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#1 | Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus
If you’re looking for the most comprehensive guide, Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus strives to hit this goal. It’s among the longest prep books on the market and gives exceptionally thorough explanations for each answer. It offers both in-book and online practice exams with access to video tutorials and expert strategies to help you tackle all aspects of the exam. Kaplan is an official partner for the live online ACT prep, so it means they have current and up-to-date information.
The “Smart Points” feature helps you to identify which questions are asked most often and which topics are generally considered most important. In terms of online resources for test prep, this may be the best book on the market. This was a helpful feature for me, as I could study on-the-go without hauling around a big book. The online materials are taught by Kaplan’s expert tutors and instructors, and they go through the questions and required skills with a depth of focus that few other books can offer.
There’s a ton of information here, and if there is a downside, it’s that it can take significant time to parse all of it. In addition, some people have considered the questions to be easier than the ones on the exam, which can lead to a bit of culture shock when you take the exam itself.
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#2 | The Official ACT Prep Guide
Practice questions are essential when it comes to preparing for the ACT, and The Official ACT Prep Guide provides some of the best. It’s informally referred to as the “Red Book” due to its bright red cover. It offers a whopping five different full-length practice exams that provide a broad level of practice and preparation for almost any student. It requires about four hours to take and review each of these practice tests, which means the book offers up to a full 20 hours of prep.
Each practice test question in the book includes not only the answers but also explanations for the answers so you can learn why you missed the ones you did. For me, the explanations were clear and detailed so I could easily understand what I did wrong. Aside from the five tests in the book, it also provides access to online resources that offer 400 additional practice questions.
While I personally didn’t see it as a drawback, some students may not find the five included tests to be enough. What some may view as a downside of this book is that it is laser-focused on full practice exams, so it doesn’t break out additional individual exam areas in detail. Also, it is a little rote and may not be the best for developing an actual exam strategy.
It’s worth noting that ACT offers subject guides for each individual section of the exam so you can kick up the study of your weak points. If you’re looking for the resource that offers the closest examples to the test itself, it’s hard to beat the official source.
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#3 | ACT Prep Black Book
If you’re looking for test-taking strategies, you’ve found the book for you in the ACT Prep Black Book. If the official guide is laser-focused on practice exams, this book is just as focused on the strategies you need to crack the questions.
It helps you to address any timing issues or weak points you might have in your test-taking strategies, and focuses on the process to answer questions. It also looks at strategies for handling math problems with multiple-choice answers, and provides very detailed explanations for answers, all while addressing the fact that each student has a different way of learning.
The downsides of this book are that the explanations are largely based off of an older edition of the Red Book, and it doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns of each individual area. While it’s strong on test-taking strategies, it does lack some fundamental content. It may be an excellent companion book to the official guide.
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#4 | Barron’s ACT
Currently in its fifth edition, Barron’s ACT may provide the best bang for your buck as a budget ACT prep book that still offers a very high-quality experience in ACT prep. Of all the books on our list, this one and the Red Book may have the most questions that are actually similar to those you’ll encounter in the ACT.
That means when you encounter the more difficult questions on the exam, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen them already in your prep when you use this book. It’s a great way to boost your confidence going in. The book gives you an overview of and introduction to the test itself, followed by a study plan and strategy. After that, it offers a test to measure your current level of knowledge. This practice test encompasses about 50 pages per section and covers all of the major topic areas.
Each section provides not only practice exam questions but also concept questions, test-taking strategies and skills reviews. It goes on to clearly and concisely explain all of the main concepts you’ll need to know to do well on the exam. It offers data analysis and research summaries for the science section and illustrates various math concepts from algebra to geometry and more, which was extremely helpful for me.
Many of the suggestions found herein are unique to Barron’s, and this book makes an excellent and affordable initial review source, especially for those on a budget. The downside for some might be that some of the questions can be very hard. I don’t necessarily see that as negative though, because if you’re looking to prepare, it can be a positive as well. Finally, the writing section may be slightly outdated.
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Related: Barron’s vs Princeton Review ACT Prep Book Comparison
#5 | ACT Premium Prep
The Princeton Review’s ACT Premium Prep is your solution to having all your ACT prep in one place. It’s a very traditional ACT prep book that includes eight practice tests plus a complete review of concepts, techniques and practice questions. It starts with the basics and breaks everything down into simple concepts to allow you to learn each subject in a flash.
For example, it reviews the major concepts in math and grammar that are required to answer questions, while also helping you learn test-taking strategies using the process of elimination and the order in which to answer questions. Some of the sample exams are available online.
If there are downsides to this book, it’s that while the math and science sections are exceptionally thorough, the English and reading sections are not quite as such. There are good strategies, but it could be better on concepts. In addition, the practice tests found in this book tend to be a bit easier than those you’ll find on the actual test. Because the questions aren’t official, you won’t encounter them on the exam.
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Summary: Best ACT Prep Books
In the end, while these are some of the best books on the market, you may actually find the best results in seeking out multiple sources. Together, several books can often overcome each other’s weaknesses and get you ready to take the test. If books aren’t your preferred method of studying, you may want to consider a prep course. You can check out our list of the best ACT prep courses.
As an honorable mention, there are also free practice exams available online from the ACT that can provide additional help and preparation, though they won’t have the thoroughness and strategies offered in these books. If you’d like more information about taking the ACT and getting ready for your college experience, explore our website and check out the many educational and preparatory resources we have available.
What to Expect on the ACT
The basic idea of the ACT is to measure a student’s educational development and skills, as well as their readiness to compete at a college level. Studies have indicated that ACT performance does indeed translate into college performance. The ACT is , so it should be easy to find a time that fits into your schedule.
This standardized test measures your skills and college preparedness, and covers five core areas. These are:
- English (75 multiple choice)
- Math (60 multiple choice)
- Science (40 multiple choice)
- Reading (40 multiple choice)
- Writing (essay prompt, optional)
It should be noted that while the writing part is optional, it is highly recommended. You will have a total of 3 hours and 35 minutes to complete the exam if you take the writing section. Without the writing section, the test is timed at 2 hours and 55 minutes.