ACT science cheat sheet – Prep Expert

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One of the main ways that the ACT differs from the SAT is that it includes a science section in addition to the sections that test reading, writing and language (English), and math.

The ACT Science section makes many students nervous. In fact, many students opt to take the SAT instead of the ACT so that they can avoid this section.

However, while the ACT Science section can be tricky, it is still possible to get a good score on this part of the test, even if science isn’t your forte.

Here is an overview of the ACT Science section and some tips and tricks that will help you do well on this section:

ACT Science Overview

The ACT Science section asks students to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. These multiple choice questions span a variety of topics including  biology, chemistry, Earth/space sciences (e.g., geology, astronomy, and meteorology), and physics.

While it will be important for you to have some background knowledge about these topics, you don’t have to have taken AP or IB courses over these natural sciences to do well on this test section. This section largely aims to test whether or not students have the analysis, reasoning, problem-solving, and evaluation skills necessary to understand the natural sciences instead of testing the depth and breadth of a student’s knowledge on these topics.

When you take the ACT Science section, you will see passages that are formatted in three different ways:

  • Data representation: Graphs and tables requiring you to interpret data or translate data from one form to another.
  • Research summaries: Presentations of data that you are required to interpret, analyze, and evaluate.
  • Conflicting viewpoints: Presentations of two or more scientific ideas that contradict one another that you are required to analyze, judge, and compare.

Here is an ACT.org example of a passage you may see on this section of the ACT:

Passage III

A student performed 2 studies to investigate the factors that affect the germination of peony seeds.

Study 1

Peony seeds were placed in dry containers. Some of the containers were stored at 5°C for either 4, 6, 8, or 10 weeks. The temperature and time periods were defined as the storage temperature and the storage period, respectively.

The peony seeds were divided evenly so that there were 20 sets of 25 seeds. Twenty petri dishes were then prepared. Each contained damp paper. Each set of seeds was placed in a separate petri dish. Each petri dish was maintained at 1 of 4 temperatures for 30 days. The temperature and time periods were defined as the germination temperature and the germination period, respectively. Table 1 shows the number of seeds that germinated in each dish.

Table 1

Storage period (weeks)   Number of peony seeds that germinated when maintained at a germination temperature of:
13°C 18°C 23°C 28°C
0 0 0 0 0
4 0 2 0 0
6 3 8 6 0
8 7 22 18 0
10 15 24 21 1

Study 2

Peony seeds were placed in dry containers. The containers were stored at various temperatures for 10 weeks.

The peony seeds were divided evenly so that there were 20 sets of 25 seeds. Twenty petri dishes were then prepared. Each contained damp paper. Each set of seeds was placed in a petri dish. The petri dishes were maintained at 1 of 4 temperatures for 30 days. Table 2 shows the number of seeds that germinated in each dish.

Table 2

Storage temperature (°C) Number of peony seeds that germinated when maintained at a germination temperature of:
13°C 18°C 23°C 28°C
0 15 24 21 1
5 16 23 21 1
10 0 6 4 0
15 0 0 0 0
20 0 0 0 0

Tables adapted from Joel Beller, Experimenting with Plants. ©1985 by Joel Beller.

After reading the passage, you will have to answer a few questions. These questions cover the following categories: 

  • Interpretation of data
  • Evaluation of models, inferences, and experimental results
  • Scientific investigation

Given the passage above, you might answer the following question:

  1. In general, the results of Study 1 suggest that peony seeds that are placed in a petri dish containing damp paper are most likely to germinate when they are maintained at which of the following temperatures?
  1. 13° C
  1. 18° C
  1. 23°C
  1. 28°C

Ultimately, you do not need to be a natural science expert to do well on this test section. As long as you know the types of passages and questions you will encounter on the test, you should be able to earn a good score.

ACT Science tips

Once you’ve memorized the overview of the test, you will be ready to learn some strategies to help you tackle these questions with ease.

Here are a few quick tips that will help you on the ACT Science section: 

  • Don’t spend too much time on any one question. You only have 52.5 seconds to answer each question, and that doesn’t even include the time you will spend looking at the passages. If a question is taking a long time for you to answer, make your best educated guess and move on to the next question.
  • Write on the passage. When you have passages that will require you to determine the relationship between different visual representations of data, it can be helpful to write notes within the passage on the graphs, tables, and charts.
  • Understand commonly used terms. When you take this section of the test, you will see terms like variable, direct and indirect relationship, and constant. Make sure you have an understanding of these key terms so that you can answer questions efficiently.
  • Have a strategy for each passage type. Try different strategies when you take practice tests until you determine which strategy works best for you for each type of passage you will encounter. For example, maybe you will do better if you jump right to the questions for the passages with graphs and tables, but you will read the conflicting viewpoints passages in their entirety before looking at the questions or vice versa. You might also decide to tackle the passages in a different order than how they are presented in the ACT Science section.

How Prep Expert can help

While this cheat sheet is a good starting point, it is not meant to replace time spent studying and preparing for the ACT Science section.

One of the best ways for you to prepare for this section of the ACT is to work with a private tutor or to take an ACT prep course.

Prep Expert offers high quality instruction from experienced tutors who will help you learn everything there is to know about the ACT Science section, and our ACT prep courses provide helpful tips and information that will give you the background knowledge and strategies you need to do well on the exam.

Learn more today when you visit our website. 






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