Preparing for the ACT exam is of critical importance for students applying to colleges in the United States. A core component of the college application, the ACT score can communicate academic aptitude and influence admissions and scholarship decisions at many universities around the country. Although performing well on the test is challenging, with adequate preparedness, practiced test-day strategies, and a bit of luck, an outstanding ACT score is not out of reach. Here we outline the best ACT prep books and other resources for high school students preparing to take the ACT exam. Our team may earn a small commission from purchases made using the below links at no additional cost to you.
- The Official ACT Prep Guide
- ACT Prep Plus by Kaplan
- ACT Premium Prep by The Princeton Review
- ACT Premium Study Guide by Barron’s
- ACT Prep Black Book by Mike and Patrick Barrett
- Best ACT Maths Book Ever by Brooke Hanson
- The Complete Guide to ACT English by Erica Meltzer
- Master Key to ACT Science by Hugh Hung Vo
If you could only use one ACT prep book, you should pick The Official ACT Prep Guide by the authors of the ACT exam. The book reviews the structure and content of the ACT, offers advice for test day, and contains six full-length ACT practice tests with answers, which are available both in the book and online. The latest edition of the book also provides access to 400 online flashcards that can be used during ACT preparation.
The primary strength of The Official ACT Prep Guide is its authorship by the creators of the ACT exam. Since the same people that will write your ACT test wrote this book, the content of The Official ACT Prep Guide is likely to mirror that of the actual ACT test more closely than third-party resources can achieve. However, the book is not the end-all-be-all of ACT prep. A weakness of the book is its lack of detailed explanations to practice test questions, a deficiency that other ACT prep books overcome. The book does not provide the secret recipe to a perfect score but rather a cookie-cutter introduction to the exam and how it works, which many people find helpful.
Use The Official ACT Prep Guide as the basis for your ACT preparation, and if you have the time, pick up copies of third-party books and other resources to further develop your test-taking skills. Note that the latest edition of the book is relatively similar to prior editions, so purchasing a used copy of an older edition could help you to save some money. Also, there are a number of ACT practice tests available for free online, including official tests (e.g. the tests contained in this book) released by the ACT itself, which you can print out and use for mock testing. For this reason some people suggest that purchasing the book is not necessary, a decision that you will need to make for yourself.
The gold-standard third-party ACT prep books are ACT Prep Plus by Kaplan, ACT Premium Prep by The Princeton Review, and the ACT Premium Study Guide by Barron’s. Your classmates are likely using one of these books to prepare for the exam. In general, these books are all rather similar, providing test-taking advice and access to online resources, and even share approximately the same length at around 850 pages. The Kaplan book offers 5 full-length practice tests, The Princeton Review book offers 8, and the Barron’s book provides 6 tests. An important strength of these books is that the answers to practice test questions are explained in detail. Check out the reviews for these books on Amazon. Some people find them helpful, and others do not. If you are strapped for time, consider taking the official ACT practice tests before using the exams created by these third-parties, since they do not replicate the actual test as closely.
In addition to large corporations, some third-party ACT test prep books have been written by individual tutors who provide deep insight into ACT test-taking strategies and methods for preparing for each section of the ACT exam. These books are highly regarded and could be compared to “private tutors” teaching exam concepts and providing detailed step-by-step explanations to official practice questions.
The ACT Prep Black Book by Mike and Patrick Barrett, which is marketed to present “The Most Effective ACT Strategies Ever Published,” may well live up to its claim. Many people have found the tips and tricks provided by the Barretts in this book to be incredibly helpful. In addition to valuable test-day advice, the book provides detailed explanations on how to solve each question from exams in the The Official ACT Prep Guide, which means that owning a copy of both books is necessary to learn appropriately from the Black Book. If you could only own one third-party ACT prep book, this is perhaps the one to buy. Ask your teachers and friends first and read reviews available online.
The Best ACT Maths Book Ever by Brooke Hanson, in two volumes, provides step-by-step explanations to hundreds of example problems and numerous practice questions. Each math topic on the ACT exam is explained in the book, from basic algebra to logarithms and graph interpretation. This is arguably the best ACT math book available on the market.
If you are looking for help with the English section, check out The Complete Guide to ACT English by Erica Meltzer. Grammar and rhetoric concepts assessed by the ACT are explained in detail and careful explanations are provided to official ACT questions. The book is structured well, presenting theory and advice followed by practice questions to support learning.
The Master Key to ACT Science by Hugh Hung Vo explains how to approach excelling on the science section of the ACT, in which test-day strategy is perhaps more important than prior knowledge. The book has been described as “the best ACT book by a long shot” and teaches how to parse the science questions for important keywords, how to identify key information quickly from text, tables, and figures, and how to distinguish the correct answer from other options. The book has excellent recommendations on both Amazon and the ACT sub-Reddit.
All of these books will provide you with the greatest value if you read them cover-to-cover and focus on applying and practicing strategies prior to test day. The ACT may seem intimidating, but fear not. Consistent preparation and knowledge gained from these ACT prep books will work wonders in paving your path to a college education. Develop a study plan, stay focused, and on test day put forth your best effort. We are cheering you on from afar.
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