How to Prepare for the ACT Science Test

October 27, 2022
ACT Science Test Format 6 ACT Science TipsACT Science Practice Tests ACT Science Practice QuestionsFAQs: ACT Science Test

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/14/22

The ACT Science Test is one of the main differentiating factors between the ACT and SAT. You’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge of the scientific model and flex your problem-solving skills. 

The Science test is the ACT’s shortest section, tied in length with ACT Reading. Despite its length, performing well on the ACT Science test is crucial to achieving a great ACT score. Read on to learn more about ACT Science strategies, including an overview of the test format, question examples, and more. 

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ACT Science Test Format 

Understanding the ACT Science section’s format is imperative to your success. The content tested in this section is: 

Thankfully, you won't need advanced scientific knowledge to do well: some students consider this section another reading test. However, knowing what passage and question types you'll encounter can build confidence. 

Passage Types 

There are six to seven passages on each test, and three different types you'll see in this section.

Data Representation (30-40% of Passages)

This content presents graphics and tables similar to what you might find in scientific journals or writing. To answer questions, you may need to: 

Research Summaries (45-55% of Passages) 

Making up the most significant portion of ACT Science, research summaries mean you'll read detailed descriptions and results of one or more experiments. Associated questions focus on experimental design and interpretation of results.

Conflicting Viewpoints (15-20% of Passages)

These passages provide two or more viewpoints:

“for the same scientific phenomena that, because they are based on differing premises or incomplete data, are inconsistent with one another.”

Associated questions ask you to understand, analyze, and compare these contrasting views. 

Question Types

The frequency of question types you’ll see in the ACT Science section is as follows: 

Interpretation of Data (40-50% of Questions) 

This question category requires you to manipulate and analyze scientific data in visual formats, such as tables, graphs, and diagrams. You may need to: 

Scientific Investigation (20-30% of Questions) 

To answer these questions, you must understand: 

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25–35% of Questions)

These questions require your insight into the validity of scientific information and using it to make new conclusions or predictions. 

Understanding passage and question types help prepare you for the ACT Science test. You’ll be working a lot with research summaries and visual elements!

6 ACT Science Tips

Taking ACT Science practice tests and consulting ACT guides are great ways to prepare for ACT Science. However, it’s best to understand these ACT Science tips to achieve an excellent score.

Brush Up On General Science Knowledge 

You don’t need advanced science education to perform well on the ACT Science exam: you can think of it as an additional reading section with quantitative, scientific elements. 

However, it’s not a bad idea to brush up on your general science know-how: the ACT states:

“knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed to answer some of the questions.” 

Look through your notes for your introductory chemistry, biology, and physics classes: ensure you have a solid foundation before the test. 

Determine Your Strategy

The ACT Science test requires a lot of reading. Many test-takers find success in first skimming the passage and visuals, then looking at ACT Science questions before looking for information throughout the writing, tables, or graphs. 

However, you can try different strategies as you practice: maybe you want to look at figures first, then questions, or questions then passages. Whatever method works best for you and gets you the correct answers the quickest is your best strategy! 

Mark Up Your Paper 

Circling, underlining, or rewriting important numbers, formulas, or information can help you stay on task. Feel free to mark up your paper in ways that help you understand information. There may be times (like extending a line to extrapolate) when markups are especially useful. 

Pick Your Favorite Passages First

There’s no rule saying you must complete question sets in the order they appear. Quickly skim through the passages and start with whichever ones are most straightforward to you. 

If you love working with visual data, start with the data representation passages; if you find conflicting viewpoints the easiest passage type, start there. 

Spend Extra Time on Figures and Visual Data 

Remember, 40% to half of all the ACT Science section’s questions revolve around data presented visually. If a question refers to a specific figure or table, go there immediately to find answers. 

If you’re feeling stuck on a question and the passage has figures and tables, your answer is probably hiding in them! 

Know the Scientific Method

Knowing the simplified version of the scientific method is crucial: approximately half of all passages are research summaries. Ensure you understand the basic steps: 

To understand questions, you should also understand variables, controls, independent/dependent relationships, and other scientific terminology. 

ACT Science Practice Tests 

Taking ACT Science practice tests is an excellent way to prepare for the ACT. Taking practice tests for ACT science is vital because: 

ACT Science practice tests help you engage with and get more comfortable with scientific content, even without advanced knowledge. 

ACT Science Practice Questions

These ACT Science questions are examples that can give you a better understanding of what type of content you’ll work with on test day. This is an example of a passage you’ll work with from an ACT Science practice test

Example and Question Set 1

Scientist 1

A deep ocean of liquid water exists on Europa. Jupiter's gravitational field produces tides within Europa that can cause heating of the subsurface to a point where liquid water can exist. The numerous cracks and dark bands in the surface ice closely resemble the appearance of thawing ice covering the polar oceans on Earth. Only a substantial amount of circulating liquid water can crack and rotate such large slabs of ice. The few meteorite craters that exist are shallow and have been smoothed by liquid water that oozed up into the crater from the subsurface and then quickly froze.

Jupiter’s magnetic field, sweeping past Europa, would interact with the salty, deep ocean and produce a second magnetic field around Europa. The spacecraft has found evidence of this second magnetic field.

Scientist 2

No deep, liquid water ocean exists on Europa. The heat generated by gravitational tides is quickly lost to space because of Europa’s small size, as shown by its very low surface temperature (–160°C). Many of the features on Europa’s surface resemble features created by flowing glaciers on Earth. Large amounts of liquid water are not required for the creation of these features. If a thin layer of ice below the surface is much warmer than the surface ice, it may be able to flow and cause cracking and movement of the surface ice. Few meteorite craters are observed because of Europa’s very thin atmosphere; surface ice continually sublimes (changes from solid to gas) into this atmosphere, quickly eroding and removing any craters that may have formed.”

 

act science question 1
Source: ACT.org

The answer here is B. Scientist 1 says that water oozes up craters before quickly freezing, removing the crater. Scientist 2 suggests that ice sublimes, which erodes and therefore removes craters. 

act science question 2
 Source: ACT.org 

The best answer is H. Both scientists talk about the layer of ice on Europa but don't mention other surface materials. They're likely to agree that a layer of ice entirely covers Europa despite different viewpoints. 

Example and Question Set 2

Paper chromatography can be used to identify metal ions in wastewater. A drop of sample solution is placed on filter paper. The bottom of the paper is set in a solvent that travels up the paper (see Figure 1).

Source: ACT.org

The solvent carries the ions up the paper. Some ions move faster, and therefore farther than others, resulting in a separation as they move up the paper. The paper is dried, then stained, causing the ions to appear as colored spots. Rf values are calculated for each spot:

Equation for how to calculate Rf values

Table 1 shows Rf values for 5 ions. Table 2 shows Rf values from 3 samples of wastewater. The same solvent was used for all ions and samples.”

Table showing the Rf values for 5 ions
Table 2 showing the Rf values from 3 samples of wastewater
Source: ACT.org

“Based on the information in Table 1, to best identify a metal ion using paper chromatography, one should know the:

  1. spot color for the ion only.
  2. distance the solvent traveled only.
  3. Rf value and spot color for the ion only.
  4. distance the solvent traveled and spot color of the ion only.”

The correct answer is C: spot color can identify the metal ion, but some metals can have the same spot color (like mercury and cobalt). To determine what metal created a brown-black spot, you also need to know the Rf of the spot.

Example and Question Set 3

A student performed 2 studies to investigate the factors that affect the germination of peony seeds.

Study 1

Peony seeds were placed in dry containers. Some of the containers were stored at 5°C for either 4, 6, 8, or 10 weeks. The temperature and time periods were defined as the storage temperature and the storage period, respectively.

The peony seeds were divided evenly so that there were 20 sets of 25 seeds. Twenty petri dishes were then prepared. Each contained damp paper. Each set of seeds was placed in a separate petri dish. Each petri dish was maintained at 1 of 4 temperatures for 30 days. The temperature and time periods were defined as the germination temperature and the germination period, respectively. Table 1 shows the number of seeds that germinated in each dish.

table showing the number of seeds that germinated in each dish
Source: ACT.org

Study 2

Peony seeds were placed in dry containers. The containers were stored at various temperatures for 10 weeks.

The peony seeds were divided evenly so that there were 20 sets of 25 seeds. Twenty petri dishes were then prepared. Each contained damp paper. Each set of seeds was placed in a petri dish. The petri dishes were maintained at 1 of 4 temperatures for 30 days. Table 2 shows the number of seeds that germinated in each dish.

table showing the number of seeds that germinated in each dish
Source: ACT.org

“In general, the results of Study 1 suggest that peony seeds that are placed in a petri dish containing damp paper are most likely to germinate when they are maintained at which of the following temperatures?

A. 13° C

B. 18° C

C. 23° C

D. 28° C”

The correct answer is B. More seeds germinated at 18° C than at any other temperature in the first table. 

Completing ACT Science practice questions is crucial to your success! 

FAQs: ACT Science Test

If you still have questions about the ACT Science section, check out these FAQs! 

1. What Is on the ACT Science Test?

The ACT Science test content includes chemistry, biology, Earth/space sciences, and physics. 

2. Is the Science ACT Test Hard?

The answer depends on how well you understand introductory science knowledge, your reading comprehension skills, and your understanding of the scientific method. Some people consider the ACT Science test hard because of the time limit and subject nature. 

3. What Are the Three Types of Questions on the ACT Science Test?

The three types of questions are Interpretation of Data, Scientific Investigation, and Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results. 

4. How Do I Prepare for ACT Science?

To prepare for the ACT Science section and achieve a high score, you should take ACT Science practice tests, review your introductory science knowledge, and become more confident with the content over time. 

5. How Can I Improve My ACT Science Test Time? 

The best way to improve your time (and accuracy) is to practice with ACT Science content. The more familiar you become with content, the faster you'll find the correct answers. It would be best if you also brushed up on your skimming skills to find information quicker. 

6. How Many Minutes Do You Have to Take the ACT Science Test? 

You have 35 minutes to answer all questions on the ACT Science test. 

7. How Many Questions Are on the ACT Science Test? 

There are 40 questions on the ACT Science test. 

Final Thoughts

The ACT Science section can seem highly technical at first, but logic and a solid foundation in the main science disciplines can help you ace the test. To prepare for the ACT Science test, remember to take practice tests, brush up on your general knowledge, and determine strategies that work best for you. 

With a consistent study schedule and set goals, you can ace the ACT Science test! 

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