ACT Science Unpacked: A Guide to Mastering the ACT Science Section

The ACT Science section is designed to evaluate your critical thinking and comprehension skills using various graphs, charts, tables, and data. Although the passages may seem technical and full of scientific jargon and visuals, you only need a little prior scientific knowledge to answer the questions correctly. Nearly all the information you need is presented in the passage itself!

What are the ACT Science questions like?

Firstly, the ACT Science section generally tests your ability to interpret and analyze scientific data and apply scientific concepts to real-world scenarios. Think of this section as a puzzle. Patterns reign supreme. You’re not required to know how to calculate the potential energy of an object or balance chemical equations.

There are three types of passages you’ll encounter on the ACT Science section.

The ACT Science section is broken down into 40 questions and several passages.
Source: Mometrix

Within the different types of passages, you can expect to encounter several question formats in this section. We’ll review each one!

1. Data Representation Questions

As you might guess, these questions require you to analyze and interpret data presented in graphs, tables, and charts. Additionally, you will need to look at the relationships between variables and use them to answer the questions.

When answering data interpretation questions, pay close attention to the units and scales used on the graph or chart. Ensure you understand what each axis represents and what the data shows. Furthermore, you’ll want to look for trends and patterns in the data that can help you answer the question.

Practice interpreting graphs and tables: Practicing with these types of visuals can help you become more familiar with them and develop the skills to extract key information quickly.  

Try out this example below from the website:

There are many graph interpretation questions on the ACT Science section.

Based on study 1, there is a significant difference between the amount of DNA damage in the wild fungus and in the transgenic type after _____ hours of sun exposure.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 4
  4. 6

Take your pick, then check the end of this post for the answer!

2. Research Summary Questions

Next up, research summary questions test your knowledge of experiments, the scientific method, and testing hypotheses. 

For example, you might be asked to make predictions for an experiment or interpret results. Moreover, they could also ask you to make suggestions for improving the experiment or to choose additional data that would support or conflict with the scientist’s conclusion.

Overall, these are some concepts and definitions you should know:

  • Scientific method: The scientific method is a systematic approach to investigating phenomena and testing hypotheses to gain knowledge and understanding about the natural world. It involves several steps: observation, hypothesis formation, experimentation, data analysis, and conclusion.
  • Independent variable: In an experiment, the independent variable is the variable that is manipulated or changed. On a graph, it is typically plotted on the x-axis.
  • Dependent variable: On the other hand, the dependent variable is the variable that is measured or observed in response to changes in the independent variable. It is typically plotted on the y-axis of a graph.
  • Control variables: Control variables are factors in an experiment that are kept constant or unchanged. Keeping these factors “controlled” lets you test the independent variable only. You can isolate the effects of the independent variable and accurately assess how it impacts the dependent variable.

For these research summary/experimental design questions, make sure you understand the hypothesis and what the experiment is testing. On top of that, if needed, identify the independent and dependent variables and consider how to control other variables. Note: You can ONLY HAVE ONE INDEPENDENT VARIABLE. Don’t get tricked!

Consider this question from the ACT test guide:
This is an official question from the most recent ACT guide.

This image shows the possible answers to the graph question above.

Check the end of this post for the answer.

3. Conflicting Viewpoints Questions

Finally, conflicting viewpoints questions normally require you to compare and contrast two or more viewpoints on a scientific issue. They’re some of the hardest on the Science portion! You’ll need to understand the different perspectives and arguments presented and evaluate the evidence for each.

The main questions will ask things along the lines of: “What do Scientists A and B agree on? What points do the scientists disagree on? What new evidence would support Scientist A’s argument?”

When answering conflicting viewpoints questions, read each viewpoint carefully. Look for the main similarities and differences between the scientists’ arguments or data presented. Next, consider the evidence and evaluate its reliability and relevance. Finally, look for flaws in the arguments and consider which viewpoint is most supported by the evidence. Here’s an example and explanation provided by Kaplan.

The comparative viewpoint questions on the ACT Science section are some of the hardest you'll come across.

Which of the following best states the basis for the belief of Scientist 1?

  1. Molecular changes are more important than anatomical differences
  2. Molecular changes are less important than anatomical differences
  3. Molecular changes are more important than anatomical similarities
  4. Molecular changes are less important than anatomical similarities

Check the end of this post for the answer.

If you want to practice with this type of question format, here are some more conflicting viewpoint questions.

Do I actually need to be a science expert?

No, you don’t need Bill Nye-level science knowledge to do well. However, you should have a solid understanding of fundamental scientific concepts and the ability to interpret and analyze data to get a good score. 

The official ACT website explains that there is content from biology, chemistry, physics, and some Earth/space sciences content that will show up. In general, you should have seen the topics in your high school courses. If you’re worried about doing complicated physics calculations – don’t. You don’t have a calculator for this portion, so any math will be basic. When it comes to numbers, you’ll most likely only have to interpret trends.

For example, these are themes that show up in the ACT Science passages:

Frequent content


  • Cell structure and function
  • Genetics and inheritance
  • Evolution and natural selection
  • Ecosystems and ecology
  • Photosynthesis and respiration


  • Atomic structure and the periodic table
  • Chemical bonding and reactions
  • Acids and bases
  • Thermodynamics and energy
  • Solutions and solubility


  • Motion and forces
  • Energy and work
  • Waves and electromagnetic radiation
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Kinematics and dynamics

How should I study for the ACT Science section?

Utilize review materials such as textbooks, study guides, and online resources to reinforce your understanding of key scientific concepts. 

Taking practice tests is one of the best ways to prepare for this exam. Going through this exercise allows you to become familiar with the format and types of questions on the ACT Science section. It can also help you identify key areas where you need more practice or review!

Use free study resources

1. ACT Science practice questions

2. Full ACT tests

You can do the entire test, or just focus on the Science section!

Lastly, this is the official ACT guide to preparing for the entire exam.

The ACT is a big college entrance exam high schoolers take.

On top of that, here’s another solid guide if you want to review a breakdown of the Science section content again.

Study tips

Time yourself

Make sure to time yourself when taking practice tests to get used to the time constraints of the ACT Science section. This will help you develop better time management skills and improve your pacing. 

Your pacing during the section is crucial in order to answer all the questions in each passage. The recommended pacing for the Science portion is as follows:

  • 35 minutes to answer 40 questions
  • Approximately 53 seconds per question

Note that the pacing may vary depending on your strengths and weaknesses and the difficulty level of the questions in each section. Therefore, practicing pacing yourself during your ACT practice test is important so you can manage your time effectively on test day

Go over your mistakes

After taking practice tests or completing practice questions, analyze your mistakes and identify areas where you may need more review. Then, use this information to guide your studying and practice.

Take breaks

Taking breaks during practice tests can help you stay focused and reduce mental fatigue. Give yourself a break in between practice tests for the ACT Science section. Especially because you should review your answers and what you got wrong in order to see what you need to improve!

Overall, the ACT Science section requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Developing these skills through practice and review can help you approach the questions more confidently and accurately.

How can I do my best on the ACT Science section on test day?

Preparing for the ACT Science section requires mastering the content and developing effective test-taking strategies. Here are some tips for optimizing your performance on test day:

Testing tips

  • Manage your time: As mentioned, the ACT Science you will answer 35 questions in 40 minutes, which is about 53 seconds per question. So, time management is critical. On that note, pace yourself, and don’t spend too much time on any one question. If you get stuck on a question, move on and return to it. However, remember that you should answer every question! You don’t get penalized for a wrong answer.
  • Skim the passage: Before diving into the questions, take a few moments to skim through the passage and get an overall sense of what it is about. You’ll understand the content better.
  • Focus on keywords: Pay attention to keywords and phrases in the questions and the answer choices. These can give you clues as to what the question is asking and help you eliminate incorrect answer choices. 
  • Eliminate wrong answers: Use the process of elimination to eliminate any clearly incorrect answer choices. This can help you narrow down the choices and increase your chances of selecting the correct answer.
  • Use scratch paper: Use the scratch paper provided to help you keep track of information, make notes, and do calculations. As a result, you’ll have an easier time getting your thoughts out, staying organized, and avoiding errors.
  • Stay focused: The ACT Science section can be mentally taxing, so staying focused and avoiding distractions is essential. Take deep breaths and try to relax if you feel yourself getting anxious or overwhelmed.

Overall, by utilizing these tips, you can stay calm and focused during the ACT Science section. Remember to approach the exam with a positive attitude and trust in your preparation and abilities.

Where can I get ACT Science tutoring?

Online tutoring

Are you looking for a comprehensive resource to help you prepare for the ACT Science section? If so, you should consider Lessonpal’s online ACT Science tutors. A tutor can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and provide targeted support to help you get the score you want on the ACT Science section.

Lessonpal‘s experienced tutors are equipped with the knowledge and skills to help you master scientific concepts, improve data interpretation skills, and refine test-taking strategies. Easily schedule lessons to fit your schedule and tailor them to your unique learning style, pace, and budget.

Also, there are still available ACT test dates for Spring 2023 on June 10th (May 5th registration deadline) or July 15th (June 16th registration deadline). Check out these ACT Science tutors today and start preparing for the exam!



1. Data interpretation question: The answer is D

Here is’s explanation: “We get to this answer by reading from hour 11 to hour 17, which is a total of 6 hours. It would be easy to rule out the other choices because there is no significant change in the DNA damage after four hours (Team, 2022).”

2. Rats research summaries/scientific method question: The answer is D

3. Kaplan conflicting viewpoint question: The answer is B

Here is Kaplan’s explanation: “We have already determined that “anatomical evidence” supports the theory, so we can eliminate A and C since those would support Scientist 2. Referring back to the passage, we can see that the scientist states: “These anatomical differences are so minor, this is clear evidence that modern humans must have evolved separately in Africa, Europe and Asia.” Clearly, Scientist 1’s focus is on the “differences.””

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