Page 1 - Science Study Guide for the ACT

General Information

The Science section of the ACT test will involve understanding basic concepts you should have covered in high school biology, physics, chemistry, and earth science classes. The questions do not stand alone but will test your understanding of written passages and visual information like graphs and charts. You will need to combine your understanding of science terms and concepts with reading comprehension of scientific material in order to successfully answer the questions.

Since it is not necessary to memorize hundreds of science definitions or practice science concepts in order to do well on this test, we will focus primarily on test-taking practices in this study guide. The way in which you deal with the material presented is far more important than your specific scientific knowledge.

This is what your score report will show in terms of Science: a total Science test score and three subscores in the following area of scientific skill. The percentages shown indicate the approximate amount of emphasis placed on that particular skill among the questions on the test. Some questions are used to evaluate more than one skill, so the percentages do not add up to 100.

  • Interpretation of Data (45 to 55%): This subscore will tell how well you can understand different forms of data (graphs, tables, and diagrams) and how well you can use it to reason.

  • Scientific Investigation (20 to 30%): From procedures to tools, you need to be able to use given experimental results to reason and create other things, such as modifications and additional trials.

  • Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25 to 35%): Whatever the data or its source, it will be up to you to determine the validity of the stated results.

The Types of Passages

This section involves three passage types: Data Representation (30 to 40%), Research Summaries (45 to 55%), and Conflicting Viewpoints (15 to 20%). Like the other sections on the ACT, there is no penalty for incorrect responses, so answer every question, even if you’re unsure of the answer.

Understanding Your Task

The name of this section is somewhat of a misnomer. While each passage will directly relate to a science concept, doing well on this section requires very little scientific background knowledge. This section is much more like a reading comprehension test than a science test. To do well on this section, you will need to utilize primarily your close reading and analysis skills.

The same general approach can be used for each of the passage types in this section. You will first articulate the main idea (What is this passage about?) before carefully making sense of any graphics provided (What are the axes titles? Do the figures display any trends?) and then moving on to the questions. It is extremely important that you carefully examine every piece of information included in the graphics provided; many errors can be attributed to misreading a question or piece of information.

When reading through the passages and graphs, jot down notes to help keep track of the information presented and to give yourself visual markers that make it easier for you to find important information when you start working through the questions. Practice taking notes while analyzing passages so that you can avoid spending time rereading information you’ve already examined. Remember, the real challenge in doing well on this test is accurately analyzing the information presented while managing your time wisely.

The Challenge

The Science section of the ACT is always the final section of the test. The ACT test makers know that students do not have infinite stamina and focus. They also have a good understanding of the metrics used to gauge a student’s likelihood of success during his or her first year of college. They place the Science section at the end because the Science section requires the greatest amount of focus and concentration and they want you to face this section after you’ve already been drained by all of the other sections. However, knowing this, you should have a good idea of what’s required to overcome this obstacle.

Practice taking the ACT under the same conditions as the actual test―meaning, set a timer for the allotted amount, work through the section, and stop when time is over. During your first practice exams, you may have trouble finishing every section on time. This just means that you have more practice to do and strategies to refine.


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