Intro to the ACT Science Test

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Related Blog Posts

IMPORTANT UPDATE TO THIS LESSON: On 2015 ACT tests, the Science Test has featured 6 passages (instead of the traditional 7): specifically 3 Research Summaries passages with 7 questions each, 2 Data Representation passages with 6 questions each, and 1 Conflicting Viewpoint passage with 7 questions. Make sure to check your test before you start to see how many passages you have so you can plan your pacing accordingly. 7 passages means you have 5 minutes per passage. 6 passages means you have almost 6 minutes per passage. 

Learn More About Magoosh ACT
Hello, everyone. Welcome to this introductory overview of the ACT Science Test. This video is designed to give you a basic overview of the ACT Science Test if you're totally brand new to it, but also some information on trends and changes we have seen in recent years. So even if you feel like you have a good handle on the ACT, hopefully we have some useful information to share with you here.

But if you consider yourself to be a true expert ACT science student, well, you might want to skip ahead to some of our other videos. We have a bunch of other videos that break down the various passage and the question types you're going to encounter as well as the strategies that you need to be successful on the ACT Science Test. So let's go ahead and look at how the ACT Science Test breaks down, structure-wise.

You have 35 minutes to do 40 questions. That the ACT guarantees. Now what it doesn't guarantee is how many passages you are going to see. So you're likely going to see six or seven passages. Now for the longest time, like forever, there were seven passages on the ACT Science Test.

So students knew to expect that there would be three of what are called data representation passages, three research summaries passages and one conflicting viewpoints passage. But on recent tests, basically since the past year or so, students have been seeing six passages on the ACT Science Test, which means they've seen three data representation, two research summaries and one conflicting viewpoints, generally speaking.

Okay, so first of all, what I wanna say, this really threw students for a loop, and so you want to know not to be attached to any particular number of passages on the test. No matter what your test prep book says, the ACT only guarantees that there will be a certain time limit, 35, and 40 questions. And so you're going to see probably six or seven passages, and we talk about these different passage types in our video on the ACT Science passage types, so you're going to learn a little bit more about those there.

Okay, so what do you need to know? Despite its name, the ACT Science Test is really not so much about knowing science. It's about critical thinking. Most questions are going to test your ability to read scientific charts, graphics, figures and tables of data and your ability to imagine or visualize scientific experiments or situations.

Most of you have probably never taken any type of class that will have directly prepared you for what you will encounter on the ACT Science Test, which is why it can seem a little scary. But don't worry. Just like all the other sections on the ACT, the ACT Science Test is very predictable.

And you can learn how to be better at it simply by practicing test prep strategies and techniques designed specifically for the ACT Science Test. Now while it's true you that don't need to know a lot of scientific facts to do well on the ACT Science Test, you will see a small handful of questions that do require you to bring in outside knowledge from chemistry, biology, physics or Earth and space science.

Generally speaking, this information is on a very basic level, and it's information that you probably learned in your introductory high school science classes or even in middle school. But if you're concerned about getting a very top score on this test, it's worth refreshing yourself on basic knowledge in all of this disciplines so that you can pick up the points on the questions that do require outside knowledge.

Finally, you need to know how to work fast. No one ever leisurely peruses through an ACT Science Test and contemplates how fascinating all of these experiments and data are. That never happens. So you have to let it go and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, like you're being pushed a little too fast.

Although this may not sound like a skill you can learn, on the contrary, it is. Learning how to make good decisions about what to skip, what to work on and when to give up and take a guess requires practice feeling comfortable with the test. So how can I prepare? The ACT Science Test really is its own beast. Unlike the math test or the English test, which you could so some really effective prep for simply by learning some grammar rules or practicing geometry questions, the only way to really study for the ACT Science Test is to study the ACT Science Test.

So take practice tests and learn specific ACT science strategies. And we have videos covering all of this stuff. So don't fear. We are here to help. That being said, if you do wanna do some outside work getting more comfortable with what you have to do on the Science Test, you can practice reading and becoming accustomed to charts and graphs of scientific data.

Flipping through your science textbooks should yield some different charts, figures and graphs that you can examine. However, if you really want to see stuff that will look more ACT-like to you, I recommend looking at academic scientific journals. You can find some decent ones for free from the Public Library of Science at www.plos.org, which is an Open Source database of scientific articles.

Now what you find here is most certainly going to be more complex than what you will find on the ACT, but if you can handle this, you should be feeling pretty darn good about your ability to tackle the ACT science section. Finally, I just want to address one more question that has been popular in recent years. Is the ACT science section getting harder?

A lot of students claim that it is. They feel that the passages are getting more complex and more difficult to finish in time, and that there are more questions, and more difficult questions, that rely on students knowing outside scientific facts. This concern has largely risen because of a perceived discrepancy between the difficulty level of the tests that appear in the real ACT prep guide, which gives you official tests that have been given in the past, and the tests that students have been facing in the past couple of years.

The most recent edition of this guide, the third edition, was published in 2011, and so it only contains tests given before this date. But that doesn't help too much if students think the tests have been getting harder since 2011. So until there's an updated edition out, be prepared to feel that what you see on the actual test seems a little harder to you, and certainly don't panic if it does.

Remember that the curve adjusts for each test. So if you happen to think the test seems harder to you, make sure to remind yourself that it's likely harder for everybody else too. And for what it's worth, the ACT doesn't agree with this assessment that the test has gotten harder. So don't get too worked up that the test you're going to encounter will be significantly more difficult.

No matter what your friends are saying, this is highly unlikely to be the case. And if you feel this way, it's much more likely that because of the pressure of the testing situation it's interfering with the clarity of your thinking. And this happens to all of us, and the best thing that you can do is take a couple deep breaths, slow yourself down and remember that you do, in fact, know what you're doing.

The ACT Science Test is one of my personal favorites, not because I think I'm particularly great at science, but because I think that you do not necessarily have to be in order to do well on it. Which makes it a really interesting standardized test for tutor geeks like myself. There are so many strategies that you can employ to be prepared for this test that have little to do with science.

So while you may feel a little more comfortable with this section if you consider yourself to be a science person, that's certainly not a requirement. With the right mindset and the right strategies, I promise you that it can be mastered.

Show Transcript

Next Lesson


Introduction to the Science Test