The Science section of the ACT is often the section that kids find the most frustrating before they prep. It always comes down to one simple issue. How can you read 6-7 studies, analyze their respective graphs, and answer 40 questions all in just 40 minutes?
Let the questions guide you
The answer I always tell my students is you can’t. Whether you’re looking to score in the 20s, or you’re looking to score a 36, the approach to the Science section is always the same. You should never read the passages before answering the question, and for 80% of the questions, you won’t need anything that the passage provides. Instead, read the questions and let them guide you on where to go next
You’ll notice the questions will tell you where to look and what to do. “As seen in Study 2”, “According to the results of Study 1”, and “Based on Figure 2” are all common ways the ACT phrases their questions. Right there, the question is telling you: “look at this specific Study/Figure/Graph”.
After this the test tells you what to do, prompting you to answer questions like “Is the mass increasing, decreasing, increasing then decreasing, or showing no trend?”. For 80% of the questions, you don’t need to read a word of the passage because they tell you where and what to look for. Once you’ve found the location of the answer and know what the question wants you to look for, then all you have to do is match the answer you found with the answer choices. Focusing on the specific wording of the question allows students to finish the test much faster and more accurately than they ever could before.
And for the other 20% of questions? These questions will usually have scientific terminology that isn’t generic/common science lingo. With these questions you will need some information from the passage, but you still won’t read most of what the passage gives you. When they say things like “What is the MEC of Formula A” they will always provide you with that terminology, usually in italics, making it easy to quickly spot. In this case the passage will say that “MEC” refers to “Minimum Effective Concentration”, when the answer does not. When it comes to specific/technical vocabulary and equations, the Science section doesn’t expect you to know these details, so you just have to find the specific word or equation and they will be defined for you.
Now that you know to approach the Science section this way, all that’s left is practice. Take a publicly available ACT Science section untimed just to get used to this approach to questions. Then once you feel like you’re comfortable with this new tactic you can start taking timed sections. In these timed sections your focus should be on skipping questions that seem difficulty early. With under a minute per question, spending 2 minutes on a difficult question prevents you from doing 2-3 more questions, and because it’s difficult for you, you are likely to miss the question anyway. Skipping and returning to questions is crucial to improving your Science score, regardless of your score goals.
Lastly, make sure you look over the problems after you’ve completed the section. Unlike the other sections, the Science section will have almost always give you all of the answers in the text and require very little outside knowledge. This means that given time you can find your own mistakes and from there work to get your score to where you want it to be.
Of course, having a tutor analyze and break down the section based on how you take the test is ideal but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your score on your own too! So just remember, with the ACT Science, reading less is more.
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