The Right Approach to ACT Science: How One Student Went from a 23 to a 36

Of all the sections on the ACT, the science section seems to be the most polarizing—students either get it or they don’t.

With the harshest curve, it can be a nightmare for the uninitiated students who haven’t been taught how to approach it the right way. Some of the brightest students I’ve met have performed horribly on this section because they never learned that it’s simply a test of timing and logic, NOT science.

In fact, one of my students received an extremely lopsided ACT score last year—36, 35, 36, and 23. The 23 was in—you guessed it—science. She ran out of time and told me she couldn’t figure out how anyone could have completed it.

But once she learned the right approach, she got a 36 the next time.

So what’s the secret?

On the ACT Science section, you shouldn’t be reading the passages. You should be jumping straight to the questions, and piecing together the answers from the places those questions tell you to look.

Let’s take an example:

If the plume model in Study 1 is typical of all mantle plumes, the scientists would generalize that the heads of plumes are:

(A) …
(B) …
(C) …
(D) …

Note the reference to Study 1. Upon seeing that, you should immediately jump to the figure/chart/table labeled Study 1 and look for information regarding the heads of plumes.

Typically, the answers will be found in the diagrams, NOT the actual text.

Here’s another example:

Which of the following graphs best represents the relationship between the age of a flood basalt plateau and the rate of lava production?

(A) …
(B) …
(C) …
(D) …

When you read that, you should immediately extract the key words. What are the key words? Age of a flood basalt plateau and rate of lava production. Hold those words in mind and skim the charts and figures for those words. Usually, one particular figure will contain both those key words, and that figure will lead to the answer.

Now, the ACT likes to be tricky sometimes. There WILL be one passage that’s all text. When you encounter this passage, DO NOT READ. Again, jump straight to the questions and SKIM for the answers.

With practice, you’ll get used to the “context-switching” (jumping around from graph to graph, question to question).

Most students find it extremely uncomfortable to dive into the questions without any background information, especially with all the complicated scientific terms that show up. Embrace the discomfort. Resist the urge to read. You’ll realize that much of the passage is unnecessary setup. It’s almost as if your goal is to do the questions with as little reading as possible.

Your confidence will grow once you start answering questions with minimal reading. The ACT Science section has very little to do with the science you’ve learned in high school and everything to do with making fast conclusions from data.

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