Prepping for ACT® Science, Old & New Format, Part 2 of 2

For clarity, please review Part 1 before proceeding

Materials: You will need a copy of Peterson’s “The Real ACT Prep Guide”, 3rd Edition, as well as “The Official ACT Prep Guide. 2016-2017”, from Wiley.

Passage Specific Strategies:

Data and experimental passage strategies: 
On Data passages and Experimental passages, regardless of whether they are 5 or 6 questions, just read what is in italics. As we mentioned in Part 1, the preponderance of questions in the Data and Experimental sections are not based on the text. So, don’t read the passage, or read as little of the passage as you can actually get away with. Then, look at the charts and graph: look at what is on Y axis, what is on X axis and go from there. Is there anything italicized? DON’T read anything else. After a while you gain confidence that you don’t have to read the text, but just look at the figures. This is especially true on the Data passages. Ignore all of the extra information and just focus on what the question is asking, and see if you can pull the information directly from the chart, because you usually can. Data and Experimental passages are similar in that both rely primarily on the visuals (graphs, tables, etc.) to relay information. You can use the same strategy for both passages. Data and Experimental passages are the overwhelming majority of passages and questions you will see on your test, regardless of the test format.

BTW we will not waste your time with a one hour unit on “How to read charts”. You know how to read charts and graphs. Remember, this test will not present material much different from what you have covered in your basic science classes.

Your goal, the, is to read the info in passage ONLY if you have to after looking at the question. Getting accustomed to this will take practice, but only if you are absolutely not sure of the answer should you go back and skim the passage. If you are not comfortable with this idea, skim the passage first and then go to the questions. However, try the first method for 2-3 tests before you try the second. But either way, you do not have the luxury of slowly reading the entire passage. And if you are going for a high score, ie >32, you want to avoid the “skimming first” tactic, except to underline italicized words. The preponderance of questions will generally test your ability to read and interpret the graph. The questions are not looking at your knowledge of how to prepare a buffer from an acid and the salt of its conjugate base. So, for Data and Experimental questions (regardless of test format) underline italics, look at the graphs and charts, and then look at questions. It is important to discuss this because many students get bogged down in reading the science passages. There is too much data to consider, most of which will not come up in any of the questions. Don’t end up wasting time trying to understand data that really isn’t important.

A note about units: As we mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, you should not let the units throw you. You will not have to convert units; joules to calories conversions don’t appear. All of the units the question asks will be apparent from the axes on the graph.

Many test prep guides go into laborious detail about the types and categories of answers you might see, and we would like to point out here that we won’t. For example “These questions ask you to interpret the information that you are given. Based on the data shown, is this statement supported? These questions are often framed in a 2×2 matrix: Yes because A, Yes because B, No because A, No because B.” Sure, that is true. But, how does this help you understand the question or come up with an appropriate answer? Similarly, many will tell you that within each passage, it is important to group the questions into question types. Since this offers you no assistance in answering the questions correctly, we do not do this.

Everything on the ACT is very straightforward. The ACT does NOT try and trick you, the way the SAT does.

Conflict questions strategies
This is last passage you answer. It can be the first actual passage on the test, but the last you will attempt. Again considering the general order of increasing difficulty within each passage, the first 3 questions will be easy, and you should make your best attempt to answer them. But on the last 4, you should often just guess, because time constraints will not allow otherwise. Of course, this depends on the score you are aiming for. You will of course guess correctly once in 4 tries, but note if you are going for a very high score, ie >32, you are going to try and actually answer these last questions, as opposed to guessing. So for high scorers, you will need to work a bit faster in other sections so that you can finish the conflict passage questions. The key to doing well on Conflict questions is, even if you know nothing about the subjects they disagree on, can you answer the question correctly by finding where the scientists disagree? So, be careful about answers you know are false. Just because you know the answer is false, does not mean that early studies might not have considered an idea valid. So if Jean-Babtiste Lamarck believed in the acquisition of traits through use and disuse of a particular anatomy, you have to explain why he thought it was so – even though your biology class went into extensive detail on why Darwin proved Lamarck wrong.

On the Conflict passage, you must read the entire passage. Also, unlike the Data and Experimental passages, you must read the entire passage before looking at the questions. Note there can be more than two conflicting viewpoints; in fact, there might be up to five.

ACT science passage intros, and Conflict passages intros in particular, often hold important keys because the ACT Science test makers realize most students are likely to skip reading them. It is often worth your while to pay particular attention to passage intros. 

Basic Science You Will Need to Know: 
On the Math section (which btw we do not coach) it is just like what you see in high school. There are questions on trigonometry and you just need to know SOHCAHTOA. On the Science section, however, there may be some material above and beyond what your classes covered. One thing to hope for is an experiment/data set with info you are familiar with. This becomes considerably easier when you do know the science. Which leads us to:

Out of the 40 questions, something like 25% will test your actual science knowledge. Remember, as you go through the practice tests you will get a good idea of what types of problems you are likely to see. If one of the practice tests from the Peterson’s Guide or the Wiley book, or from one of the tests we provide (all of which are real ACT tests we have procured over the years) presents science that stumps you, than you should review that material. Remember, because these are all actual tests provided by the ACT, material that has appeared previously is fair game for a future test.

Previous test topics have included:


pH scale, though you will not need to know how to prepare a buffer

VSEPR (Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion) and how it determines structure, at a basic level.

Charge:charge interactions and how they relate to intermolecular forces – for example, the continuum from Van der Waals interactions to dipole-dipole interactions and hydrogen bonds

At what temperatures will water freeze and boil?

Very basic concepts of the periodic table

Law of mass action and how it relates to simple chemical reactions

Phase change diagrams

Molecular weight determinations


Genetic material and organelles

Darwin and evolution

Cell cycle and DNA replication, transcription, translation, secretory pathway, basic Mendelian genetics: Mendel’s 1st Law and Mendel’s 2nd Law, membrane bound organelles, differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

Some basic laboratory protocols including gel electrophoresis, dialysis, and cell culture will appear. But be prepared to understand the scientific process (hypothesis, experimental design with positive and negative controls) and how the laboratory apparatus is used for a given experiment.

There is always an ecology and evolution question!


Gravity, density, basic forces, and at least Newton’s 3 laws. You do not have to apply Newton’s Laws to force-body diagrams but know what they are and what they mean.

Periodic or simple harmonic motion questions will appear. You do NOT need to have the equations memorized.

Be prepared to plug and chug if you see a concept which you don’t completely remember, such as E = hf.

You might see simple circuits.

You will not be asked questions that are above and beyond the basic classes. And often, if you need to know a science term to answer a question, the term will be defined for you in the passage. But, do not get too bogged down thinking about the details of the experiment. You might want to major in cell biology in college and go on to graduate school for your PhD, but for 35 minutes, you just want to read information off the x axis and the y axis without worrying about the experimental setup. However, if you are having problems understanding the experiments presented in the practice tests, look at a couple of tests without putting yourself under any time pressure. Give a look at how the controls are set up, and dissect all of the data. Are some data points outliers? Is the negative control set up appropriately so that a base line is established? Do you know what a base line is? We have lots of tests, so if you feel the need to really take a couple of these experiments apart, feel free to do so.

A time management tip: Don’t read the instructions! We have them below. Do you still need to read them after reading them here? No you do not, especially on the day you take the test!

“DIRECTIONS: There are several passages in this test. Each passage is followed by several questions. After reading a passage, choose the best answer to each question and fill in the corresponding oval on your answer document. You may refer to the passages as often as necessary. You are

NOT permitted to use a calculator on this test.”

Reviewing your practice tests after you are done: 
When you are done with a test, you need to really review your mistakes! There are a couple of things to consider when reviewing: First, do not just disregard the questions that were incorrect because they were “careless mistakes”. Review those careless mistakes, so that you do not make them again! Remember that “careless mistakes” are still mistakes for the computer scanning your test. Math and science are exacting disciplines and require careful, precise work, yet we often hear a child say “Oh I just made a careless mistake”. Well, don’t be careless! Precision is a habit that can be formed. This can’t be stressed enough, and as a student goes through practice tests, great care must be paid to the accuracy and precision of the work. Remember, this is science, and science rewards those who work in a precise, methodical fashion.

And besides the careless mistakes, do not just focus on what went well (ie questions you got right), and then ignore what did not go well (ie got wrong). It is imperative that you review your mistakes and look at where within the “test taking techniques” you might have omitted something that could have led you to the correct answer.

ACT FAQ’s can be found here: …

How to get a copy of your graded test: 
This option is available for the December, April and June tests only. Go to; here is how you navigate through site:

•click “register” in grey on upper left

•on middle of that page you will see “The ACT Tests for Students”, click that.

•on that page you will see an orange bar that says “For students”; click “your scores”

•scroll way down page and you will see “Request a Copy of Your Test Questions and Answers” to the right of a girl’s photo. Click “Learn More”

•On the top of that page, it will say “Request a Copy of Your Test Questions and Answers”. Scroll all the way to bottom, and in red it will say “Test information release form”. Click that…

•You must do this by 3 months after you take your test, and it takes about 5 weeks for them to get it to you. It will include the answers you got wrong, along with the answer key.

Good luck! Be sure to give us a shout if you have any questions.

ACT® is a registered trademark of ACT, Inc. which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, Warp Drive Tutors. Inc.

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