The ACT Science section is notoriously fast paced, allowing only 52.5 seconds per question. To make things even more difficult, the ACT presents you with more information than most mortals could possibly hope to read and understand in the 40 minutes it provides. It’s imperative, then, that you work quickly in order to do well, and this means having the right strategy to manage the clock.
How can you actually finish the science section on time? The most important thing you can do is to skip reading the passages and instead go directly to the questions. You should do this on every passage type except the conflicting viewpoints passage, in which two or three people share their conflicting opinions on a topic and no visuals are provided. Because the conflicting viewpoints are strictly text-based, it’s essential that you read them in their entirety in order to answer the questions.
For every other passage type, however, you need to go directly to the questions because there is simply not enough time to read everything the ACT tells you. The ACT deliberately places extraneous information in each passage, expecting you to identify what you need to answer each question and discard what you do not. Trying to read and make sense of everything will usually do more harm than good to your score.
Since most questions ask for specific information that can be found in the visuals, work from each question to the appropriate visual in order to find the needed information. This will work for most questions, although on some you will also need to briefly read the passage introduction or experiment description in order to identify the correct answer. Only look at the written descriptions if the visuals are not sufficient on their own.
As you work through each set of questions, first answer questions about the first experiment or figure, then questions about the second experiment or figure, and so on. The details of each experiment of figure will be fresher in your mind when answering questions if you group the questions this way.
Around five of the thirty five questions on ACT science will be conceptual in nature, meaning you generally won’t be able to answer them on the basis of a visual alone. These usually appear as the last or second-to-last question in a passage. Since these questions require an understanding of the passage as a whole, it’s best to save them for the end of a passage question set. Look back at the passage for more information to help answer them, but if you’re stuck on one of these questions after more than 90 seconds, make your best guess and move on to the next question.
While this strategy will save you much needed time on ACT Science, it’s also essential that you practice often by taking official, timed practice sections. Here are some general strategies you can use as you practice ACT science. Identify your mistakes so that you can learn from them, and review what you’ve learned often. As you grow both more accustomed to the strict time limit and better at answering ACT Science questions, your speed will naturally improve.
By combining the question-first strategy with extensive timed practice and review, you’ll be on your way to both finishing the ACT Science section on time and hitting your optimal score.