Many students dread the science portion of the ACT. With its overabundance of data and scientific jargon, the test can be an intimidating one. Behind its daunting façade, however, ACT science is actually relatively straightforward.

To begin with, the ACT does not primarily test the science you learned in school. Questions for which you may need to remember some basic science are rare, occurring only about five percent of the time. Most questions simply ask for basic data points or general patterns that are readily apparent from the charts and graphs provided. All the information you need to solve almost every problem will be there right in front of you.

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The key to doing well on the test is to maintain your focus and cool – don’t be intimidated by the test maker’s technical language or seemingly complicated experiments. Here are five key strategies to help you perform well:

  1. Group questions by study, experiment or opinion. The science section is made up of seven “passages” or question sets, each of which contains its own subset of data, studies, experiments or opinions. When you’re working on a passage, begin by answering the questions that address the first study, experiment or piece of data. As soon as you’ve finished this question set, immediately look for questions that address the second study, experiment or piece of data. Repeat the process, doing so until you’ve finished all the questions. By closely pairing the questions to their respective portions of the passage in this way, you’ll be able to more quickly remember and identify the solutions. If you read the questions in the random order they’re presented, on the other hand, you’ll likely already have forgotten the relevant information for certain questions and will need to burn valuable time re-analyzing individual visuals or sections.
  1. Identify and label categories and trends. One of the trickiest aspects of ACT science is the sheer volume of information the test contains. Identifying the data you’re given upfront and labeling it accordingly will help you to make sense of this information in a timely manner. Because you have only a short time to process so much information, this step is critical for not only comprehension but also speed. Anytime you see a graph, circle the x– and y- axis. Note what each is measuring, as well as any clear relationship between the given x and y values. If you see a chart or graph, similarly take note of row or column headings. You can note what is being measured in the margin, along with any apparent trends or relationships in the data. To record trends or relationships quickly, use easily recognizable characters such as equal signs or arrows. These labels and markings will help you find information quickly and keep things straight when you tackle the question set.
  1. Don’t get bogged down in the technical language. Make a note of important scientific terms and definitions when you first read the passage. Don’t, however, become too caught up in deeply understanding and memorizing the precise meaning of every term. Much of this information will be irrelevant to the questions. This is especially true for information provided in parenthesis. If the information does show up on a question, you can go back to the relevant portion of the passage at that time.
  1. Improve speed with timed practice. You only have about five minutes per passage, so it’s critical that you learn to work quickly. While the strategies above will help improve your speed, it’s also essential that you complete a number of timed practice sections. The more timed practice you do, the more quickly you’ll process passages and recognize correct answer choices. Just make sure that you’re also learning from your mistakes. As with nearly everything in life, practice is key.
  1. Avoid lengthy calculations. If you find yourself in the middle of a lengthy, complicated computation, you’ve probably done something wrong. ACT science questions are meant to be answered quickly. Anytime you’re stuck with a complex calculation, look instead to quickly extrapolate an approximate value from the data in front of you.

ACT science doesn’t have to be daunting. With these strategies and some practice, you’ll be on your way to a great science score.

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