ACT Science section, Test Prep

February 3, 2017, by

Here’s a little secret to begin my blog on the ACT Science section: I never enjoyed learning about science in school.  Reading scientific papers and performing experiments has always been stressful for me.  Thankfully, my high-school performance in AP Science courses exempted me from having to take a science course in college.  I buried myself instead in math and economics and happily graduated Magna Cum Laude from Davidson.  Go Wildcats!

Fast forward to December 2016 when I had to take my first ACT .  (All tutors at Marks Education take the official ACT and SAT tests regularly so that we can keep up with any changes to the tests.)  Although I had already graduated from college, I was nervous.  I could rock the English, Math, and Reading.  What concerned me was the Science section.  But thanks to the strategies I learned and used, it wasn’t that bad!  In fact, I aced it.  And if  I can do well on the ACT Science section, you most certainly can as well.

I’ll let you in on my ACT Science section test prep strategies.


Keep moving.  Time is tight.  You have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions.  Recent ACTs have had 6 Science passages, so you have about 5 minutes 45 seconds for each passage.  The passages increase in difficulty, so spend less time on the first and more time on the last.

Don’t try to understand everything.  Unless you have a degree in Biology, Chemistry, or Physics, you probably won’t.

Don’t read everything, and go straight to the tables and graphs.  For data-based passages (5 of the 6 passages), read only the first sentence or two of each passage.  Underline or circle any keywords or phrases and anything written in italics.  On tables and graphs, read and circle any titles, column headings, axes labels, and keys.  That should have taken you less than a minute.

Now attack the questions.  Read the first question and underline or circle any key words (e.g., Figure 1, 25mg of NaCl, temperature of 15° C).  Then go to the appropriate place to find the answer (text, graph, or table).  Repeat with the remaining questions.  Remember that questions are arranged in order of increasing difficulty.  The last questions are most challenging.  They all count the same, though, so start with the easiest ones.

Use your science smarts.  If you can’t find the answer in the passage, it may require outside knowledge.  A few questions on each ACT require some basic scientific understanding that you have hopefully learned in school.  If you don’t know the answer though, just guess.  Never leave an answer blank.  Remember: you won’t be penalized for wrong answers.

Remember!  One passage out of the six will be a reading-based passage, which will have more text and compare the theories of several students or scientists.  Do this passage last as you do have to read it in its entirety.  Underline and circle key words and concepts as you read.  Follow the same approach with the questions: underline or circle key information in each question before answering.

Finally: practice, practice, practice!  Most importantly, practice this strategy!  You won’t really be able to apply it well on the official test if you have not practiced it.  At Marks Education, we have copies of all released ACTs from recent years.  We are happy to proctor a full-length test for you, for no charge.  And remember, you don’t have to be a “science person” to ace the ACT science!

Why not take a full practice ACT to see how you would do?  Click here to enroll for a FREE practice test!

Katharine Laco tutors all levels of math, the PSAT, SAT, ACT, HSPT, SSAT, ISEE, and SAT Subject Tests in Math, Literature, and Spanish.  As a Bethesda native and Walt Whitman graduate, she easily relates to students as she understands the pace and pressures of growing up in the DC metro area.  Katharine often finds that the connections she makes with students are more important than any content she teaches.

Interested in learning more about the ACT Science section?  Read our other article here.

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