Have you registered for the ACT? Whether you already have or you’re just preparing in advance, investing in a comprehensive ACT book to ace the exam can help you to improve your ACT score. Nevertheless, the number of ACT prep books on the market can be overwhelming, making it harder to find the one that matches your strengths, weaknesses, and personal budget.
Continue reading this guide to find the nine best ACT prep books and study guides that can help you get the perfect score and enter your dream college.
Best ACT Prep Books in 2020/2021 at a Glance
- The best book: The 2019-2020 Official ACT Prep Pack with 7-Full Length Practice Tests
- Kaplan 2021 ACT Prep Plus with 5 Practice Tests
- Barron ACT 36 with Online Test
- Cracking the ACT Prep Book with 6 Practice Tests by Princeton Review
- ACT Prep Black Book
- Up Your Score: ACT The Underground Guide
- Top 50 ACT Math Skills for a Top Score by Mc-Graw Hill Education
- 5 lb. Manhattan Book of ACT Practice Problems
- ACT ELITE 2021 by McGraw-Hill
Best ACT Prep Books Reviewed
1. The 2019-2020 Official ACT Prep Pack with 7-Full Practice Tests
You might’ve seen the ACT Prep Pack book being recommended a lot of times in the previous years. Nevertheless, this is one of the best ACT preparation. Practice questions provided by Princeton Review or Kaplan are beneficial, but questions that could prepare you on the big day are a must. Although we think it is best as a practice test book, it is not a comprehensive studying material. The concepts such as algebra on the math part or the mechanics and usage on the ACT English part are not covered in this book. If you want to practice, you could consider this prep book.
This book is unofficially termed as the “Red Book.” There is also a supplementary “ACT Prep Black Book” for this, which will be reviewed later.
2. Kaplan’s 2020 ACT Prep Plus with 5 Practice Tests
This prep ACT prep plus book from Kaplan is for a long time, already one of the best because it has the right review parts to guide you in your studies. Being one of the longstanding review books for the ACT, you won’t feel frustrated or flustered when you answer since the book contains good explanations.
It could help you do the test with more confidence. The ACT prep plus book has online practices, quizzes, lessons, videos, and expert strategies that could help you master the exam easily. Kaplan ACT is also the live ACT online prep’s official ACT partner. It also guarantees that you could get proper guidance and a high score from their online materials. If not, you can get your money back.
The book has a smart points feature that indicates the questions that are asked more in the test, so you can concentrate more on the kind of questions that are frequent and important in taking the exam. This feature could also save time because you have an idea of the questions you need to look out for.
Even though this book contains a lot of information, the expert strategies could be a challenge to comprehend and take a long period before it could be applied effectively in the actual ACT. The ACT English and ACT reading practice parts in the real test are more complicated.
3. Barron’s ACT 36 with Online Test
If your goal is not only to pass but get a high score in the ACT, the 36 from Barron’s ACT prep book is excellent. It’s because the questions are more complicated than the ones from the test. Therefore, you could be readier for all the questions. You could also get some techniques and advice to crack even the hardest ACT questions. The book also has additional challenge ACT practice exams in reading comprehension, ACT Science, English, ACT Math, and writing. There are particular tips to push your science score and instructions given by authors to read efficiently.
You can buy a separate CD for this book. The CD has full length ACT practice tests that simulate the test well. Furthermore, it has 50 extra-challenging questions.
The advanced tricks and tips and concepts from this ACT review book are not present in other review books, so these could be used to your advantage. Nevertheless, you might need to buy an additional overall review guide if it’s your first time taking the test. The book doesn’t have basic techniques and tips to avoid making the most common mistakes.
Although there are limitations, it’s still a good prep book.
4. Cracking the ACT Prep Book with 6 ACT Practice Tests
The Cracking the ACT from Princeton Review is an all-in-one book for you to ace the ACT. One of the best features of the Cracking the ACT book is that the basics are simple, making it not difficult for you to cover all the subjects. Therefore, you avoid feeling upset when studying.
It has a complete review of concepts, practice questions, and tips. The ACT math and ACT science coverage is detailed, but the English and ACT reading comprehension parts are not. Nevertheless, this traditional ACT review book is still comprehensive.
The official ACT prep guide includes essential grammar points and ACT math concepts you need to know before taking the test. You could also learn test-answering techniques such as the process of elimination and the order of answering questions to save you time and help you identify what question types they are and how to answer.
Each part of the book has model questions. 4 out of 6 full length ACT practice tests are in the book, and the remaining two tests are online. The official ACT prep guide provides the basics well. However, you could find it hard to categorize if you use the complete guide to ACTalone.
The way they explained grammar is good but not thorough enough. You can learn useful test taking strategies from ACT reading sections. The questions from this book aren’t official, so they are less challenging than the test questions.
5. ACT Prep Black Book
As the title of the book suggests, the ACT Prep Black Book material lets you acquire helpful test taking strategies to ace the different levels of difficulties of ACT questions. Therefore, it offers practical and exceptional techniques. The author, Mike Barrett, is a famous ACT tutor with students from different parts of the world, paying him a lot for an hour of class.
This “Black Book” understands the ACT practice problems that students might face during the test, such as weak subject areas or time management. You would learn the general procedure of answering actual questions.
Also, the book teaches answering strategies and methods for math questions and advises on how to deal with the English section of the ACT test. To simplify, the book focuses more on how the test will go rather than teaching you specific skills. You would be more motivated to study harder because of the ideas offered by this book. The given strategies are more beneficial because it doesn’t focus on giving tricks. There is a different approach for every type of student, so you could figure out the strategies that would be most advantageous for you.
The answer explanations are detailed, and the author used the best method to define the rationale of the answers. Because it also shows the design and flaw of the test, you can get a good ACT score by avoiding spending much time on a question.
However, it’s not best to get this book if you have a subject area you want to focus on. For instance, if you score low on algebra, you would need to purchase a separate supplement book to concentrate more on that subject. Also, the reading and math sections are more reliable than the English and ACT science sections.
6. Up Your Score: ACT The Underground Guide
If you find yourself bored with other prep books, this survival Up Your Score ACT prep book is a good alternative. Millions of kids who register for the ACT every year prefer this underground review book. One of the authors, Chris Arp, is a graduate of Princeton Review.
Unlike other ACT review books, the approach that this book uses is light and fun. Kids like it because the book presents the concepts and format in a funny way so that they can easily remember the ideas and the techniques.
This prep material also tackles the pressure, and stress students feel when they take the ACT. Thus, it could help in boosting your confidence. Another difference it has with other traditional prep books is that it advises on how to avoid being frustrated and stressed during the exam.
The book provides tips on how to develop good habits of active reading rather than explaining how to answer the ACT reading section. Moreover, it treats reading, like having a conversation, and makes you focus on direction words. In math, it helps you approach the questions by utilizing methods such as plugging, which is a useful trick for making word problems in algebra more straightforward. Since grammar is a bit challenging in the ACT, this book gives more attention to pronouns, transitions, and punctuation marks such as semicolons and commas. The coverage of the ACT science section is good, as well.
7. Top 50 ACT Math Skills for a Top Score by Mc-Graw Hill Education
This is the only ACT prep book included in our list, which is subject-specific. If math is your weak subject, just like many others, you should consider getting the ACT Math book. Whatever the student’s level is, they can use this. The review book uses an engaging approach to ACT math and explains the 50 crucial math skills you need to answer the ACT math section well.
You can practice with sample question types that exemplify each concept. This book provides concepts and strategies you would need to crack the ACT by an expert who has much experience preparing students for the ACT and SAT. You can quickly determine what specific math theories you are weak in and concentrate more on it.
The package comes with two extra tests you can take online and an answer book with easy-to-understand answer explanations. What we didn’t like about it is it’s too focused on teaching skills, so there are fewer questions to practice. You can review math thoroughly, but you would need to purchase a separate prep book for practice.
8. 5 lb. Manhattan Book of ACT Practice Problems
The 5lb book of ACT is supplementary material to the official ACT guide and its official ACT website. An expert wrote the 1,800 practice questions that come with this book. Therefore, it comprises all the essential topics that can be found in the ACT. If you have the necessary skill from targeted practice, the ACT prep book from Manhattan could be the book for you.
You can expect to answer questions in math from the study guide with the same level of difficulty and format in the test. Thus, it could prepare you well and increase your confidence. However, the reading and English sections are subtler in terms of difficulty. They are still useful, but the practice questions are less complicated than those in the real ACT.
Knowledge about vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation is a must to get the ACT English questions right. This prep book has 50% easy questions and 50% difficult questions. The same goes for the science section of the ACT since the difficulty is below average. Also, the graphs and charts are less complicated than the visuals in ACT science. Some science questions could be confusing because they include pre-algebra concepts that are suitable for ACT math, not science. You can study the answer explanations from the study guide as lessons and apply them to other questions. There are also additional questions that you can answer if you want some challenge.
9. ACT ELITE 2020 by McGraw-Hill
Steven Dulan, the president and founder of Advantage Education, Inc, wrote the ACT Elite review book. Advantage Education provides live test prep lectures in schools, colleges, and other faraway places. Therefore, many students have succeeded in taking different exams because of Dulan’s guidance.
You can find three practice tests and three more online when you get this test prep book from McGraw-Hill. Every section also has additional practice questions to train and prepare you well on the big test day. Even though the publishers haven’t updated the length of the book’s English section, they’ve improved the questions for the said subject. Before, the questions focused too much on grammar. Now, the question types and distribution is more balanced.
The number of math questions for topics such as geometry, trigonometry, and algebra is ample for this book. Nevertheless, the most complex pre-algebra and elementary algebra questions are not. Also, the reading part is too difficult because the fiction reading passages have too many details rather than action and dialogue. For the non-fiction ones, they have an overwhelming amount of information.
The highlight of this book is its science section. The format of the ACT essay is okay. You can also have more practice in probability and statistics. Although there are 50 test-day strategies, don’t expect a lot for the answer explanations.
You can build your skills in math, English, reading, and science from the book’s practice materials. Throughout the chapter, you can learn good advice or strategy, but the information is presented confusingly. The book includes no logarithm concepts. For psychology, there is less focus on learning theories and more on practicing.
ACT Prep Books Buying Guide: Things to Consider Before Purchasing
The quality of the review material is the most important to consider when choosing your prep book. There should be both practice questions and tests for your test prep book of choice. Here are some factors you should consider when buying an ACT prep book:
When doing your test prep, you need to know what subject or concepts you need to concentrate on to avoid wasting time mainly. Diagnostic tests for each subject could help you assess your knowledge and skills.
For instance, in algebra, you could get a good ACT score in other related concepts but not on concepts about plane geometry. Once you start studying these, you could work more on questions about plane geometry.
For the ACT, a useful prep book has hundreds or thousands of practice questions so that a student can study the material comprehensively. Nevertheless, the quantity of questions is not enough. The same level of difficulty and structure of the questions from the actual ACT is the best to practice on.
Almost all available ACT test prep books in the market have many practice tests. However, similar to the practice questions, they need to be close to the actual test to prepare them better. Also, practice tests need to be timed. This can help you to identify your weak spots or the areas you need to work more on to improve your ACT score. As a result, their studying becomes more effective.
The best ACT prep book of your choice should review every subject section on the test, such as math, ACT Reading, English, and science. Writing is optional. You can also opt for books that concentrate on a single subject. This is good if you’ve identified the areas you need more help.
When studying, you can’t just answer the practice questions without understanding the answer explanations. Therefore, a good ACT prep book should give a solid answer explanations, and the other answer choices are incorrect. There’s a higher chance of choosing the right answer when you have the explanations in your mind.
Test-taking Tips and Strategies
Since the ACT test is not the same as tests taken in high school, it is essential to get a book that gives tips and strategies on how to approach the actual test. Make sure that the book you choose has tips and strategies that are easy for you to understand.
If you have a budget, make sure you get the more expensive ACT prep books to access extra content and online practice, such as additional practice tests, quizzes, and a different question type. Some students also learn concepts better with online practice than from ACT books. Prep classes on PrepScholar are designed from the ground up.
ACT prep books are good for high school students because they are rather affordable. The price range is usually between $14 and $49. The more practice questions a test prep book has, the more expensive it is. Also, you can access more resources online.
Is the SAT and ACT the same?
SAT and ACT are not exactly the same. Many universities and colleges consider ACT and SAT. Students have the choice to take one or both. Even though both exams have similarities, there are some striking differences, such as the subject sections.
What do the SAT and ACT focus on?
You spend less time answering questions in the ACT than the SAT. Moreover, in the ACT, you need to analyze data and experiment in the ACT science part. In the SAT, you need to answer precise vocabulary questions. The test you want to take depends on your goal and choice. Therefore, you could scan practice tests to determine your needs and skills.
Do I need to aim for a high score in the ACT?
Universities and colleges use the scores as part of the criteria in granting scholarships and admitting students. Although there are many other factors to consider, the ACT test score plays a significant role in deciding whether a student cuts.
Am I too late to study if my ACT is in 2 weeks?
No, you’re not. The preparation time may be shorter, but it’s better to study than not do any preparation. Publishers of ACT prep material recommend allocating 2 to 3 months of studying to get the perfect score.
How do I prepare for the ACT?
You can use prep material, take online review classes, or hire a personal tutor, among many others, to study for the exam. Understanding the test, learning test-taking skills, and techniques, and applying these are the keys to prepare well and to improve your ACT score.
Can I skip attending in-person prep classes and study using an ACT prep book?
There’s no definite answer to this since this depends on what kind of student you are. If you’re the type who could study independently well, this could work. If not, it would be best for you to enroll in a prep class to focus. Then, you can use your prep material to reinforce what you learned in class.
Conclusion and Our Best Pick
Taking the ACT is indeed nerve-racking, but with the right prep book, it can help you prepare and be more confident. We hope the list of the 9 best ACT books and the official ACT prep guide provided could help you choose the perfect practice book for the big test day.
From the list of the best books, we choose The 2019-2020 Official ACT Prep Pack with 7-Full length Practice Tests as the best book. We explained how important it is to practice answering a lot of official ACT questions since the concepts and tests are not the same as the ones you have in school. This prep book will train you to answer test questions and let you identify the ACT’s test pattern.
It is also the gold standard for practicing taking the ACT. The quality of the questions from this “Red Book” is better than from other prep book manufacturers such as The Princeton Review and Kaplan ACT.
Just do your best to have no regrets. Prepare with the best materials to increase your chances of faring well.