What Science Is On The ACT?

Paget Hines
Test Tips
Mar 15th 2017

Students are often getting caught up wondering what science is on the ACT. You may be relieved to find out that you don't need any scientific knowledge to do well on this section.

The science section on the ACT is often the source of a lot of stress and anxiety because students incorrectly think that this is a science test. It's not! In reality, the science section of the ACT is an additional test of reading comprehension. You need ZERO science knowledge to do well on this section.

What do you need know to for ACT science, then?

You need to be comfortable reading charts, graphs, and tables. You will also need to know how to look for information on the X- and Y-axis as well as understand the key or legend provided with each passage. Here is a breakdown of the science section:

The passages fall into three categories:

Research Summaries

➢ These passages consist of descriptions of scientific experiments and how they were carried out with a summary of results.

➢ These are usually presented as an image, graph, table, and/or scatterplot and a descriptive paragraph.

➢ You may be asked to analyze the experimental design, predict outcomes, identify hypotheses, or determine conclusions.

➢ 18 out of 40 questions typically fall into this category.


Data Representation

➢ These passages present scientific information in the form of graphs, tables, and figures.

➢ These passages are similar to articles in science texts and journals.

➢ You may be asked to select conclusions, determine relationships between variables, or apply data.

➢ 15 out of 40 questions typically fall into this category.


Conflicting Viewpoints

➢ These passages present differing hypotheses, theories, or viewpoints of more than one scientist.

➢ You may be asked to select evidence supporting particular positions, determine

similarities/differences between positions, or determine strengths and weaknesses of positions.

➢ 7 out of 40 questions typically fall into this category.


So now that you know that this is actually reading comprehension for science and not a science test, what are the best strategies for managing your time and doing well on this section? First, Do not read the instructions; save time by skipping the instructions! Remember that all the information is given to you in the passage. You should not rely on any prior knowledge to answer the questions. Do not imply any information that is not provided.

Additionally, pay special attention to any information identified with an asterisk (*) or in italics. I always advise my students to start with the Data Representation and Research Summaries passages. The Conflicting Viewpoints passage takes the most time. For students who struggle with finishing this section, I suggest saving the Conflicting Viewpoints passage for the end. Skip questions if you get stuck; this is a waste of time. Finally, the passages do not get more difficult, but the questions within a group generally get harder towards the end of the group. This is important to remember if you are choosing which questions are worth your time and on which ones to guess.

The ACT science test is another way to test your critical reading skills. The best way to prepare for this section is to become comfortable with decoding visual representations of information. Don't let the content fool you; this is not a science test!

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Paget is a Learning Specialist, Partner at Direct Hits, and author of the Direct Hits Vocabulary book series. She began her teaching career at the Schenck School in Atlanta. After completing two years of Orton-Gillingham training, Paget began privately tutoring. For 13 years she was in private practice in San Francisco, working with students in middle school and high school. She developed and implemented a SSAT verbal, reading comprehension, and essay curriculum for students with learning differences and test-taking anxiety. She currently works with students at Georgia Tech through Project Engages. Paget has tutored and administered the SSAT, PSAT, ACT, and SAT throughout her career.