For Teachers

ACT Science Section: Tips for Student Success

By The Room 241 Team October 19, 2012

The ACT test contains four sections, but it is frequently the science section that causes stress in students. The ACT science section has forty multiple choice questions designed to test a student’s scientific reasoning ability. Students have 35 minutes to complete the section.

Below are tips to help students complete the science section of the ACT.

Don’t get caught up in the data

Many students spend too much reading through all the data and carefully examining every graph. Although the information within the articles is important, students typically “waste” their time by reading through everything first.

Instead, students should read the question first and look for keywords. Most of the answers are in the graphs. Only occasionally do students need to scan the summaries for the keywords in the questions to find the answers.

Improve knowledge of science content

The ACT does not emphasize scientific knowledge like the SAT. The ACT tries to test scientific reasoning ability, but the questions and data are full of scientific terms. A basic understanding of science content helps test takers avoid confusion and improves understanding of the information. If people come across a science word they do not know, they can still answer the question by looking at the graph. However the more words they know, they less complex the data seems.

Ignore extraneous information

The ACT test makers actively try to make questions confusing by putting in a lot of extraneous information. The ACT science section aims to test the ability to reason and part of that reasoning is picking out the important information within large blocks of text. Students do not have to worry about extra data confusing them in the other three sections of the ACT test.

The ACT science section includes research summaries, conflicting viewpoints and data representations. For the best chance to get a high score in the science section, students should read the text accompanying the conflicting viewpoints and research summary formats after reading the questions so they know what to look for when searching for the answers. However, most of the text with the data representation format is worthless. The focus in these sections should be on interpreting the graphs without the text.

Fill in every question

The SAT penalizes students for wrong answers but the ACT does not. Guessing may actually improve a student’s score. Students should first go through the entire science section, answering every question they can and skipping what they do not know. Next, test takers should go back and fill in an answer to the questions they previously skipped, even if they don’t know what the answers are.

To improve chances of guessing right, students can look over the possible answers and eliminate whichever questions they know to be false. Even if someone only eliminates one or two answers, they still improve their probability of guessing the right answer by 25 to 50 percent.

Practice, practice, and… practice

People who do well on the ACT say they made time to complete entire practice sessions ahead of time.

Although preparing for the ACT is time consuming, the importance of the ACT for college acceptance makes learning the tricks and taking the practice tests worth the time.

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