What scientific subjects does the ACT typically focus on the most?

I looked at some of the ACT sample questions for science and could not really get a good idea of what subjects I should focus on when preparing for the science questions.


Karen Berlin Ishii, One-to-One ACT Test Prep in NYC and via Skype

User avatar for Karen Berlin Ishii

As others here have noted, the ACT Science test does not really test science knowledge. It is perfectly possible to get a very high score while knowing nothing – but being adept at analyzing charts and graphs and putting your finger on relevant information in the text to cross-reference with other data. In fact, every graph, every chart and every experiment on the test is one you'll never see again, so studying for the subject is not straight forward. Rather, acclimate yourself to interpreting data FAST: Allot yourself five minutes per passage, including bubbling in the answer sheet. Each passage has 2-3 totally easy questions and you don't want to miss them, getting stopped up on a hard one (which you are more likely to get wrong, anyway) early in the test. That said, there is still some basic knowledge that is very helpful. Be comfortable with chemical equations, genetics basics and terminology, ph, basic physics terms, scientific notation, animal kingdom hierarchy, and don't forget to use common sense: Water expands when it freezes, deserts are windier than rain forests, metal is a better conductor than wool, and so on.

Kendra Whitmire, ACT Tutor

User avatar for Kendra Whitmire

As Robyn mentioned, the ACT science section is more focused on your ability to read and interpret graphs and charts rather than actually testing your scientific knowledge. In fact, even if you are an expert in science, you are still expected to answer any of the questions based solely on the information provided to you on the test rather than your own knowledge. Almost all the answers are given to you in the provided information, although you have to make a few inferences based on the data. Although it may be called science, it is really another type of reading comprehension test. Therefore, to help you succeed, it is best to practice your graph and data interpretation skills, rather than worrying about what type of science will be on the test.

Robyn Scott, Educational Consultant, TutorNerds LLC

User avatar for Robyn Scott

I recommend thinking of the ACT science section as more of a 'how to read and interpret charts and graphs' section. Many test-prep tutors have long felt that this section doesn't have much to do with science at all but is a type of 'test-prep science'. The section is very visual and students who can figure out which parts of the charts and graphs are relevant (thus ignoring the remainder of the confusing information) will be more likely to answer correctly. Also, ACT test-takers are advised to focus on reading comprehension when taking the science section. The questions and paragraphs that accompany the charts give vocabulary clues that can help students answer the questions correctly or, at least, eliminate wrong answers.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

User avatar for M. Erez Kats

The ACT test focuses primarily on reading and math. Some science-based questions may appear in either section, but no specific areas will necessarily be covered. Needless to say, a good, solid foundation in science will help with the math section a great deal because so many of these subject areas use math, and therefore will be extremely relatable. There is a science reasoning test however, and this focuses a great deal on data representation, so reading charts and graphs and tables (as you would also likely see on the math test), and the other 2 parts involve conflicting viewpoints and analysis. This has more to do with being able to argue the validity of certain hypotheses, etc., and/or whether an analyzed subject makes sense scientifically. This would involve more debate/argument/reading skills, and being able to explain why certain principles or data do or don't match up or make sense. I'd say the science you actually have to know is standard level, or relatively minimal. It is more how well you can make your case by interpreting data.

David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

User avatar for David H. Nguyen

This comment does not answer this question, but as someone who is a trained scientist (B.A in Molecular & Cell Biology, Ph.D. in Endocrinology), I'd like to say that the type of science tested in the ACT is what real science is like, though many have the opposite view. Science is a way of reasoning about how the world works. Many scientists have reasoned their way into establishing facts in biology, chemistry, physics, etc. These facts are then codified into textbooks for teaching non-scientists and burgeoning science students, who often don't get to practice the joy of scientific reasoning because most of their time in science class is spent learning the many, many, many basic facts and mathematical relationships that were established by scientists who established the facts and relationships. So, if you like the ACT science section more than your science classes, don't necessarily count yourself out as a future student of science. Quite the contrary!

The other experts who responded to this question have adequately covered the direct and most relevant answer, so I will just refer you to their answers. I thought I'd just add some icing on this cake.

Julie Gordon, Special Education teacher

User avatar for Julie Gordon

The ACT covers biology, chemistry, physics, and eart science. Although that probably seems overwhelming, , the questions in this section are application based. You will read passages and analyze tables and charts for information and then answer questions based on this information. I would look online for sample questions to practice. I hope this helps.

Your Answer