The Best ACT Prep Books for 2017
There are a lot of “Best ACT Prep Books” lists out there. Most of them aren’t all that great – so we’ve tried to build a better list. We’ve looked at most of the books on the market today and we’ve written a brief bio for each of our favorite picks.
Our goal is to showcase each book’s strength and weakness. Because your ACT score is important, and as you’ll probably be spending a good amount of time studying, it’s critical you get the right advice.Before diving into the content below, we recommend watching an overview of the ACT by Khan Academy.
For a quick overview, below is our list of the best ACT prep books. For more information, scroll below.
|Rank||Book Title||Pages||Practice Tests /Questions||Price|
|1||The Official ACT Prep Guide||720||3 Tests||$30|
|2||ACT Prep Black Book||436||-||$20|
|3||Cracking the ACT||832||6 Tests||$20|
|4||ACT Premier 2016-2017||864||8 Tests||$20|
|5||Barron’s ACT 36||312||1 Test||$12|
|6||The ACT for Bad Test Takers||154||-||$20|
|7||Up Your Score: ACT, 2016-2017 Edition||352||-||$10|
|8||5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems||1,164||1,800 Ques||$15|
|9||1,460 ACT Practice Questions, 4th Edition||668||1,460 Ques||$12|
|10||Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT||194||-||$12|
So what makes this a better guide?
Your ACT score is a very important factor on your path to higher education. And if you’re aiming for a top score chances are you’ll be spending a good amount of time studying. But what you study with is tremendously important. Follow a weak study routine or practice with the wrong material and your score will suffer.
That’s why it’s important to find the right ACT prep plan. Since you’re already looking for the best ACT prep books, chances are you’ve already decided that a prep course isn’t for you. And that’s just fine. We firmly believe that a solid prep book partnered with consistent and dedicated preparation results in strong scores. So why should you trust our opinion?
Here’s why we believe this guide is better than others found online:
- We explain what makes each book great. Content is king. For our reviews we look through each book’s review material, practice question quality, and testing strategy effectiveness.
- We evaluate which books are best for training on specific sections of the ACT. Everyone’s different and we all have our own weaknesses. Knowing what a book is dedicated to tackling makes it easier to match to your own needs.
- We genuinely want you to succeed. We’ve taken the ACT and know how stressful it can be. Take comfort in knowing that it can tackled and that there are plenty of avenues to aid in your success (us being one of them!)
Who is this guide for exactly?
This guide is created first and foremost for students that are motivated to work towards getting a high score. Working through these books will take time and effort. You’ll have to work through hundreds of practice questions before things begin to stick. Practice makes perfect, remember that.
If you’re willing to put the man hour into studying then buying a prep book will be the easiest step in your path. Just understand, if you’re not willing to put the time into studying, your choice of book does not matter.
Why and how is this guide divided?
We’ve divided our list of the best ACT books into a few categories as everyone has different needs for their ACT prep. Our categories are broken down into tiers:
- Best: these are books that everyone should use, regardless of skill level. They offer comprehensive review or have the highest quality practice questions available.
- Good: good all around books but not the best – these are solid options to use for supplementary practice.
- Extra Practice: supplementary books intended for students who are focused on obtaining an exceptionally high score by mastering difficult ACT questions. In most cases, these should only be used after completing a prep book.
- Subject Specific: the best books to strengthen your individual reading, math, or writing section abilities.
ACT Testing Dates
If you’re in the United States or Canada, below are your ACT Testing Dates for 2016-2017
- September 10, 2016
- October 22, 2016
- December 10, 2016
- February 11, 2017
- April 8, 2017
- June 10, 2017
The Best ACT Prep Books
The Official Real ACT is a must have study guide for every ACT test taker. It’s published by the official makers of the ACT. That means the included practice questions are the best you can get anywhere. In this case, there are five, full length practice tests with detailed answer explanations. Each test should take just over 4 hours to take and review.
There’s some content review here but it’s sparse. So if you’re weak at geometry and need more review, it might be smart to supplement this guide. There are many other guides that do a better job at covering test material and strategies.
So why pick this up? For the 5 authentic practice tests. Everything else is gravy. The 2016-2017 version is updated to reflect changes to the new ACT essay section.
If you’re serious about the ACT, practice is where you will hone your skills. And working through these problems will give you the closest experience to that of your test day.
If you’re serious about scoring high on the ACT, the Black Book is one of the best ACT prep books out there today. It’s designed to give you a clear plan of attack for each section of the ACT. It does so by going over high level strategies and reviewing what makes the ACT predictable.
There are no practice tests to work with here. That’s because the book is designed to be used with the official ACT study guide.
Each of the guide’s questions are analyzed, dissected, and answered. Explanations for the hardest questions in the guide are much more thorough and informative.
The Black Book does an excellent job at deciphering the ACT and its tricks. Partner this book with the official ACT study guide and you’ll be a much more effective test taker.
Good ACT Prep Books
Princeton Review’s “Cracking the …” series is highly regarded for a multitude of exams, and this year’s Cracking the ACT has been a bestseller for good reason. In fact, it’s our favorite all-in-one prep guide.
Princeton Review designed this series to focus on strategies and techniques to master the ACT and focused less on fundamentals. What this book excels at is addressing the best problem solving techniques to use on the exam’s various sections. Master the method to tackle all varieties of different question types.
There are clear demonstrations through the use of fictitious character, Joe Bloggs, as to how to use various strategies. Strategies that help you use your time effectively and expand on how to make educated guesses (if needed). There’s also useful information on how to avoid common testing traps and pitfalls too.
You’ll find 6 full length practice exams to work with – 4 in the book and 2 online. Although some of the book’s material isn’t ground breaking the strategies and techniques work. Effective understandings of process of elimination, spot the answer, and note taking have shown time and time again to help students boost scores. Princeton Review does an admiral job at teaching students how to use these tactics for success. Cracking the ACT is certainly one of the most motivational ACT books around and it’s contents are excellent. We highly recommend it as a result.
Kaplan’s one of the most well regarded standardized test prep providers today. Their ACT study guide is a complete and thorough prep book that covers all the relevant testing material one needs to know. And it does so in an easily accessible manner.
You’ll find subject specific strategies, advice and tips from top scoring test takers, and 8 realistic model ACT practice tests (3 within the book). Also included is access to Kaplan’s online resource center – an online repository of online quizzes, video tutorials, and more.
We really liked Kaplan’s SmartPoints approach to helping test takers concentrate on important points that they’ll be tested on. That said, Kaplan focuses less on full mastery of topics and opts instead to cover the most frequently tested areas of the test’s material.
As such, the Kaplan ACT Premier a perfect choice for those looking at an all around effective study solution. If you dedicate the time to work through the book, you’re sure to get the practice you need and confidence to score well.
What’s the highest score you can get on the ACT? 36. And Barron’s ACT 36 doesn’t let you forget that. This is a book for the most aspiring of students – for those willing to put in the hours and go the extra mile.
Barron has traditionally been a top resource for standardized test preparations and this time is no different. We’d like to say it’s the best ACT book on our list. The book is an amazing resource for tackling the English section – it’s done very well. The Math and Reading sections are no slouches either but didn’t stand out as much.
There are some difficult questions on the ACT and Barron’s ACT 36 does a great job at exposing you to them. The practice tests and drills are a tad harder here than found in other materials. And that’s good news. Advanced students can begin using this guide straight off the bat but more novice student may find more success exposing themselves to more basic material to begin with.
Our final take is that is a superb book for the most dedicated of test takers. It’s well written, manageable in size, and makes a score of 36 possible.
The ACT for Bad Test Takers is an engaging book with an interesting take on the ACT. There’s an emphasis on the quality of answers over the quantity of question answers. For author, Moshe Ohayon, the aim is to help students who find it difficult to realize their full potential on standardized tests feel more comfortable with their abilities.
Unlike traditional ACT prep books, this guide is more like a tutor that goes over each section of the ACT and offers effective strategies that promise to increase your overall score. It works.
The strategy is quite similar to the one found in Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, although many test takers have found the “Bad Test Takers” strategies to be more useful.
While this is a great strategies book it does not provide enough opportunity to practice ACT questions. You will need to supplement this book with additional practice exam.
We recommend The ACT for Bad Test Takers book for anyone fearful of the ACT, and for those that want a confidence boost in their test taking skills.
Up Your Score is a pleasantly written prep book that combines knowledge of how the ACT test works and the subjects it covers with for-student, by student tips and strategies. But it also blends in an element that most books lacks – humor, lively pop culture references and jokes.
Any book that can teach while injecting some sort of humor into the mix is a winner. Studying for the ACT isn’t an easy task and it’s certain to frustrate and fatigue many. Humor lightens the load and helps reduce testing anxiety bringing with it better scores and learning progress.
We found that the book does an impressive job at breaking down question types and content while remaining engaging. There are plenty of testing strategies to review and we found coverage of more detailed ACT material that many other prep books overlook.
It’s important to note that there are no practice tests included and that there aren’t too many practice questions either. As such, we recommend partnering it with a practice question focused guide.
Extra Practice ACT Prep Books
Manhattan Prep has compiled the biggest and best practice problem book we’ve ever looked at for the ACT. 5 pounds of problems – over 1,800 in all – covering every type of question you can expect.
There’s an included diagnostic test to start off with, giving you a chance to identify your strengths and weaknesses before diving into the 22 chapters of problem sets. The thoroughness of the material is outstanding. And the answer explanations are clear and straightforward too.
Although the questions are not actual retired ACT problems, like you would see in the Real Act Prep Guide, we found them to match the difficulty and style of official problems well. Interestingly enough, if the 1,800 questions are not enough, additional online practice problems are available through the Manhattan Prep online portal.
Practice makes perfect. Recognizing this, Princeton Review crammed 1,460 practice questions into a book. There are three full length practice tests within and hundreds of other practice questions ( amount to another three full length tests worth) to work on.
Targeted subject drills that emphasize critical English and Math skills allow for a more focused study routine, if needed. We found that the explanations given for the practice questions were well written and easy to follow – utilizing a teacher’s way of approach.
Good quality questions partnered with solid explanations make this our second favorite practice focused guide for the ACT.
Subject Specific ACT Prep Books
Tackling the math portion of the ACT isn’t easy. If you have gaps or weaknesses in your underlying math skills we highly recommend working through the Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT. It’s a book that focuses on teaching you the foundational concepts for every math topic on the ACT.
The material is clearly laid out – sections are split into many sub topics. For example, algebra is divided into solving equations, FOILing, word problems, etc. It makes drilling down on weaknesses much easier.
If you’re really struggling with math at a basic level, you may want to look into a more foundational math review – CliffNote’s Math Review for Standardized Tests is perfect for this.
If you’re truly struggling with basic math we recommend checking out Khan Academy’s math modules. They’re free and provide an engaging way to build up your most basic math skills.