Ace The ACT Science Section

Preparing for the ACT is an important undertaking for high school students, and it takes time and effort to successfully get through this standardized test prep. The time invested should be spent in practicing weaker areas of the exam. This article encompasses the best practices to perfect one area that you may struggle in: ACT Science. Through the tips and tricks listed below, you will be able to dominate the science section and the ACT as a whole.

What Is The ACT Science Section?

You may be familiar with the ACT and its importance in getting you into a good school. But just how well do you know the exam? 

Let’s break it down into its four multiple-choice sections: ACT English, ACT Mathematics, ACT Reading, and ACT Science. The first three are pretty self-explanatory on how you’ll be tested- correcting grammar, solving problems, and reading passages- but what is tested on the science section? This is different from the typical science exams you’ve taken in your high school science class where you answer questions based on scientific fact. The ACT Science test instead evaluates your ability to look up and integrate information from passages and data representations such as tables and graphs.

Science Section Topics

As mentioned above, the science section of the ACT consists of different passages and representations of data. The topics that are covered in these passages include biology, chemistry, physics, and the Earth/space sciences (astronomy, geology, and meteorology). 

While the test focuses mainly on a student’s ability to analyze data and text, there are consistently three to four questions that require previous outside knowledge. This needed knowledge is information that is commonly learned across high schools by the time students take the ACT.

For the best possible outcome on these questions, be sure to pay attention in your high school science classes, make flashcards, and drill yourself until you are confident in that basic material.

Necessary Background Science Knowledge

You’ll need to understand some concepts from chemistry, biology, and physics — you’ll also need some basic math skills for a few questions!


  • Understand the pH scale
  • Know the freezing and boiling point of water in degrees Celsius
  • Molar mass
  • Phase changes
  • Basic molecule structure
  • How charges interact


  • DNA
  • RNA
  • Ribosomes
  • Natural selection
  • Genetics
  • Photosynthesis
  • Respiration
  • Cell biology
  • Taxonomic rank


  • Gravity
  • Density formula
  • Density rules
  • Kinetic energy and potential energy

Familiarizing yourself with these basic science topics will be the difference between an okay score and a great score.

How Is ACT Science Scored?

The science section of the ACT exam is scored the same as the rest of the test- there is no penalty for incorrect answers, so students must answer every question on the test! Just like the other sections of the exam, the science test is scored out of 36.

In order to determine what score you are aiming for, it is a good idea to do research into the schools you intend on applying to and see what scores those college admissions officers are looking for. Some colleges will care only about the ACT score as a composite test, but sometimes schools will want to look at the section scores.

Timing Of The ACT Science Section

First, students must understand the time constraints on this test. The ACT as a whole lasts about 3 hours, but each section has a designated time allotment. Students are allowed 35 minutes to complete the Science section, which consists of 7 passages and 40 multiple-choice questions.

This means that you have 52.5 second to evaluate the answer choices and respond to each question. 

Sticking to that timing may sound far-fetched, but it is in fact possible! In order to complete all of the questions in the allowed time, you need to spend at most 5 minutes per passage. The best way to ensure that you can do this is through practice. Therefore, you should be taking multiple practice tests  (anywhere from four to eight) to nail down this timing. If you can’t get the timing down in practice, it will be very difficult to do it on test day, so practice is certainly key!

ACT Science Tips & Tricks

Now that we’re all on the same page as to what the ACT Science section tests and how much time you have to take it, it’s important to understand what you can do to prepare for the exam. The Science section itself requires a good amount of practice, and knowing a few strategies for test-taking can make all of the difference in your score.

Take A Diagnostic Test For ACT Science

In order to understand where you are at in relation to the ACT Science test and where you need the most practice, you must take a diagnostic test. These tests are the same form as the exam you will encounter on test day, and you can often utilize past year’s ACT exams as a diagnostic test. It is important that when initially taking a diagnostic test, you adhere to the time constraints for the section so that you can get an accurate baseline score to work with.

Not only will this work to show you where you should focus your studying, but it will also assist in familiarizing you with the exam- both the types of questions that are asked and the types of passages and data that are presented.

Types of Passages In The Science Section

Within the science section, there exists three main types of ACT science passages:

  • 3 Data Representation Passages
  • 3 Research Summary Passages
  • 1 Conflicting Viewpoints Passage

The first two types, Data Representation and Research Summary, are very similar in that they both utilize visuals such as graphs or tables to communicate information and data. However, Data Representation Passages have five questions per passage while Research Summary Passages have six questions per passage. 

Conflicting Viewpoints Passages do noy typically involve visuals, rather they pit two authors’ opinions against each other, wanting students to take notice of similarities and differences between the viewpoints. There is only one of these passages, and it is paired with seven total questions.

Take ACT Science Practice Tests

There are many resources online that offer free ACT practice tests for students, but the best resource is ACT, inc. itself. By logging onto, you can access multiple sample ACT science questions and sample science passages. These can give you a very strong idea of what you will see on test day, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to practice from the writers of the ACT test themselves!

Along with these sample questions, it is extremely important in your test prep journey to take many practice exams. You can take full-length ACT practice exams, but if you have identified the science section as a point of weakness, then it will be very worth your while to hone in on practice exams specifically for the ACT science test.

While taking these practice tests, there are two main things you should focus on: timing and your mistakes. For timing, it is imperative that you get to a place where you are able to finish all of the questions within the 35 minute time limit. As we said above, you should be spending a maximum of 5 minutes per passage (reading the passage and answering the questions). Depending on your typical reading speed, this could take a while to acclimate to, but it can only be done through practice! Therefore, we recommend that you take a minimum of four practice tests, but the more the better.

Assess Your Mistakes

The other aspect of taking a practice test is that you are able to evaluate your readiness in the different sections of the exam. So when you are done going through a practice ACT Science test, score it, then analyze your wrong answers. Check to see if there is a pattern in the questions you got incorrect. This can help narrow your studying to ultimately better your score.

A great way to go about assessing your mistakes is to look at the incorrect answers through three lenses: skipped, guessed, and knew. For the questions that you skipped, be sure to thoroughly read the question again and figure out what stumped you and led you to leave the answer blank. A very important strategy for the ACT exam is to answer every single question, even if it is a guess. There is no penalty for incorrect answers when the exam is being scored, so taking a guess gives you a much better chance at a higher score than leaving a blank.

In analyzing the guessed questions, ask yourself: Why did you guess right or wrong? Did it have to do with the wording of the question? With timing? Do you have a pattern of answering when you are unsure of an answer?

Lastly, on the questions that you thought you knew but got incorrect: What was the reason you got it wrong? Did you miss an important detail? Did you misunderstand the question? Be sure to ask yourself these questions so that you do not make the same mistake twice.

Consider Working With ACT Science Tutors

Alright, so you now know how the ACT Science test works and the importance of taking practice tests. But what else is there that you can do to prepare or boost your score? 

Working with a tutor who specializes in the ACT exam is extremely beneficial for students who want help in analyzing their weaknesses, learning test-taking strategies, having access to practice exams and extra exercises, and general encouragement through the ACT journey! Connecting with an experienced and seasoned test-taker will give you a new perspective on the ACT Science test that can help you in an area that you may be stuck in. If you want to be sure that you are covering all of your bases and are the most prepared you can be, working with a tutor is the way to go.

Recap: How To Study For The ACT Science Section

Here is a review of how to master the ACT Science section:

  1. Learn the exam through a diagnostic test.
  2. Pay attention to timing.
  3. Take practice tests. Then take some more.
  4. Evaluate your mistakes.
  5. Work with an ACT tutor.

Keep these steps in mind and you will surely be on your way to successfully mastering the ACT Science test.

Find Out More About The ACT With SoFlo Tutors

Here at SoFlo ACT tutoring, experienced students from top colleges are prepared to help you understand all that you need to know about ACT preparation and can help you focus on perfecting certain sections, such as ACT Science.

Our tutors teach students the best test-taking strategies and can encourage you along your test-prep journey. Try out a session today!

About The Author

Keli Pegula

Keli Pegula is a sophomore at Dartmouth on the Pre–Med track. She’s a SoFlo tutor who scored 1480 on her SATs and 34 on her ACTs. When she’s not at school in Hanover, she might be in her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania — the town where the iconic TV show The Office is set!

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