3. Don’t Read The Passage Until You Know What You’re Reading For

Because you’re not terribly concerned with gaining a deep understanding of the scientific topic discussed by the passage (and don’t have time to, even if you wanted to), you need to use the questions to guide our use of the passage. Lots of questions will tell you exactly which data representation or experiment to look at with phrases like “According to Figure 2…”

4. Don’t Let The Jargon Get You Down

When many students skim a science passage and see something like “Helicobacter pylori,” panic sets in. So, what the heck is Helicobacter pylori? For the purposes of the ACT, it’s “the thing measured by the graph with an axis labeled ‘Helicobacter pylori,’” plus any plain-English description given by the passage (for the purposes of the real world, it’s both a bacterium found in the stomach and two decent Scrabble words). The good news is that the only things you’ll need to know about Helicobacter pylori to knock out the passage are 1) whatever the passage explicitly tells you about it and 2) whatever information the graphs and tables present about it.

5. If You’re Doing Complicated Math, You’re Doing Something Wrong

You’re not allowed to use a calculator for ACT Science, which is fine because there’s absolutely no reason to use one. The only math you’ll have to do is very simple, and the numbers will all come directly from the data provided by the passage.

With these tips you’ll be ready to rock ACT Science (even if geology isn’t your area of expertise)!

By Emma Chomin