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What Prevents Students from Achieving Peak Performance on the ACT Science Section?


When it comes to the ACT, the word “Science” creates a significant mental hurdle for students. “Science” – understandably – conjures immediate thoughts of cells wall, swinging pendulums, and rockets hurdling through space.

However, science knowledge, or lack thereof, cannot really impact student performance on the ACT, since only 2 or 3 questions require outside science knowledge.

So, if that is true, what prevents students from achieving peak performance on the Science section? At Revolution Prep we have identified two key factors:

  1. The pacing challenge
  2. A misconception of what the ACT Science section is testing

In regards to pacing, students are asked to complete 6 or 7 passages containing 40 total questions in only 35 minutes. Very few students – even those scoring in the 30s – are able to get through the questions with room to spare.

This pacing challenge is compounded by the fact that the Science section throws a large amount of fact, figures, charts, and experimental conditions at students – all areas where students easily get bogged down.

The best way to overcome the pacing challenge is to focus on the main ideas of experiments and simple trends in the data. Why? Because that is what questions ask about. If students resist the siren call of details, not only will they move more quickly through the section, but they will also get more questions correct.

In regards to the misconception of what the ACT Science section is assessing, we have found that student scores are not held back because Science is overly rigorous, but because students perceive the test as difficult due to the novel science situations that are presented on test day – students assume that they need to be familiar with the science subject at hand.

However, the science situations themselves do not matter. As noted above, what truly matters are the main idea of the experiments and the trends that exist in the provided data.

At Revolution Prep, we promise that if students read for main ideas and data trends, actively annotate the passage, and then use those notes to anticipate their own answers to the given questions, they will see a score increase.

In fact, students have significant “A-ha” moments the first time they go to questions and see their notes directly align with what is being asked – almost as if they have predicted the questions. This greatly demystifies the ACT Science section, and this is the biggest goal when seeing science for the first time; there is a lot of mystery there for students to initially overcome.

No matter the rigor of the passage or the science topic being discussed, reading the passage, analyzing the content that matters, and then anticipating based upon that reading is the replicable process that will allow students to always feel like they have “seen the content before” on the Science section on test day and earn their maximum scores.

Greg Kiep