Strategies for ACT Science: How to Dismantle the Section

Once you’ve got a handle on the structure of ACT Science, the next step is mastering the best strategies for the section. A huge part of the shortcut to getting a good score on the ACT Science section is understanding how to answer the questions while reading as little as possible to ensure that you can finish within the challenging time limit. Here are some of the best strategies for how to approach the ACT Science section.

ACT Science Section Strategy #1: Don’t Read…

If you’ve already explored my summary of the best strategies for ACT Reading, you might be noticing some overlap here in the Science section as well. It’s not that I’m illiterate, or even that I don’t like to read—Horton Hears a Who slaps—it’s just that your time on the ACT is generally better spent doing things other than reading.

The dirty secret of the Science section is that most of the text in a given passage is useless. Much of it simply describes the data that is displayed in the graphs and charts—information that you can get much more efficiently by just, you know, looking at the graphs and charts. And even when a portion of the text does give you new information, there’s no guarantee that that info will actually be tested in one of the questions.

One of my ‘rule of thumb’ strategies for students in the ACT Science section is this: you can always read more if you need to, but you can’t get back the time you wasted (and the light that died out in your eyes) reading and comprehending a bunch of stuff that isn’t covered in the questions. So for every non-Conflicting Viewpoints passage, start by taking 20-30 seconds to glance over the charts, graphs, and figures in order to get the lay of the land; then, jump straight to the questions, and only seek out additional information from the text when a problem dictates that you need to do so.

Science Strategy #2: …And If You Have to Read, Don’t Read Like A Dummy

You may remember that one of the six passages in the ACT Science section, the Conflicting Viewpoints passage, typically doesn’t have any graphs or other visual aids. Instead, the questions in this passage will ask you to compare and contrast several different written perspectives on a particular scientific topic. A given question can ask about one of the perspectives, multiple perspectives, or none of the perspectives, and the ACT doesn’t even have the decency to organize the questions according to which viewpoint(s) they cover.

On this passage, you will unfortunately not be able to escape without reading. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should read the passage from top to bottom and then answer the questions in order. Remember, your underlying philosophy is to address the section in the order that makes the most sense for you, not necessarily in the way that the test lays it out.

In this particular instance, that means that we want to treat the passage as several short passages rather than as one long piece of text. Here’s the best strategy for approaching the CV passage on the ACT Science section:

  1. Start by quickly labeling the questions according to which perspectives they test.
  2. Return to the passage and read the initial 1-2 paragraphs that introduce the general scientific concept; then, stop reading and go answer any questions that ask about none of the perspectives, as they will cover information from that general scientific text.
  3. Next, read Scientist 1’s viewpoint, and then answer the questions that ask about just Scientist 1.
  4. Before you return to the passage, make sure you look at any questions that ask about Scientist 1 and other perspectives. Do as much elimination as you can based on what you know about Scientist 1’s viewpoint. Don’t worry if you can’t narrow it down to just one answer; focus on getting rid of what you know is wrong.
  5. Now, forget that Scientist 1 exists, and do steps 3-4 for the next perspective.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you’ve finished all of the questions.

By using this ‘chunking’ method, you reduce the amount of scientific information you need to hold in your brain at once, and you minimize the likelihood that you’ll mix up which scientist said what. This strategy is a great way to streamline your approach to the ACT Science section and make one of the hardest passages feel easy.

Science Strategy #3: Keep Moving

Much like the Reading section, the ACT Science section moves very, very quickly. It’s essential for you to remember that time is your limiting factor in the section, and your score is going to depend in large part on how efficiently you’re able to convert time into points. A huge part of doing that optimally is recognizing two things:

  1. The questions in this section aren’t organized in terms of difficulty.
  2. Every question counts for the same amount towards your raw score.

The combination of these two factors means that you shouldn’t let yourself get stuck on one particularly difficult question to the point that you compromise your pacing in the section. Most passages will have a problem that, for whatever reason, feels harder to you than the others. Remember that most of the questions in the next passage are likely to feel easier. You can get a great score in this section without getting every single problem right; if you make a habit of giving away 2-3 points so that you can take the time to get one hard question correct, though, you’re going to find that you put a pretty firm ceiling on how well you can do.

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That about does it for our summary of the best strategies and shortcuts for the ACT Science section. If you follow this approach to the section and practice it consistently, you’ll be in a great position to get a good score on ACT Science. Easy, right? If you’d like more tips and guidance on how best to approach the ACT Science section, head over to Inspirica Pros’ ACT headquarters where our squad of experienced ACT tutors are ready to help.

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