Considering that every college in the country accepts the SAT and the ACT essentially equally as part of their admissions processes, students and parents are often confused about which test they should take. Generally, the content covered by the two exams is the same: reading comprehension, math, and grammar. Since the last major updates to both tests in 2016, the SAT and the ACT are more alike in structure and format than they have ever been. There is still one major difference between the two tests, however. The ACT has a science section and the SAT does not.
For some families, the science section of the ACT can be a determining factor in deciding whether their student should take the ACT or the SAT. Some students enjoy science and do well in their science subjects in school while other students either struggle in their science classes or don’t enjoy them, possibly both. Even students who have taken a practice ACT can be flummoxed by the science section.
The passages and questions seem to ask highly technical questions about a wide variety of science topics. It seems that a student needs to be an expert in several scientific disciplines in order to be successful on the section. Additionally, the science section shares the same strict timing limitations as the other ACT sections.
Luckily, however, the science section is not nearly as frightening at it seems. First, and surprisingly, you don’t need any specific science knowledge in order to do well on the ACT science section. While a general understanding of the scientific method (observe, hypothesize, experiment, analyze) is useful, most of the questions on the ACT science section involve interpreting information presented in charts, tables, graphs, figures, and diagrams. In other words, no prior knowledge of science is necessary for success on this section.
It can be useful if you recognize individual technical terms utilized in the passages and questions, but it is not necessary. What is necessary is an understanding of how to break down the questions to determine what they are actually asking, a plan for quickly identifying where to find the answers in the passage and its accompanying charts and graphs, and a facility with figuring out puzzles.
In reality, the ACT science section is an analytical reading section. It is a problem solving section. It is not about science or science knowledge. This revelation may disappoint some students, but will likely excite others. Before you discount the ACT or the ACT science section, you should consider taking an ACT practice test to see how you do on it.