The ACT science section covers content in chemistry, physics, biology, earth sciences, and astronomy. Your experience in your high school science classes will help you. However, even more important are your general pattern recognition skills and ability to reason logically from the data that’s presented to you. The good news about the ACT Science section is that using a handful of strategies can often bump your ACT Science score up a few points higher fairly quickly. Of course, even with strategies, practice is key to seeing the results you want.
Here are 7 strategies that can help you become faster and more accurate with ACT Science reasoning:
#1 “Don’t try to read all of the information presented in each Science passage.”
Science passages present you with way more information than you need to answer the questions. Trying to read and absorb all of that information will take too much time! The other strategies below will help you learn to focus on only the important information.
#2 First look at any graphics such as graphs, tables, diagrams, and/or illustrations included in the passage.
Don’t spend a lot of time on this first look, however! Just spend a few seconds getting a very quick idea of the TYPE of information presented in each graphic. With a graph, that information is in the labeling of the axes: for instance, “time versus velocity” or “wavelength versus intensity”. In a table, look for the information types in the column and row headings. Information types may also be found in a key or legend that accompanies a graphic. Once you know the types of information contained in the graphics, you can tell if you’re dealing with chemistry, physics, biology, geology, etc., and have a pretty good idea of what kind of experiment or research was conducted.
#3 Look at is the set of questions.
Usually, each question will tell you look at a specific graphic to find the answer. For example, a question may start, “According to Experiment 2...” or “Based on Figure 3...”
#4 After you know which graphic the question refers you to, look for trends in data and relationships between variables.
For example, when looking at a graph you can very quickly see if there is a direct, inverse, or other type of relationship between two variables. If there is a direct relationship, the variables will increase together and/or decrease together. If there’s an inverse relationship, when one variable grows, the other shrinks. Some relationships may be a combination of direct and inverse patterns, and may even include plateaus where a change in one variable does not affect the other one.
BE CAREFUL: make sure that data is arranged correctly. The ACT sometimes will arrange information in a table out of order, which can make the data appear to have a different relationship than it really does.
6. Learn to read between the lines.
Often a science question will ask you to estimate an answer that’s not represented directly in a graphic. For example, let’s say a science question refers you to a table and asks for the stopping distance of a truck traveling at 55 mph. When you look at the table, you see that at 50 mph the braking distance for a truck is 250 feet and at 60 mph the stopping distance is 380 feet; however, the table doesn’t have an entry for 55 mph. In that case you have to interpolate (read between the lines) and look for a stopping distance in the answers that’s more than 250 feet but less than 380 feet.
7. Read the paragraphs last.
But remember, don’t read the paragraphs at all unless you need more explanation to make sense of the data presented in the graphics.
The only time you should read all of the paragraphs, and read them before the questions, is on a type of passage in which two or more “experts” disagree. Each expert, who may be a scientist, researcher, or student, will present results or theories which agree on some points and disagree on others. The “disagreeing experts” type of passage should be read in the same way you’d read a passage in the Reading section of the ACT.
Feel free to check out some of the other information on the ACT: