Are you wishing for a perfect score on the ACT science section? Earning the highest score – a 36 – may seem impossible, but with these ACT science tips, you can learn how the highest scores beat the test time after time.
One of the biggest keys to understanding how to score well on the ACT science section is this realization: You don’t need to have science facts memorized to do well on the ACT. That’s because the ACT science section will give you most of the information you need to answer its questions. Instead of memorizing facts, your ACT science strategies should be based on boosting your reading comprehension, sharpening your logic skills and learning how to interpret graphs and tables with more accuracy.
If you aren’t doing well on the ACT science section already – in other words, you’re pretty far away from a 36 to begin with – you may want to improve your general testing skills first before attempting to use these tips. One of the best ways that you can improve your test scores without studying is to practice reading complex texts daily. Getting into the habit of reading will improve your reading comprehension, help you read more quickly and make taking standardized tests a much easier task.
Complete a Practice Test to Diagnose Your Weakness
In order to score a 36 on the ACT science section, you have to complete the entire section without answering a single question incorrectly. Such a feat might not be possible if you haven’t taken a practice test first. How will knowing your weakness help?
Understanding where your ACT science skills are lacking will help you understand how you should study smarter. Most test takers (at least those who aren’t getting perfect scores already) have one of two weaknesses: They either struggle with the concepts on the test, or they don’t have proficient time management skills.
To figure out your weakness, take two different timed practice ACT tests. On the first, give yourself the standard amount of time, which is 35 minutes for the section. On the next practice test, give yourself as much time as you need to complete each question. After you score both practice tests, if your scores are higher on the one where you gave yourself more time, you now know that your weak time management skills are holding you back from earning a better score.
Don’t Get Bogged Down by the Details
If your test-taking weakness is time management, you may find ACT science preparation easier than you think, especially if you already understand the concepts on the test. That’s because of the biggest mistakes that test takers make is that they let themselves get lost in the details of the passages and figures on the test. Don’t try to memorize facts and figures as you’re reading.
Instead of treating the ACT science section like a scavenger hunt for details, create some ACT science strategies similar to the ones you use for the ACT reading section. Don’t skim the passages, but don’t fall into them either. If you can, look ahead at the questions and find the answers in the text as you read.
You can also ask yourself these questions while you are reading the passages and looking at the figures:
- What is the main idea this passage or figure is trying to show me?
- What evidence from the passage or figure supports the main idea?
What Does That Word Mean?
Even if your science preparation is a little lacking, you can still score well on the ACT science section. One of the best ACT science strategies is this: Don’t get distracted by words or concepts you don’t know.
The ACT science section can be tricky because it introduces information that you may not have seen in your science classes. Many students panic, thinking that they won’t be able to answer the questions.
However, if you have learned how to read graphs and tables and use context clues, you will be able to answer most if not all of the questions on the ACT science section using only the information that the test itself provides. This means that one of the ACT science tips you might use the most is: If you don’t know what it is, ignore it.
Know the Question Types on the ACT Science Section
The ACT science section has a very predictable structure with three main types of passages. On the ACT science section, you will be asked to decode data, understand research summaries and be able to compare and contrast conflicting viewpoints.
On data-based questions, you will be presented with a kind of graph, like a bar graph, scatter plot or table of values. Understanding the types of graphs and how they work will help you be able to interpret the facts and findings that they’re conveying. So, before you go into this test, refresh your memory on the visual representations of data and how to interpret them.
The questions that ask you to interpret research summaries rely heavily on experimental design. Knowledge of the scientific method and the standards for construction and presentation of experimental results will be key to your success with this kind of question. For this type of question and for opposing viewpoints questions, you can study by reading real scientific research papers and published articles so you can get used to how the information is presented.
ACT Science Graphs Are Weird
Even if you're studying the types of graphs that are standard in scientific research papers and articles, you’ll probably run into graphs that are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. So, how do you prepare for these oddball tables and figures? For one, you should complete as many practice tests as you can so you’re used to seeing strange graphs.
Don’t freak out when you see peculiar graphs on the test. Instead, use a strategy similar to the one you use on the reading passages. You can learn to interpret any graph, no matter how strange it is, by asking yourself these two questions:
- What is represented by each axis?
- What is the graph’s main idea or purpose? (Check the title.)
By breaking down odd graphs into their key parts this way, you should be able to summarize and interpret the data they illustrate. Interpreting graphs like this is a higher-level thinking skill. You may not get it at first, so don’t be afraid to practice using tests and sample materials.
Commit to Taking Practice Tests
You’ve probably heard the phrase "practice makes perfect," right? Well, it’s especially true if you want to earn a perfect score on the ACT science section. Don’t just take practice test after practice test without looking deeper into why you’re getting a certain score and how you can do better. After you complete your test, not only should you go back through and check your answers, but you should also figure out why you answered questions incorrectly.
One strategy you can use to improve your scores on the ACT science section is to answer questions that you got wrong again. If your new answer is still wrong, do the opposite: Search for evidence from the text or figure that supports the answer provided in the answer key. If that doesn’t work, you may be having bigger problems.
When you run into such an issue where you don’t understand why the right answer is the correct one, create new questions like it that encourage you to decipher the data revealed by the figure. The more you interrogate a data set, the more it will start making sense to you. Working with the data like this will help you think more deeply about this kind of question. It will also help you understand the thought process the test writers used when they were creating the test.
Yes, Understanding Science Does Help
Even though it’s possible to score well on the ACT science section with only a rudimentary understanding of science concepts, relying on only your logic and reading skills might not get you a perfect score. While you won’t be able to memorize every scientific concept that could possibly appear on the test – odds are that something you’ve never heard of will appear in a passage or two – there are a few important basics you can learn that will make this section easier to understand.
As already stated, you will need to have an excellent understanding of how to interpret graphs, especially strange ones. This means that yes, you will have to know a little math in addition to some science.
You will also need to understand the fundamental concepts of physics, chemistry and biology. Don’t worry – you don’t need to have a Ph.D.-level of knowledge in any of these subjects. All of the questions will assume a high school level of education.
Scientific Concepts You Need to Know
The ACT science section assumes that you have been taking science classes throughout high school, and you probably have. Unfortunately, even if you have taken some, you may have forgotten what you learned. Before you go into the ACT, make sure you refresh your memory on important concepts, especially for chemistry and biology, as fundamental ideas will most likely not be relayed explicitly in the passages or figures on the test.
For biology, make sure you refresh your knowledge of cell biology, especially cell organelles and their functions. Don't forget to study DNA, RNA and the process of cell reproduction. You'll also run into concepts related to evolution, so make sure you brush up on natural selection if you don't remember the basics.
For chemistry, you'll need to remind yourself of the basic molecular structure for the major macromolecules (fat, sugar and protein). You'll need to understand how to calculate molar mass, too, so read up on that if it doesn't sound familiar. Refresh yourself on common-knowledge chemistry concepts as well, including the boiling and freezing points of water in Celsius and the pH scale.
General ACT Science Tips
Before test day, make sure you get a good night’s sleep and eat a filling breakfast. Arrive on time and with the proper documentation, including an ID.
During the test, keep calm. Being nervous can make the test seem harder than it actually is. If you find that nerves are getting to you, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you’ve studied.
To save some time on the test, answer all the questions in your test booklet first and then fill in your bubble sheet at the end. This is a trick used by the most successful test takers, and it will help you save more time than you think. After you bubble in your answers, double check to make sure you haven't made any careless mistakes.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.