Trying to choose the best ACT prep book to study from? Look no further, here are 5 ACT prep books with practice test series that will help you ace the ACT.
Before we begin, remember choosing between taking the ACT and the SAT for your college applications is an important decision. If you are not sure about taking the ACT over the SAT, then take a look at our detailed comparison of the tests and guide on deciding whether the ACT or the SAT is better for you.
Students who prefer to study from prep books often make the mistake of choosing one prep book and relying on it for all their studying. WARNING ⚠️: There is no best ACT prep book. Every book has a set of strengths and weaknesses. However, a tailored combination of the best ACT prep books out there can truly impact your ACT result.
As a result, we’ll be discussing one must-have ACT prep book and some of the other best ACT prep books out there with a quick analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. By the end of this guide, you will have a good understanding of which combination of these books are the best ACT prep books for you.
The Must-Have ACT Prep Book
Regardless of skill level or target score, each and every student planning on taking this exam must have this book! Seriously, before we proceed any further, go get the book!
The Official ACT Prep Guide is a must-have ACT prep book because it is preparatory material that the makers of the ACT designed themselves. This means the practice tests and questions in the book are actual questions that have already appeared on the ACT. Obviously, these are the best representations of the questions you will deal with on the ACT. Of course, no book is without strengths and weaknesses; this ACT prep book is no different.
Best Sample Questions
The Official ACT Prep Guide has four full-length practice tests made up of questions that previously appeared on the past ACT administrations. The book also comes with an access code to 400 online sample questions.
This one is a given. Real questions from previous administrations of the ACT are definitely going to be the sample questions to study from. The sample questions in the Red Book will give you a good understanding of the content and the type of questions asked on the ACT as well as help you pinpoint your weaknesses on the test.
Vague Answer Explanations
Although the Red Book has a plethora of questions to study from, the book does not do a good job explaining the answers to the questions. The book could be a lot more thorough as a detailed, step-by-step explanation of the answer is essential to learning from your mistakes on the ACT. Other books do a lot better in this area which is why we recommend using this book with the others on this list.
Poorly Reflects Trends on the Test
Surprisingly, the tests in the Red Book are seemingly easier than the tests being administered in recent years. Experts in the ACT prep field agree that the ACT has gradually become more difficult over the years. According to them, the Reading section on the ACT has become more fast-paced and the Science section has become more nuanced. The Red Book does not reflect these changes in its practice tests! As a result, the scores you are receiving on these practice tests may not be an accurate representation of the score you will receive on the actual ACT.
Weak Test-Taking Strategies
Finally, the makers of the ACT (and this book) appear to not want to reveal their secrets. The test-taking strategies outlined in the Red Book are ridiculously weak and leave much to be desired. You will need to supplement this with the test-taking strategies found in the other ACT prep books on this list.
Best ACT Prep Books
Now, let us proceed to other ACT prep books that you can utilize in combination with the Red Book. The following books are in no particular order as different students will find some of these books more helpful than others.
Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT is a great place to start if you are looking for one big book filled with content review, sample questions, and full-length practice tests. While its review of the English and Reading sections are adequate, the book covers the Math and Science sections in a detailed, comprehensive manner.
Clear Outline of Important Content
Unlike some of the ACT prep books on the market, Cracking the ACT establishes important grammar rules and mathematical concepts necessary to succeed on the ACT. It also helps students identify specific types of questions and suggests thorough thought processes to solve those questions.
Six Full-Length Practice Tests With Online Grading
Although one of the benefits in studying from this ACT prep book is its drills and example questions at the end of each content lesson, the full-length practice tests with detailed answer explanations are a great way to study for the test. Two of the six practice tests can be accessed online using the purchased prep book’s particular access code. In these online exams, there is software that grades your essay section in real-time and provides you with unbiased feedback. This is incredibly beneficial as it can be difficult for students go evaluate their own essay sections accurately.
Overwhelming Amount of Content
One of the problems of a big, traditional, comprehensive ACT prep book is the sheer amount of material found in the book. Trying to complete the book chronologically is not a recommended method in utilizing such books. Rather, students have the important task of creating section-by-section study plan that tackles the material in the book based off of their strengths and weaknesses.
Low Level of Difficulty
Unfortunately, the questions given in Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT are often at a lower level of difficulty than that of the ACT. As a result, the questions are weak representations of the actual ACT questions. This means that students who are aiming to score in a high percentile may not want to utilize this book.
Barron’s ACT was recently ranked “Best Bang for the Buck” by BestReviews. This ACT prep book is similar to Princeton Review’s prep book in it being a traditional, comprehensive prep book. Its contents include an overview of the ACT, suggested study plans, a diagnostic tests, section-wise drills and lessons, test-taking strategies, and full-length practice tests.
Meticulous Content Review
Believe it or not, Barron’s ACT devotes around 50 pages for each section in content review and test-taking strategies. Usually, quantity does not indicate quality but in Barron’s case, this holds true. Every section has detailed concept rules and no overview is lacking.
Overwhelming Amount of Content
Like Princeton Review, the sheer amount of content found in the book is overwhelming and reading through the book from one cover to another is ineffective. Again, students will need to create a plan to tackle the sections in short bursts.
High Level of Difficulty
Unlike Princeton Review, Barron’s ACT tends to over-prepare you for the ACT. While you may argue that over-preparing would not hurt your chances at a good score, it would be an ineffective use of your time and effort, considering your outside commitments to school and extracurriculars. As a result, the questions are not accurate representations of the ACT as they are much more difficult.
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems was ranked “Best of the Best” by BestReviews. According to them, the bottom line is that this ACT prep book has “the best overall exam prep with thorough practice questions, explanations of answers, and up-to-date information,” (BestReviews). However, we still maintain that no book is without its failures.
Over 1,800 Updated Practice Questions
While the other prep books on this list have varying understandings of the questions on the ACT, this ACT prep book always manages to stay updated on the trends and types of questions on the ACT. Its extensive explanations of every concept on the ACT as well as its free online resources make it one of the best prep books on the market.
Structure of the Book Could Be Better
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems can be too general in certain areas and the organization of topics in this prep book can be a little confusing.
While the other prep books on this list focus on the content of the exam, ACT Prep Black Book focuses on the formula of the ACT and teaches you the strategies needed to succeed on the test. In their opinion, any student can receive a perfect score on the ACT as long as they recognize and can manipulate the ACT formula.
Teaches You to Beat the Test
Instead of playing by the test’s game, according to the author, Mike Barrett, you should learn to beat the test. The test follows the same template every year with little to no changes. As a result, learning the question types and strategies in finding the correct answer would help you ace the test without necessarily knowing all the material. This unique book is the best ACT prep book for test-taking strategies; none of the other books on the list can begin to compare.
Must Be Used in Conjunction with Another Book
There are no practice questions in the Black Book! The book presupposes that you already have the content of the ACT down and then teaches you to apply those skills to the test. It also requires a lot of time and effort as the book is overwhelming in its attention to detail in question-specific strategies.
How should I decide which ACT prep books to use?
It is simple. Look at the benefits and limitations of each book and evaluate your own needs. For example, if you are aiming for a perfect score, we would recommend using a combination of the Red Book, Barron’s, and the Black Book. This would only work if you are willing to put a lot of time and effort into studying for the ACT.
Studying with any ACT prep book requires a lot of commitment. With these books, however, we hope to make that burden a little easier. Good luck! We’re sure you will do amazingly.