How To Improve Your ACT Science Score

Teenager resting on exam books
November 30, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/23

Improving your ACT Science score can help you achieve a higher ACT composite score and become a more competitive applicant. Read on to learn more about improving your score! 

The ACT is one of two entrance exams colleges accept to gauge your academic aptitude and college readiness. The SAT and ACT both have reading, writing, and math sections, but the ACT also has a science section. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the science section, including how it’s scored, the average ACT Science scores, and how to improve your ACT Science score to improve your overall test grade. 

About the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science Test, one of four subject tests on the ACT, is meant to measure “interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.” You will see questions about real scientific scenarios, followed by multiple-choice questions. Some of the content you may see can include: 

  • Biology 
  • Chemistry 
  • Earth/space sciences, such as geology, astronomy, meteorology, and more 
  • Physics

Thankfully, you don’t need advanced knowledge in any of these disciplines to perform well in the ACT Science Test. Background knowledge you picked up in introductory science courses should be enough to prepare you. 

The point of the ACT Science Test is to demonstrate your ability to examine relationships critically, understand how the information leads to conclusions or hypotheses, and generalize from given information to draw your conclusions, make educated predictions, or gain new information. 

Science information on the ACT appears in one of these three formats: 

  • Data Representation (30-40% of questions): You will see graphics or tables similar to those in science journals or other materials. Questions accompanying the information will measure skills like identifying relationships based on a visual, interpolation and extrapolation, and translating data in different ways. 
  • Research Summaries (45-55% of questions): Most material on the ACT is presented in this format. Research summaries give information about descriptions and results of experiments, focusing on experiment design and interpretation of results. 
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (15-20% of questions): Conflicting viewpoints questions present different explanations for scientific phenomena inconsistent with each other. You’ll need to understand, analyze, and compare these different hypotheses or views. 

The ACT Science Test has 40 questions, and you have 35 minutes to answer them. 

How Are You Scored on ACT Science? 

Four scores are reported for the ACT Science Test. You’ll receive an overall score and three individual scores in categories based on scientific knowledge, skills, and practices.

Check this ACT science score table to see the approximate percentage devoted to each category: 

Category Score %
Interpretation of Data 40-50%
Scientific Investigation 20-30%
Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results 25-35%

Interpretation of data refers to analyzing or manipulating data presented in visuals. Most of your ACT Science score is based on your accuracy in answering questions relating to recognizing trends in data presented visually, translating, interpolating and extrapolating, and your mathematical reasoning. 

Your score in the scientific investigation category shows your ability to “understand experimental tools, procedures, and design (e.g., identify controls and variables) and compare, extend, and modify experiments (e.g., predict the results of additional trials).” 

The last category is a mouthful but shows your proficiency at judging information’s validity and making conclusions or predictions based on that information. 

Your overall ACT Science score is used to help determine your composite score. Your composite score is simply an average of your scores for each of the ACT’s four tests. 

Average ACT Science Scores 

The ACT has College Readiness Benchmarks. These are scores used to help determine the ACT section score needed for a student to have a 50% chance of earning a B or higher or an approximate 75% chance of earning a C or higher in “the corresponding credit-bearing courses.” 

According to these benchmarks, students with an ACT Science test score of 23 have a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in a first-year college biology course. However, a recent ACT National Profit Report shows the average ACT Science score is 19.9, falling below the benchmark. 

The average ACT Science score shows students only answer approximately half of the questions correctly. Although achieving a raw score higher than the average is good, you should strive for a higher ACT science score if you plan to apply to highly competitive schools like  Ivy League universities. 

How To Improve Your ACT Science Score 

Tips on How to Improve Your ACT Science Score

Don’t worry: you can score higher than the national average science score with enough practice for the ACT Science Test. High ACT Science scores can help boost your composite score and show colleges you have the foundational knowledge needed to excel through a more challenging curriculum. 

With our top tips on how to improve an ACT science score, you’ll be breezing through the ACT Science Test in no time. 

1. Understand the ACT Science Format 

Now that you know what types of passages and information you’ll see on the ACT and which categories make up your overall score, it’s time to get familiar with the format. You know you have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, but the ACT Science Test has six or seven passages with five to seven accompanying questions. 

It can ease the minds of some students to know that not all questions require their own passage, which makes answering all 40 questions in the established time of 35 minutes for the ACT Science sound a lot more doable. 

In order to get more familiar with the ACT’s format, it’s wise to take practice tests with ACT sample questions. With our interactive ACT pop quiz down below, you can get used to the style of ACT science questions in no time. 

2. Identify a Target Score 

A target score is essential. Target scores help you identify a measurable goal to strive toward instead of just saying, “I want to do well.” An excellent way to come up with a target score is to take an initial practice test before you begin reviewing or studying further. 

This way, you’ll know your starting point, how much time you have to prepare for the test, and whether or not your target score is feasible based on the time you can allot to practice. Remember, it’s possible to boost your initial score with practice substantially! 

3. Understand that You Really Don’t Need to Know Much Science

The ACT Science Test is a little misleading. While you should be familiar with content relating to biology, chemistry, and more, you really only need a basic understanding to set yourself up for success.

The purpose of the ACT Science Test isn’t to evaluate your advanced knowledge of science subjects but rather your ability to think like a scientist and understand scientific methods and skills. 

It might serve you well to think of this section as an extension of the ACT Reading Test that focuses on different content. Although the ACT Science Test is filled with science-related questions, “it is more so a test of students’ reading skills than it is of their science class retention.” 

If you want to improve your ACT Science score, brush up on your critical reading skills. 

4. Identify the Best Approach to Answer Questions

The ACT Science Test requires quite a bit of reading, so you’ll need to identify a strategy that works best for you. Some test-takers like to skim the passage first and then look at questions or look at the questions first to help guide their reading. Or you can use a hybrid of these two strategies depending on the question. 

Following one of the ACT science tips mentioned above may help you be better prepared to answer them, but the methods you use are entirely up to you. 

5. Mark Up Questions, Passages, and Graphs

Marking up keywords can help you focus your reading. While you’re reading, you can underline or circle information you think is relevant to the questions below.

6. Strategically Order Your Answers 

You know you’ll have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions on the ACT Science Test. However, you might want to do a quick scan of the six to seven passages given and work out which you want to do first. 

If you know you’re typically faster at answering questions with visual information, direct your attention to these first before you tackle the rest of the passages. 

Remember, you can choose which order you want to complete questions. If you feel stuck or a passage or accompanying questions look intimidating, feel free to leave it until the end. 

7. Go Right to Figures on Data Representation Passages 

Sometimes, the questions point you to where you’ll find your answers in the given data. If a question says to look at “Figure 1,” don’t waste your time looking at Figures 2 and 3. Remember that not all paragraphs in the passage may be relevant to the questions: it’s your job to figure out what information is crucial to your answer and what isn’t. 

8. Brush Up on General Science Topics 

Just because you don’t need a lot of advanced scientific knowledge to do well in the ACT Science Test doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush up on some of your science knowledge. Studying some general concepts can help you feel more confident about the test. 

For example, you should probably know about terminology relating to cells, DNA, formulas like respiration, and more. You’ve likely covered all the topics in your high school science courses you’ll see in the test. Don’t stress out too much, but hold on to all your science notes before the test! By taking practice tests, you’ll be able to more accurately gauge how much background knowledge you need. 

9. Understand the Scientific Method

Research Summary passages make up 45-55% of the test, so you’ll need to be familiar with the scientific method, its steps, and what each step involves. The simplified model includes just five steps: 

  • Observation: You observe a situation or phenomenon. 
  • Hypothesis: You develop what you believe is a plausible and testable explanation for the observation or phenomenon. 
  • Prediction: You predict whether or not your hypothesis is correct. 
  • Experiment: You test your hypothesis and record the data. 
  • Conclusion: You decide whether your hypothesis was correct based on the data you gathered. 

In addition to the scientific method, ensure you understand frequently used vocabulary like: 

  • Independent variable 
  • Dependent variable 
  • Control 
  • Direct relationship
  • Indirect relationship 

Knowing what these terms mean can help you answer questions quicker. 

10. Practice Under Test Day Conditions

Taking ACT science practice tests at home is an excellent way to prepare for the ACT Science Test and gauge your progress. 

However, you’ll want to ensure you’re testing under the same conditions as the actual day. So, rather than having a huge meal while testing in your pajamas, you’ll want to keep the room quiet, silence any distractions, wear comfortable clothes similar to what you’d wear on test day, and keep what you need to do the test. 

11. Test Your ACT Science test timing 

The best thing you can do to prepare yourself adequately is to time your test at home. If you realize it’s taking you an hour to complete all the questions in front of you, you know you‘ll have to work on your speed to answer all questions on test day. While accuracy is more important than speed, you should strive to be just as fast as accurate. 

12. Seek an ACT Tutor’s Help 

The ACT is a difficult test: you don’t have to prepare alone! Seeking an ACT tutor’s help can ensure you have the tools and strategies at your disposal to do well on the entire test, including the science section. An ACT tutor can help you develop a study strategy, understand areas to improve, and ensure you perform your best on the actual test.

FAQs: ACT Science Test  

Take a look at several commonly asked questions about the ACT science test below. 

1. Can I Do the ACT Science Test First? 

Unfortunately, you don’t have much choice when you can do the ACT Science Test on test day. The section will always be the fourth one you do. 

2. How Do You Practice For The ACT Science Test?

When practicing for the ACT Science Test, make sure to follow these steps:

  1. Understand what you really need to know to take the test.
  2. Take practice tests.
  3. Practice under test-day conditions. Make sure you are free of distractions and take the practice test like you were taking the official test.
  4. Time yourself. It is important to time yourself when taking practice tests so you know if you need to improve your time management skills before the test day.

3. Is the ACT Science Test Hard? 

The ACT Science Test can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the scientific method or reading isn’t your strongest skill. However, whether or not you find the ACT Science Test hard depends on your scientific skills. 

4. How Do I Get Faster at Answering Questions? 

The only way to answer questions faster is to become more familiar with the material. If you’re taking practice tests at home and notice you’re going a little slower than the test allows, don’t beat yourself up about it too much. 

First comes familiarity and accuracy; second comes speed. The more practice tests you take, the quicker you’ll be able to answer questions. 

5. How Does My ACT Science Score Contribute to My Composite Score? 

Your composite score is calculated by taking an average of all your section scores. The composite score is essential: colleges assume high ACT scores mean you’re ready for the rigorous curriculum schools have to offer. 

If you perform well on the ACT Science Test, you can easily bump up your composite score. 

6. What’s a Good ACT Science Score? 

The average ACT Science score is 20.6. If you’re basing a “good” score solely on averages, anything above that would be considered a good ACT Science score

If you’re applying to competitive schools, you’ll want to aim higher than the average, though. Composite ACT scores of admitted students at top colleges can range greatly, but many students score between 30 and 36. 

7. What’s the Best Thing I Can Do to Prepare? 

The best way to prepare is to become more familiar with the types of questions you’ll see in the ACT Science Test. Remember to brush up on scientific terms and methods and practice reading ACT Science materials and questions. 

8. Can I Take the ACT Without the Science Section? 

No, the ACT Science Test is mandatory. If you choose to take the ACT, you’ll need to do the science test. 

Final Thoughts 

The ACT Science Test assesses your scientific skills, but you thankfully don’t need to possess advanced scientific knowledge to perform well. You can use a lot of the same skills in this section as you would in the ACT Reading Test: picking out relevant information, understanding what questions ask for, and inferring based on the information you have. 

Remember to brush up on your general science topics, identify your target score, and mark up passages and visuals to make it easier to pull out the most critical information. With the above ACT science tips and tricks in mind, you’re sure to do well in the ACT Science Test! 

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