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Science Test Description for the ACT

The ACT science test is a 40-question, 35-minute test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.

The test presents several sets of scientific information, each followed by a number of multiple-choice test questions. The scientific information is conveyed in one of three different formats: data representation (graphs, tables, and other schematic forms), research summaries (descriptions of several related experiments), or conflicting viewpoints (expressions of several related hypotheses or views that are inconsistent with one another). The questions require you to recognize and understand the basic features of, and concepts related to, the provided information; to examine critically the relationship between the information provided and the conclusions drawn or hypotheses developed; and to generalize from given information to gain new information, draw conclusions, or make predictions. Some of the questions require that the students have discipline-specific content knowledge (e.g., knowledge specific to an introductory high school biology course), but science content is always assessed in concert with science skills and practices.

NoteYou are not permitted to use a calculator on the ACT science test.

Four scores are reported for the ACT science test: a total test score based on all 40 questions and three reporting category scores based on scientific knowledge, skills, and practices.

Content Covered by the ACT Science Test

The content of the science test includes biology, chemistry, physics, and the Earth/space sciences (for example, geology, astronomy, and meteorology). Advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required, but knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed to answer some of the questions. The science test stresses science skills and practices over recall of scientific content, complex mathematics skills, and reading ability. A brief description and the approximate percentage of the test devoted to each reporting category is given below.

Interpretation of Data (45–55%)

Manipulate and analyze scientific data presented in tables, graphs, and diagrams (e.g., recognize trends in data, translate tabular data into graphs, interpolate and extrapolate, and reason mathematically).

Scientific Investigation (20–30%)

Understand experimental tools, procedures, and design (e.g., identify variables and controls) and compare, extend, and modify experiments (e.g., predict the results of additional trials).

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25–35%)

Judge the validity of scientific information and formulate conclusions and predictions based on that information (e.g., determine which explanation for a scientific phenomenon is supported by new findings).

Passage Formats on the Science Test

The scientific information is conveyed in one of three different formats.

  • Data Representation (30–40%): This format presents graphic and tabular material similar to that found in science journals and texts. The questions associated with this format measure skills such as graph reading, interpretation of scatterplots, and interpretation of information presented in tables.
  • Research Summaries (45–55%): This format provides descriptions of one or more related experiments. The questions focus upon the design of experiments and the interpretation of experimental results.
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (15–20%): This format presents expressions of several hypotheses or views that, being based on differing premises or on incomplete data, are inconsistent with one another. The questions focus upon the understanding, analysis, and comparison of alternative viewpoints or hypotheses.

See sample questions and test tips.