The Importance of Trivia on the ACT Science Section

May 11, 2022

What’s a plastic bottle made of?  What are proteins made up of?  What material would be best to reflect sunlight?  What causes viscosity?  What’s the difference between a heterogeneous mixture and a homogeneous mixture?  Does an acid have a pH below 7, equal to 7, or above 7? 

If these sound like the questions to an ACT Science Jeopardy category, you would be 100% correct.  In fact, these questions have all appeared in some shape or form on recent ACT Science sections.  And there was no information provided in the graphs, tables, or the experimental description that would help you figure them out.  With these so-called trivia questions, you’re basically on your own - and they are often the exact types of questions that can trip you up.  On average you will find 4-6 of these trivia questions per test.  With 40 questions in total, 4-6 doesn’t seem like many, but they can actually make a huge difference.  Miss them all and your ACT Science score could go down 3-5 points!  

It used to be that the ACT Science section was not so much a science section, but rather a test of your ability to answer questions based on graphs, charts, and tables.  Yes, they were all presented in a scientific setting, but they could be answered without having ever studied the topic.  Over the years, the ACT has gradually increased the number of “outside knowledge” questions, making the test more of a direct test of science knowledge.  This was probably done because too many students were gaming the test, knowing how to quickly access the key information from the appropriate chart, table, or graph.  Now you actually have to enter the ACT Science section knowing some science.  Having a good grasp of your science trivia is particularly important if you’re aiming for a top score, say in the 32-36 range.  

But don’t worry: none of these trivia questions are inherently difficult.  It’s unlikely, for example, that they would ask you to identify the conjugate acid in a reaction.  Nor would you be expected to know that an electron is released during beta decay, or that red-green color blindness is an example of a sex-linked trait .  However, if some context was provided on each of these questions in the experimental background (usually the paragraph that introduces the experiment at the beginning of the passage), these questions would be fair game.  

So how do you prepare for these rogue trivia questions that you’re sure to see on your next ACT Science section?  Well, for starters, focus on your basic science vocabulary and concepts.  If you know the common terms that appear in an introductory biology, physics, or chemistry class (these are the three main science disciplines you’ll encounter on the ACT), answering them will be much easier, especially considering the format is multiple choice.  So, consider this question:

The viscosity of each fluid investigated in the studies resulted from which of the following types of interaction between parts of the fluid?

  1. Friction
  2. Combustion
  3. Magnetism
  4. Gravity

Do you see how knowing the definition (or just the basic concept) of viscosity makes this question super easy?  The fact that some of the answer choices, like magnetism, don’t make sense will also help you make an educated guess.  If you answered (A), congratulations - you’re correct!  

Finally, here’s a helpful starter list of some key terms and concepts you should know in biology, chemistry, and physics.  All of these have appeared on previous ACT Science sections and could show up again.  Study these terms and know the concepts so that you have a competitive edge on those trivia questions on your next ACT!


macromolecules (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids) and their basic structure; parts of the cell and their functions; basic genetics terms (gene, genotype, phenotype, recessive, dominant, allele); photosynthesis (definition and basic equation)


balancing equations, density formula, structure of the atom, acid vs base and pH, solvent vs solute, homogeneous vs heterogeneous solutions, ions 


mass vs weight, kinetic energy, potential energy, momentum, velocity, acceleration, Ohm’s Law, properties of waves (frequency, period, amplitude

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