ACT Science tips

15 Tips to Increase Speed on the ACT Science Section

You’re about halfway through your exam when you hit it. The whopper. The kingpin. The mother of all questions. This graph is seriously HUGE. And CONFUSING. Are you looking at a line graph or alien crop circles? You’re not sure. The back of your neck gets hot; your hand gets sweaty as you grip your pencil. You realize you should have prepared well by researching ACT science tips.

“5 more minutes,” the test prompter calls, and your heart starts to race. This isn’t your last problem, you spent so much time on the one before this, and now you feel rushed and panicked.

Even the best of us will struggle under pressure. The best way to prepare for a timed test is by gradually acclimating yourself. With these 14 tips, you can become faster and more confident about answering your ACT Science Section!

What’s on the ACT Science Section?

First, it’s a good idea to know what to expect. Since you will surely prepare for the test beforehand, you must already have an idea on the subcomponents of the test. Several practice tests online offer structured tests that are almost the same format as the ACT.

There are 3 subcomponents to the ACT Science Section:

  1. Data Representation
  2. Research Summaries
  3. Conflicting Viewpoints

Knowing what to expect will help you apply these 13 tips and increase your overall test time.

15 Helpful ACT Science Tips

Tip no. 1: Practice with specific examples.

According to Big Think, “research has found that though multiple-choice testing is indeed effective, practice tests that require more detailed answers to be generated are more effective. Importantly, practice testing is effective when you create questions yourself.”

Stay away from general or “summarized” content when you’re studying for the ACT. Look for ACT science practice tests that are specific.

ACT Student provides their own sample ACT Science questions for you. 

Tip no. 2: Time yourself and note what problems take longer.

Using a timer is one of the best ACT science tips that test takers will find useful. Toggl is one easy timing app you can use to:

  • Monitor your speed
  • Use this to identify problem areas.

Of course, this is one of many different timing apps to choose from, so pick one that works for you. 

Monitor your speed

In your ACT science practice, you’ll want to do two types of timing: 

  1. Use a timer with an alarm to let you know when time is up
  2. Time yourself without an alarm to get a feel for how long you take to finish!

The official time for the ACT science section is 35 questions in 40 minutes. 

Tip no. 3: Know the technical jargon, or look for a definition.

Another one of the useful ACT science strategies is studying scientific jargons. According to Adolescent Literacy, “once words are recognized, students use pragmatic awareness, or sensitivity to how words are used to communicate, to understand the purposes of their use.”

Every time you encounter a word that you don’t understand in your ACT science practice:

  1. Check to see if it’s defined somewhere in the problem.
  2. If not, look it up
  3. Write down the word and its definition. 
  4. Use it in a sentence

Have you ever been reading something only to realize that you don’t remember what you JUST read?

When we don’t understand a word used to describe something, it creates a gap in our overall understanding of what we have just read. If you encounter enough discrepancies in one sitting, you may find that you come away with nothing.

This can hurt your time and confuse individual problems. Don’t let vocabulary distract you from finding the actual answer!

Tip no. 4: Read some academic articles.

Academic articles are notorious for using elevated language. Aka: Big, fancy words like loquacious and supercilious. 

Find some academic articles on science topics that you can read and get used to understanding their sentence structure.

There are plenty of free academic article/journal databases online, like JURN. You can also Check Google Scholar! These will help you greatly on your ACT science practice.

Tip no. 5: Read the questions before reading the passage.

Sometimes, it may be easier to find the answer from the graph you are shown than from reading the passage. In math, your teachers may have instructed you to work your problems from the bottom-up. This is the same idea. 

Reading the questions beforehand puts you in the right mode to locate the answers, and you can view graphs more strategically this way. This is one of the best ACT science tips that you will surely find useful.

Tip no. 6: Don’t spend all your time on one question

If you encounter a question that is taking you longer than most items to complete, you can consider circling it and coming back to it afterward.

You will get more straightforward questions out of the way and feel less rushed when you come back to the question you circled.

Additional Tip: This is another one of the ACT science strategies you can apply. Leave some extra time before the end of the exam to go back and fill in any bubbles that you haven’t already. The ACT does not penalize for wrong answers, so it’s better to guess than leave it blank!

Tip no. 7: When you see a complex problem, relax.

If you come to a question that looks extremely complicated, you may experience some test anxiety and feel stressed before even beginning to answer it!

Take these steps to calm down:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Break it down.

You are setting yourself up for failure from the beginning of a problem if you have the thought “I can’t do this” — yes, you can! This 7th item on the ACT science strategies will help you ace the exam.

Tip no. 8: Skim read when it’s possible.

The ACT science section has a lot of complicated passages. You don’t need to read all of them, with one exception — read the Conflicting Viewpoints Expression, carefully!

Like I mentioned in Step 4, reading the questions before answering any problem will help you to know whether or not you should skim the passage. If the questions seem very detailed and the answers do not stand, you should commit to fully reading it. 

Tip no. 9: Write on the booklet to mark key points.

You are very much allowed to write on your test booklet. In fact, this is one of the most effective ACT science strategies to ace the ACT science section. By putting marks like encircling, underlining, or crossing out details, you become more focused on the key points that you need to know to be able to answer all the questions. Since there are multiple experiments that you would have to finish at a certain time, applying this technique is quite useful and it also helps you better understand the problems given.

Tip no. 10: Develop a strategy for each test format.

It is a known fact that the ACT Science section has three forms: the data representation, conflicting viewpoints, and research summary. These are mainly focused on physics, biology, chemistry, and earth sciences. 

The data representation usually contains charts and graphs so understanding how to identify variables and trends is a necessary skill. For the conflicting viewpoints composed of passages, you can utilize your test booklet by making marks to highlight important details. The third format which is the research summaries requires an understanding of the research purpose, methods, and results. By developing ACT science strategies for each format, you won’t only save time, but also gain more confidence to answer each question. You can start applying this on your ACT science practice before the test.

Tip no. 11: Learn about the question types.

Another one of the most useful ACT science tips is knowing the question types. There are three most common types of questions used in the ACT science section. The first one is the interpretation of data which focuses on examining figures such as graphs and tables. The second type of question is the evaluation of experiments and models which deal with scientific data and theories. The last type of question used is scientific investigation. This is mainly about the rationale and reasons for experiments. 

Tip no. 12: Use the elimination technique.

Elimination is perhaps the most common technique used for multiple-choice questions not only for the ACT but also for other forms of tests. This is particularly useful if you are having a hard time figuring out the answer to a question because a) you don’t know the exact answer, or b) the choices somehow sound similar to each other. 

In using elimination, you cross out the option that seems to be the farthest answer to the question until only one is left. You can write a mark on your test booklet in doing so. This is very strategic and functional when it comes to timed tests because it lessens the amount of time and effort you allot to a question that you are uncertain about the answer. 

It is also important to note that you are only given 5 minutes for each ACT science passage which means that you have 52.5 seconds to answer the questions that follow. Elimination is one of the most proven ACT science strategies that you should apply.

Tip no. 13: Pay attention to labels.

Why do you need to pay attention to labels? The answer is simple. If you fail to read the correct label of the graphs you are trying to decode, the tendency is you won’t be able to answer the question at all. The ACT science section is quite tricky because of the presence of a lot of figures. You should read the label carefully to avoid huge mistakes.

For instance, because of time pressure, you focused on figure 3 in answering the questions for figure 2. This will result in confusion and will eat up a lot of time that you should be used for other areas of the test. Make sure that you apply this tip carefully starting from your ACT science practice.

Tip no. 14: Identify problem areas.

Make a note of which problems take longer to solve and identify why they take so long. 

  • Did you encounter words you didn’t understand?
  • Was the content unfamiliar?
  • Did you second-guess your answer?

Target these weaknesses and work them into your study routine, then keep checking your time to see what study strategies are working! Oftentimes, we get too confident after practicing even though there are still a lot of areas that should be focused on.

If among the topics given during the practice test, you are finding difficulties in chemistry, make sure that you review and download materials for you to learn more about that area. Pause reviewing for physics, biology, and earth sciences first so chemistry can get your full attention.

Tip no. 15: Refer back to the passage when confused.

If you are confused as to what the answer is to a particular question, it is very much okay to refer back to the passage. No sense spending your time recalling what you have read if the passage can be easily accessed and reread. Making notes on your test booklet is also suggested because it will help you recall concepts. Do not rely solely on memory and scan the text again for information necessary to answer the questions. This will save you up time because you don’t have to stress yourself out in searching for that memory of what you have read.

Conclusion

Do not consider the ACT science test as a monster poised to attack. No matter how difficult the questions are, there are also a bunch of ACT science tips that will help you ace the exam. All you have to do is learn to practice them before the actual test. These tips alongside your drive to pass are the best formula for success.

To review, the 13 ACT Science tips we have mentioned above are:

  1. Practice with specific examples.
  2. Time yourself and note what problems take longer.
  3. Know the technical jargon, or look for a definition.
  4. Read some academic articles.
  5. Read the questions before reading the passage.
  6. Don’t spend all your time on one question.
  7. When you see a complex problem, relax.
  8. Skim read when it’s possible.
  9. Write on the booklet to mark key points.
  10.  Develop a strategy for each test format.
  11.  Learn about the question types.
  12.  Use the elimination technique.
  13.  Pay attention to labels.
  14.  Identify problem areas.
  15.  Refer back to the passage when confused.
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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!

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