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Skills vs. Knowledge: Preparing for the ACT Science Test

By June 26, 2018July 15th, 2024ACT


Scoring well on the ACT Science Test requires surprisingly little scientific knowledge! Two or three of the forty questions might test fundamental concepts like basic cell structure or the pH scale, but you can usually make it through them with logic and process of elimination. Don’t spend your prep time reviewing the periodic table; instead, focus on skills that address the real challenges of the test.

Reading graphics. Much of the ACT Science Test boils down to reading a chart or graph correctly. Practice quickly identifying the most important information: axis labels, chart titles and headers, legends, and footnotes. [Possibly include a link to the SAT graphics blog post – “Check out our tips for SAT graphics – they work just as well here!”]

Recognizing traps. The ACT sets traps, so mark places where it’s easy to mis-read: number lines with both positive and negative numbers, similar-looking charts that measure different things, key points where hypotheses differ. When you think you have the right answer, double-check these locations.

Understanding scientific method. Know how variables and controls work in order to answer “why?” questions. If a researcher heats three test tubes of different solvents to 30⁰ Celsius, adds the same solute to each, and times how long it takes to dissolve, what is she likely testing? Why did she heat the solvents to the same temperature? How have her goals changed if she next uses only one solvent but tests it at three different temperatures?

Maintaining pace. Time is tight! Practice working through the section at a smooth, steady pace. Spend your time wisely: taking an extra few seconds to check that you’ve read a chart correctly is a better use of time than pouring an extra minute into one really thorny question. Guess at the hardest questions and move on.

The Compass Team

Compass is one of the world's leading providers of in-home and online, live one-on-one tutoring for high school students aspiring to attend selective colleges.

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