Everything You Need to Know about ACT Science to Work Towards a Perfect Score: Format, Content, Strategies, and Master Tips

What is ACT Science? Why does your score matter? What are key strategies and master tips to help you work towards a perfect score in ACT Science?

In this article, you will find the right answers to these questions as well as others. Let’s get started.


What is ACT Science?

The ACT Science test is a 35-minute, 40-question science exam. The Science section is the last in the ACT Test and covers skills such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving. Much of the ACT Science test parallels the common science content taught in grades 7 – 12: Earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics. Major considerations include 1) you do not need advanced knowledge in these subjects, but a basic understanding of key terms and concepts does help and 2) you do not need advanced mathematical skills.

The test consists of 7 passages:

  •      3 – Data representation passages – approximately 38%
  •      3 – Research summaries passages – approximately 45%
  •      1 – Conflicting viewpoints passage – approximately 17%

Insert ACT Science Table

Passages are not ordered by difficulty, though some are more difficult than others. It is important for you to be aware that questions gradually increase within each passage but all questions are weighted equally.

Once again, the test is designed to test your ability in analyzing and interpreting charts, graphs, and experimental data. The true skill assessed is finding patterns and relationships within the data and drawing plausible inferences. Knowledge of basic scientific terms and skills is useful but not required. For this reason, the ACT recommends that you take at least two – three years of science in secondary school, including one biology course, one earth science class, and one chemistry course. Whether you have taken such courses or not, you should know that each passage gives you the material that you need in order to answer the questions. For this reason, with practice, you can rely on the strength of your reasoning abilities to complete the section successfully.

Why the ACT Science Score Matters

  1. The Truth: Your Test Prep Scores Matter for College Admissions: It’s one of the sure things in the college admissions process: your scores on the SAT and ACT do matter. All colleges in the country and abroad consider students’ ACT scores and GPA during the admissions process. Each college has a unique process and considers the two factors differently. To put yourself in the absolute best position to choose which school may be the best fit for you, you want to do everything possible to prep and review for your ACT and SAT. So you are aware, with few exceptions, most colleges look for a minimum score on one of these two tests as part of their admissions requirements. This means that you need a high score to be classified with other top students and, therefore, to increase your chances of going to the college or university of your choice.
  2. You’re Investing in Your Future – Higher Test Prep Scores Equal More Merit Based Scholarships: More importantly, college is often the most expensive financial decision most families make. More points on either standardized test (SAT or ACT) will put you in the running for merit based scholarships and financial aid. While test prep resources may cost some time and money in the short term, merit aid saves you tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition in the long term
  3. Your Test Prep Scores Impact Your Future Major: A high score in the ACT Science section can make up for less-than-perfect scores in other areas of the test. A high grade in the ACT Science section can help you to compete effectively for a place at the colleges or universities to which you are applying. Furthermore, if you expect to major in mathematics or the sciences, your ACT Science score may have a significant impact on your application.

ACT Science Scores

Regardless of your top schools, to put yourself in the absolute best position to choose which schools may be the best fit for you, you want to do everything possible to prep and review for your ACT and SAT. Confidence matters and you need to believe that it’s possible for you to work towards a perfect score. In fact, a perfect score may be more likely than you think. By understanding the test and by knowing how to prepare for it, your chances of achieving a high score increase remarkably.

Once you believe that a high score is possible and commit yourself to studying, then you need to understand the test’s scoring method and structure.

There are two kinds of scores in the ACT Science test:

  • RAW SCORE: it’s the point for point score — you get a point for every correct answer and no points for incorrect or omitted answers.
  • SCALED SCORE: your raw score is converted to a scaled score out of 1 – 36. This scaled score is based upon the level of performance and data collected from all other test takers. Simply put, you want to do as best as possible by answering as many questions correct as you can.


ACT Science: Format and Structure

Now that you have learned about the ACT Science test, including its format and content, we will move forward to review the key strategies for getting a top score in ACT Science.

  • Data Representation Passages present data in summaries, tables, charts, and graphs. There are no headers to categorize experiments or the data within them. Plan on four to five minutes to complete questions for each Data Representation passage.


  • Research Summaries Passages describe one or more related experiments. They may have summaries, tables, charts, or graphs. This section uses headers to categorize experiments. Plan on five to six minutes to complete questions for each passage.


  • Conflicting Viewpoint Passages present hypotheses or arguments that are contradictory or inconsistent. The passages are narratives and usually do not contain tables or diagrams. Conflicting Viewpoint Passages use headers to categorize arguments. Plan on six to seven minutes to complete questions for this passage.


How Do Colleges Interpret the ACT vs the SAT

During the college admission process, colleges do not usually prefer one test over the other (if they do, they will tell you). As a rule, the ACT and SAT tests are treated equally in the admission process. Both tests have points of similarity and points of difference. In our experience if the decision is difficult for you to make, practice both tests under real test conditions, score yourself, and pay attention to your strengths in each test as well as your rate of improvement as you continue to practice. In addition, consider carefully the difficulty of all the sections before making a final decision.

Given that both tests have slightly different questions with different nuances and timing, we strongly recommend for you to take practice tests under real test conditions to evaluate which test may be in your best interest.

Key Strategies For Preparing and Taking The ACT Science Section

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Strategy #1: Focus on the Data and Information Presented to You in the Passage Rather than Outside Knowledge

Granted, having a strong vocabulary in basic scientific concepts will aid you in your reading comprehension, but applying too much knowledge outside of the passage will actually hurt your timing and distract you from the questions being asked. More importantly, be aware that the ACT Science section isn’t measuring your recall of facts from Chemistry, Bio, Physics, etc. but rather your ability to interpret patterns and relationships within the data and draw rational inferences — in a limited amount of time. So remember, a major consideration is you will not need advanced knowledge in these subjects, but more of a basic understanding of key terms and concepts. For your convenience, we’ve also provided a helpful list of key scientific terms below that you should be familiar with.

  • DNADNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Think of DNA in terms of genetic material regarding the ACT Science Section.
  • Density: refers to mass per volume and is a measurement of the compactness of a substance.
  • ProteinProteins are large biomolecules, or macromolecules, consisting of one or more long chains of amino acid residues. When referring to the ACT Science Section, remember that enzyme (catalysts of biological reactions) are proteins.
  • pH (acid-base): In chemistry, pH is a numeric scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. pH 1 – 6 is acidic where the concentration of H+ > OH-. pH of 7 is neutral. pH 8 – 14 is basic where OH- > H+. Referring to the ACT Science Section, when a solution is becoming more acidic, pH is decreasing, whereas if the solution is becoming more basic, pH is increasing.
  • Joules (energy): the SI unit of work or energy, equal to the work done by a force.
  • Kelvin (temperature): the SI base unit of thermodynamic temperature, equal in magnitude to the degree Celsius.

Because time is so limited and you’re averaging less than 30 seconds per question, attempt to not become overwhelmed in understanding every nuance of the experiment.

One of the biggest debates regarding the ACT Science Section is whether to read the questions first or the full passage. Regardless of your path and there are pros and cons to both, the most important element is learning how to read the data. If a question guides you to a series of data and you’re unable to draw patterns and inferences to the question being asked, you will only waste more time. Likewise, if you’ve read the entire passage and are unable to draw meaningful connections between the data, you will find yourself only going back to reread the information.

  1. We highly recommend first mastering how to quickly interpret patterns and relationships within the data given, finding variables and the control group, and identifying what is directly or indirectly proportional.
  2. This skill set is what is most important for mastering the ACT Science Section and from here, you will be able to implement strategies to improve your timing.


Strategy #2:  Know the Format of the ACT Science Section in Terms of Your Time

The immediate need to knows – 1) the ACT Science Section is 40 multiple choice questions in 35 minutes 2) it contains 7 passages total, 3 Data Representation Passages, 3 Research Summaries Passages and 1 Conflicting Viewpoints passage 3) no calculator is provided 4) and math calculations are pretty basic.

  • Data Representation Passages contain collective pieces of data in a beginning summary, tables, charts, and graphs and there are NO headers to categorize experiments.
  • Research Summaries Passages contain descriptions of one or more related experiments. They also have a short beginning summary, tables, charts, graphs but DO contain headers to categorize experiments (Experiment 1, Study 2, etc.)
  • Conflicting Viewpoints Passages present several hypotheses or arguments that are inconsistent with one another. They are usually very wordy and do not contain many tables or diagrams if at all. Conflicting Viewpoints passages do contain headers to categorize arguments (Theory 1, Theory 1, etc.).

More importantly, and we can’t emphasize this enough, the reason why you care about understanding what passage you’re facing is to be able to predict the types of questions that are going to be asked with respect to each passage. Understanding the types of questions, teaches you what to look for more specifically within the data as if you’re watching a show and you’re able to predict the next scene. This will honestly save you an immense amount of time and stay focused on the overall purpose of the experiment.


Strategy #3: Keep your Focus Using Your Fingers or Pencil

Keep track of the information within the passage using your fingers or small notes. Going off of the different types of questions, you will often be asked to connect pieces of information from the different tables and graphs in Connection Questions. Time is very limited so excessive writing will only hinder your ability to finish the ACT Science Section. To better maximize your time, attempt to use your finger, pencil, or small notes to connect variables or just use your finger as a placeholder as you’re moving through the passage.


STRATEGY #4:  Skip Figures

Skip figures as the questions will direct you if necessary. Always be prepared to use the diagram or figure based on the question asked, but memorizing a figure is not an efficient use of your time.


STRATEGY #5:  Save The Conflicting Viewpoints Passage for Last

Time is your biggest factor on the ACT Science Section and you want to give yourself the best possible chance to complete all 40 questions and 7 passages in just 35 minutes. The one passage that typically takes 2 minutes longer than the others is the Conflicting Viewpoints passage as you’re evaluating the strength of each argument. Data Representation Passages typically take 4 – 5 minutes to complete, Research Summaries Passages 5 – 6 minutes to complete, and Conflicting Viewpoints 6 – 7 minutes to complete. Remember though, that the ACT Test is a full composite test and you want to get as many questions as possible correct.


STRATEGY #6: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice deeply! This is not just taking random math practice problems and checking your score but digging deeper and categorizing each mistake until the answer is fully justified. Start by taking several authentic ACT diagnostics measuring your progress and identifying areas of weakness for you to go and review. Embracetutoring.com provides a number of free supplemental materials to get you started.

Work on your approach and your timing. When evaluating your practice tests, be absolutely brutal about understanding your mistakes. Deep practice is being your own toughest critic. More important than finding the mistake, is seriously understanding why you may have missed that question in the first place. You need to always be able to justify your answer earnestly. This process is important because it allows you to identify your high level weaknesses early on to manage your time more effectively. As you are studying, we would recommend keeping a log and categorizing your mistakes and questions you’re unsure of.

Write down 1) the general idea of the question 2) what you believed the question was asking and 3) the strategy you will use in the future to answer the question correctly.




Use the Resources at Embrace Tutoring and Educational Services

  1. Embrace Tutoring and Educational Services has exceptional resources, many of them are custom-designed to help you review the content areas discussed in this article.
  2. Because our diagnostic tests break out the precise types of questions on each test, you’ll be able to quickly identify those areas in which your skills are strong or those areas in which you need improvement.
  3. In addition to practice resources, we offer the best personal and online tutoring services to help you achieve to the best of your ability.

Test Day and Beyond

Readying Yourself The Day Before The Test

  • Plan how you will get to the test site. If it’s in a large school or office building, be sure to find out which door you should enter to register for the test. If you haven’t been in the building before, find out how to get to the room.
  • Set two alarms. Even though alarms rarely fail, it can happen. You always want to have a backup.
  • Pack your items the night before.
  • Review the test directions so you’re aware of what is expected on test day.

What To Pack

  • Photo admission ticket and valid photo ID: A valid driver’s license, school, or state-issued ID are acceptable. Remember that the photo must resemble you on the day of the exam and comply with the rules posted on www.act.org.
  • Several number 2 pencils with soft erasers.
  • Approved calculator with fresh batteries.
  • Watch
  • Snacks
  • Water in a clear bottle, label removed.