A lot of students shy away from the ACT because of the science section, but don’t be scared off by it. The ACT Science section isn’t particularly science-y.
The bulk of the 40-question, 35-minute science section focuses on reading comprehension and data analysis.
Breakdown of the ACT Science section
|Percent of Test||Question Type||Description|
|45-55%||Data Interpretation||Analyze data presented through graphs, tables, diagrams, etc.|
|25-35%||Evaluation of Models/Experiments||Determine the validity of information and draw conclusions/make predictions based on that information.|
|20-30%||Scientific Investigation||Understand experimental design (such as variables and controls) and compare, extend, or modify experiments.|
To succeed on the ACT Science section, you need to be comfortable with visual data and have a firm grasp of the scientific method and experimental design. You do not need a deep and meaningful understanding of advanced scientific concepts.
Passages on the ACT Science section
When you first look at an ACT Science section, you might be surprised to find that it resembles a reading section more than it does a math section. You’ll see a series of six passages, each accompanied by six or seven questions. Each passage might contain graphs, charts, tables, experiment summaries, or conflicting scientific viewpoints.
|Percent of Test||Passage Type||Description|
|45-55%||Research Summaries||Descriptions of one or more related experiments; accompanied by questions that focus on experimental design and the interpretation of the experiment’s results|
|30-40%||Data Representation||Data presented in graphics and tables alongside text providing context for the data; accompanied by questions that focus on interpretation of visual data|
|15-20%||Conflicting Viewpoints||Presents several hypotheses or views that disagree with one another; accompanied by questions focused on analyzing and comparing alternative viewpoints or hypotheses|
ACT Science success definitely requires a working knowledge of the scientific process and experimental design. You’ll need to be able to identify controls, independent variables (the ones scientists manipulate), and dependent variables (the ones scientists observe). You should feel confident identifying why an experiment was designed the way it was or how it could have been better designed.
Recalling your basic science knowledge
You certainly don’t need to be an expert in any area of science to get a top ACT Science score. On average, there are about four to six questions on the entire science section that might require background science knowledge. These questions assume that you know certain information from your previous science classes. Here are some examples of the outside knowledge you might be expected to recall on the ACT Science section:
- Basic Biology
- Parts of cells, their functions, and whether they are found in animal or plant cells
- The basics of DNA, RNA, ribosomes, and proteins
- The basic concepts underlying natural selection
- Basic Chemistry
- General differences in the molecular structure of sugar, fat, protein, and nucleic acids
- The pH scale (below 7 is acidic, above 7 is basic, and 7 is neutral)
- How charges interact (opposites attract!)
- Phases of matter
- Basic Physics
- Density = mass/volume
- Basics of gravity and density
- Basic math skills—nothing complex enough to need a calculator!
How much time to prep for these science-based questions?
That depends on your current score and your score goals.
If you’re not scoring particularly well currently, you’re going to see a more significant boost to your ACT Science score by focusing your prep efforts on the data interpretation and reading aspects of the test. Get comfortable with intimidating-sounding science terms so that you’re better able to tackle dense passages. After all, the questions that focus on data interpretation and reading analysis make up a much bigger portion of the test.
If you’re striving for a perfect or near-perfect ACT score and you’re already scoring fairly well (upper-twenties to thirties), you should probably brush up on your basic science knowledge. The 10-15% of questions that involve prior science knowledge can easily be the difference between a 31 and a 36 on the ACT Science section, so getting your score into the upper range will require the knowledge needed to get those questions right.
If you want some personalized ACT prep help, C2 can help maximize your score for test day!