How to Prepare for the ACT Science Test

June 14, 2022
ACT Science Test Format ACT Science Practice Tests ACT Science Question Examples 6 Simple ACT Science Test Prep Tips FAQs: ACT Science Test


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 to do well. 

The ACT Science test is the shortest section of the ACT, 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 how to prepare for ACT Science, including an overview of the test format, question examples, and more. 

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ACT Science Test Format 

Understanding the ACT Science Test 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 means you can confidently walk into test day. 

Passage Types 

There are six to seven passages on each test and three different types you'll see on the ACT Science test. 

Data Representation (30-40% of Passages)

This content presents graphics and tables similar to what you mind 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 writing detailing descriptions and results of one or more experiments. Associated questions focus on: 

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 presented 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 on the validity of scientific information and using it to think beyond and 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!

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 Question Examples

These ACT Science question examples 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

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)."
Diagram outlining the process of dropping a sample solution on filter paper. The bottom of the paper is set in a solvent that travels up the paper
"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


“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). If you want to determine what metal created a brown-black spot, you also need to know the Rf of the spot.

6 Simple ACT Science Test Prep Tips 

Taking ACT Science practice tests and consulting ACT guides are great ways to guide your preparation, but these tips can help you further prep for the ACT Science exam. 

Brush Up On General Science Knowledge 

You don’t need advanced science education to perform well on the ACT Science test: 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 to get the gist, then looking at the questions before pointedly looking for information throughout 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. Don't be afraid to mark up your paper in ways that help you make sense of information. There may be times (like extending a line to extrapolate and form a conclusion) when mark-ups 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 with them. Passage order of completion is entirely up to you. 

Spend Extra Time on Figures and Visual Data 

Remember, 40% to half of all ACT Science questions revolve around data presented visually. If a question refers to a specific figure or table, go there right away to see if the answer is there. 

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

FAQs: Preparing for the ACT Science Test

If you still have questions about the ACT Science Test, 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 test 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 40 questions on the ACT Science test. 

Final Thoughts

The ACT Science test 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! 

Header Image by tjevans from Pixabay

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