6 Steps to Succeed on the ACT Science Section

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing-science-dog1I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the ACT Science section is just Reading in disguise!

For the vast majority of questions on the Science section, you don’t need to really know anything about science. You only need to follow these six simple steps:

1. Spot the Data

Any chart, table, or graph attached to a passage will be significant. If it’s there, you will be tested on your ability to interpret it.

2. Interpret the Data

Once you’ve located an important-looking chart, table, or graph, it’s time to decipher it. Don’t go overboard just yet; for now, identify the variables and how those variables are related (the basic trend).

For example:


Here are the important things to immediately note about the graph above:

A. The x-variable is the number of snacks and the y-variable is the number of smiles.

B. As the number of snacks increases, so does the number of smiles.

3. Compare the Data

Often there will be more than one graph/chart/table in a given passage. If this is the case, there is guaranteed to be a question that will require you to compare/contrast the data at hand. BE SURE TO REMEMBER THE DIFFERENCE(S) BETWEEN THE CHARTS/TABLES/GRAPHS. These questions almost always emphasize the difference(s) between the variables and/or results in the data. Always, always, always note the changes between “Scientist 1” and “Scientist 2,” or “Experiment 1” and “Experiment 2.”

4. Examine the Questions

You will always be tested on the data presented, but peruse the multiple choice to determine what else you need to read. Immediately answer the questions that directly address the data included; there are reliably 1-3 questions specifically about the graph(s) following a given science passage.

5. Skim for Key Words

For the other questions not concerning graphs or specific data, seek key words. More often than not, the phrasing of a multiple choice question will be excerpted directly from the passage.

For example: if a question asks you about the relationship between atmospheric pressure and wind speeds, locate the word “atmospheric pressure” in the passage and only study sentences in the nearby vicinity. Be selective about the text you choose to read closely.

6. Don’t Get Intimidated

If I had to summarize the best strategy for the ACT Science section in two words, it would be, “Avoid reading.” The rambling science passages are intended to lose you, bruise you, abuse you and confuse you. Seriously. Some of them are long enough to give The Odyssey a run for its money.

I’m a fairly fast reader and I didn’t have enough time to finish the ACT Science section. I spent my 35 minutes attempting to comprehend overly-complicated paragraphs about experimental design and the scientific method. Don’t let this happen to you.

Stay focused. Watch the variables. Eat snacks. Smile.

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Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she produces student films, hosts podcasts, and teaches ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.