6 – 7 passages, 40 questions, and 35 minutes. Not counting the time it takes to read the passages, the ACT allows less than one minute per question on the science section. This is a difficult task and many students struggle to figure out the best way to approach this challenging section of the ACT test. In order to do really well on the ACT Science section, you need to implement some strategies (on top of also knowing the content really well).
Strategies for Reading the Science Passages and Graphs
You actually do want to read the passages (quickly). By quickly reading the passages, hopefully, you will save yourself from having to return to the passage for every single question. But unlike the reading section, when you can spend some more time on each passage, you want to skim the science passages as quickly as you can with the goal of “noting” things. Think, “What does this show?” (especially for graphs) and “Why are they telling me this?”
Read the passage to note:
- Definitions of words and/or processes
- Differences in experiments/process (circle things you read like, “in Experiment 2 they changed the temp” or “used different amounts of water”)
- Differences in outcomes (sometimes results are described in the paragraphs and not the charts/graphs)
- Conclusions (maybe even those you could draw from the experiments)
Look at the graphs, images, and/or charts to note:
- What is being shown – variables? multiple experiments? trends? process?
- General trends – don’t spend too much time on this unless you have come back to answer a specific question.
You are not trying to completely understand the passage, diagrams, or the charts/graphs. Your goal is to note things — so in your mind you might say, “Ok, so if they are telling me the supplies for the experiment, they will probably ask me something about this.”
But you are not looking through the list carefully or thinking you are going to remember them all. You need to know generally what the passage is about — like if you were telling a friend, you could say “you know, the one about the different amounts of sugar and energy in foods” — if you can’t summarize it, then you skimmed it too quickly!
You are not trying to completely understand the passage, diagrams, or the charts/graphs. Your goal is to note things. But don’t read too quickly; if you can’t summarize it, you went too quickly!
You might be surprised that understanding the general idea of the passage can SPEED UP the question answering process because you don’t have to return to the passage as much, or you have a good idea of where the answer is in the passage.
Strategies for Answering the Science Section Questions
Also, don’t be afraid to skip a passage and come back to it, if you have time. You can get a better score by getting all/most of the questions correct in 6 passages than you can from missing 2 or more questions in each passage because you went too fast! Think about it: 2 missed questions per passage is (2×7=14) 14 missed questions. Even IF you missed ALL of the questions from one passage, then you are maybe looking at 6 questions!
Don’t be afraid to skip a passage and come back to it, if you have time. You can get a better score by getting all/most of the questions correct in 6 passages than you can from missing 2 or more questions in each passage because you went too fast.
Because you have to move with speed, you do not have to fully understand the technical words or get bogged down in trying to fully comprehend every part of the passage. Read quickly; get the main ideas.
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Resources for Further Studying
These are just the strategies to use during the test and when you’re studying. In order to really do well, you need to understand the content, too! Be sure you know your scientific investigation and that you know how to read data. Think like a scientist. We recommend completing practice ACT science sections so you can become familiar with the layout of the section and the time it takes you to complete it. If you’re looking for study materials, The Olive Book offers ACT science practice passages and questions as part of our comprehensive ACT prep course.
Originally published July 2019; revised December 2019.