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How to Get a 36 on the ACT Science Section

Although I took 8 or 9 APs in high school, Science just didn’t interest me. I got a ‘B’ in freshman Biology in part because I dreaded Bio lab and never invested in the class. Fast forward about a decade. I’m sitting in North Atlanta high school (now nearly 30 years old) racing through the ACT Science section hoping to obtain the coveted 36.

Did I understand all the passages? No. Have I taken a Science class in the last 10 years? If you read the above paragraph, you know the answer: no! Let me tell you how I crushed ACT Science, had 2 minutes to spare, and landed a 36 on Science.

You may not believe this, but I didn’t even read the passages word-for-word. I went to the questions first, and let them teach me where to focus my attention. I didn’t even intentionally glance at the various graphs before looking at the questions. I use this technique because ACT Science is a high pressure sprint. There is no time to look out the window and enjoy the view. By allowing the questions to direct me through the test, I save time, maintain accuracy, and solve the problems with peak efficiency.

Let me provide a few more details on my technique. I read the question quickly, but carefully. Where relationships existed, I scribbled arrows and letters to anchor the pattern into my mind. That way, I don’t need to read the question multiple times. When a question referenced a specific graph or a specific experiment, I used my left hand to point to the reference while I finished reading the question. This gave me a simple visual cue to direct my visual attention.

When referring back to the tables, graphs, and diagrams, I made many assumptions about what I was looking at. For example, I assume that there is a very visible, ascertainable pattern that exists in the data. If two lines intersect on a graph, their point of intersection will likely be a question. If one bar on a bar graph looks significantly different on the graph, there may be a question on it. If I see a pattern, I imagine what it would look like to extend the pattern. I do all this because I believe the test writers favor questions like these.

Another strategy I used, which I wouldn’t recommend to every student, was to leave the reading based Science passage to the end. The 7 ACT Science passages aren’t always in the same order, but one always has 7 questions and is heavily reading based. By leaving that passage to the end, I avoided an important risk: getting lost in the weeds on the reading passage and leaving points on the table by running out of time on the other passages. Fortunately, I hit very few speed bumps on the other Science passages as was able to run through the reading based Science passage without feeling the pressure to sprint.

While taking the test, I remember students telling me that ACT Science on the real test feels harder than the Science on the mock tests. In light of that, I pushed myself to work at a quicker pace than I usually do. I had taken the two practice tests in Get Your ACT Together: the Applerouth Guide to the ACT and feel those two tests were harder than “The Real Guide to the ACT”. The difficulty of the tests in the Applerouth book helped me feel very comfortable on the real ACT.


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