Pacing on the ACT Science Test

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
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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.

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Welcome to this Magoosh lesson on How to Pace for the ACT Science Test. Oh, my gosh, this is such an important lesson, because the ACT is a notoriously time presses test and the ACT science test for many students is the most time pressured test of all. And our students have been anecdotally reporting over the past few years that they think the ACT science questions and passages have been getting more and more complex, which means that the section has been getting a lot more difficult to finish in time.

So, all the more reason that learning how to manage your time is so incredibly crucial to your success on the ACT Science Test. So first, let's just take a look at how the section breaks down time-wise. You have 35 minutes to do 40 questions and this means you're going to have 6 or 7 passages. Now for the longest time, the ACT Science Test had seven passages and in recent tests or on recent tests in recent years, there have been six passages.

So that affects your timing a little bit. It means you have roughly five to six minutes to spend per passage. Five minutes, if you have seven passages and almost six minutes. That would be 36 minutes total, if you have 6 passages. And that generally means less than a minute per question, no matter how many passages you have and that doesn't include any of the reading time you need to answer some of the questions.

So because your timing is gonna be a little bit different based on whether or not you see six or seven passages and really the way the ACT is going, I think it's more likely that you're going to be seeing six. So you could probably plan for that, but just go ahead and flip through and check and see how many passages you have, so you don't get totally thrown off when you think you're just chugging along at the perfect pacing and then oh, my gosh, you ran out of time to do an entire passage.

So the reason I say roughly, roughly five to six minutes is because it stands to reason that you might be spending a little more time on a passage or a little less time simply because of the number of questions. There are some passages that have six questions, some that have seven questions. And second, you will also likely find that some passages are more complex in general or perhaps more difficult for you.

So you may be able to knock out three questions in under a minute or other times you may be spending a minute on a question. So there are some tutors out there who I know in the past have recommended that students spend something like four minutes on the data representation passage and seven minutes on the conflicting viewpoints passage. But with the changes in the test design in the science test and because I personally think that's enough to completely drive you mad, trying to keep track of your timing that way.

If you spend that must time agonizing over following your minute hand around the watch and worrying about what type of passage you're on, then you're not devoting enough mental energy to the passage itself and the questions. So keep an eye on the clock, but don't obsess over an exact pace. Stick to a general rule of 5 minutes per passage or 6 minutes per passage depending on how many you have and check in after each passage to make sure you're roughly on track.

If you spend seven minutes on a passage, that's okay. It may well have been justified, but you'll want to pick up your pace and maybe not agonize over a question on the next passage, so that you can even it out over time. Now unless you have a really massive computer screen, maybe you're projecting this lesson on the wall for all your friends, I don't know.

Unless you're doing that, you probably can't read everything on this graphic, but that's okay. I just want you to get an overall impression of what can appear on an ACT Science Test page. So you can see, there's a lot going on here. Every passage includes some introductory information and some other paragraphs of information sprinkled throughout, but the vast majority of questions on the ACT are not going to require you to read all of this information.

Most of them are going to point you directly to the charts and to the graphs and figures that you see. So, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is not to foolishly dive head first into the passage trying to read and understand everything. Now I've talked to some master ACT tutors out there, people who can get 836 in their sleep who have experimented with doing this on the test and have run out of time.

So be smart, only read when warranted. Get only a quick overall sense of what the passage is about and go straight to the questions. Now if you want some more specific strategies on how to do this, I suggest you to check out our lesson on reading on the ACT Science Test, which will walk you through the proper reading order that will help you make the most out of your time on the test.

So the one exception to this, don't read rule is the conflicting viewpoints passage. There's one of these on every ACT and you can recognize it, because it has the most text, very few, if any diagrams and it presents you with one or with two or more different scientists, students or hypotheses that you have to analyze and compare.

Now because you have to spend all the time reading, because you actually have to read this conflicting viewpoints passage. And honestly, because many students find this to be the hardest passage. Most students are better off saving it for last. That way, you know exactly how much time you have to devote to it. And if you're going to run out of time to do some questions, well, you might as well run out of time to do some of the hardest questions on the test.

So what do you do if you are running out of time? If you have less than five minutes remaining on your last passage and by the way, this is far more likely to happen than not to happen. So first of all, forget the passage entirely, and go straight to the questions. Now if you followed my advice and you are left with the conflicting viewpoints passage as your last one, then do a quick scan of the questions to see which passage has the most questions on it and read that one first and do the questions.

Pretty smart, you can probably knock out a few without reading the entire thing. Now if you are left with a nonconflicting viewpoints passage, then look for the short and easy questions that refer to specific charts and graphs. And you can see our video on the science question types to help determine, which questions these are. And definitely, make sure that you have something bubbled in for everything before time is called.

There's no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT, so don't waste this opportunity for a few absolutely blind, lucky guesses to pan out in your favor. Because proper pacing is so crucial, so critical to success on the ACT Science Test, it is so important that you take practice tests under timed conditions. When you're ready for them, you don't have to start that way, but make sure you do that eventually.

I've seen so many students think that they have the ACT science section mastered, because they take all the time in the world that they need to answer the questions and then they collapse pretty spectacularly on the test in a fit of panic when they completely run out of time. So do time practice. A handy trick here, both in practice and on the real deal is to forget about what time it actually is.

Let's be honest, you really don't wanna know how much time you're spending in that testing room anyway and set your watch to 12 on the dot before you start every section. So that way, it will be way easier to tell when five minutes has passed or six minutes if you're doing that. Then if you happen to start the section at 10:47, and you have to do the math to be counting your five minute intervals.

Way easier to just set it to 12 and then you'll be able to keep track of your time much more easily. Now in an ideal world, you'll be able to get to at least look at every question on the test. Sometimes you'll be making a quick decision to skip one, if it seems too hard and take a guess or other times, you're gonna be making a decision to tackle it, but because there is no real rhyme or reason to the order of easy or hard questions on a science test.

Although often, the more complex questions come to the end of a passage. So if that helps you, but it's not necessarily the case that the hardest question's gonna be the last one in each passage. But regardless, you don't necessarily know. It's not a real strict easy to hard order, so it's a real shame to waste three minutes trying to answer a question that's going to be hard for you early in the test and then run out of time to do three easy questions on the last passage.

Oftentimes, you'll find that some passages are easier or harder versus the actual questions. So make it your goal to practice being okay with skipping a question and taking a guess, so that you can make sure you snag all the points that you have. A point is a point no matter how easy or hard the question is or where it appears. However and this is particularly true on the science, as well as the reading test on the ACT.

If you find that you are really struggling with time, you may need to make a decision during your test prep to do only six passages if there are seven or do only five if there are six, so that you are focusing your attention on a small number of passages and that gives you more time per question. So you're not gonna just be rushing through and making silly mistakes, you actually might be able to pick up more points by doing fewer passages than by trying to rush through everything.

And this is why it's really important that you practice doing timed sections, so that you know what you can realistically do in the time given to you. So finally, you want to simply remember that you are going to be in really good company if you feel really pressed for time. So everyone feels like they are running out of time in the science test. Basically, everyone.

If you manage to finish this section effectively with five or minutes left and I would love to hear your secrets, because it's such a sprint. So you need to work like lightening, you need to make a pact with yourself not to spend too much time on any one question and just see when you can eliminate. Oftentimes, you can eliminate a few easy choices, cuz they just don't make sense at all.

They're too big, they're too large, they're about the wrong diagram. And take your best guess and come back to it only, if you have time. With the ACT science section above all, it is important to be strategic. So in school, you are taught to read and understand what you are reading before you go to your homework questions. Don't do that here.

This style of academic approach won't get you as far on the ACT Science Test as employing specific strategies to make sure you can get to as many questions as you can and get a as many of them correct as you can and so that's why we have these videos to teach you specifically the ACT Science Test, which is its own crazy skill. So because you don't have time to read everything, you need to read selectively, strategically and check out our other videos, so that you can be well strategic on areas other than your pacing on the ACT Science Test.

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