11 Best ACT Prep Books for 2021: Top Picks & Reviews
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Preparing for the ACT test requires you to work harder than you’ve ever done before. Aside from enrolling in test prep courses, you must also use other materials, such as test prep apps and ACT prep books. Which ones are reliable to help you score high enough to qualify for a scholarship or get into Ivy League schools?
In this article, we list down the best of the best, so whatever you choose is guaranteed helpful and useful.
Finding the best ACT prep book is difficult because there is a myriad of options. These books aren’t created equal. Some ACT study books have strong points that other prep books lack. It all boils down to how extensive and engaging the materials are.
Below is a roundup review on the 11 best ACT prep books based on the following criteria:
- Quality of practice tests and questions
Are the practice tests and questions up to the current ACT trend? How close are these practice tests and questions to the actual ACT test? Do they offer comprehensive coverage?
- Strategy advice
Does the book give different strategies in answering various ACT questions? Does it have sound explanations on how to utilize these strategies?
- Style and form of the content
Is the content cohesive and easily understandable? Is it long enough to cover what you need to learn?
It really matters that you know the best materials to invest in. Whatever time, money, and effort you put in will eventually pay off.
11 Best ACT Prep Books for 2020: Top Picks & Reviews
1. Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020
Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020
This is first on the list because it’s undeniably the best and most comprehensive ACT study book out there. The Official ACT Prep Guide gives you realistic practice tests and questions that will help you familiarize the ACT test pattern.
This book’s practice tests are considered the gold standard because they were prepared by ACT, Inc. itself. Plus, each one contains practice tests that were previously used by ACT test administrations. In other words, the Official ACT Prep Guide is a collection of old actual ACT tests and newly formulated practice tests.
This study book is often called “Red Book” by a lot of students, so in case you run across that term, you will know. Also, the 2019-2020 edition of the Official ACT Prep Guide almost has identical content with the 2018-2019 edition, except that this newer version has additional practice tests.
That said, if you already own the older version, then the 2019-2020 edition may not be worth spending money on.
Below, we will give you a breakdown of what we like and what we don’t like about this ACT prep book.
2. ACT Prep by Magoosh
ACT Prep by Magoosh
Most ACT test books are dull and rigid, which most students don’t like. The ACT Prep by Magoosh is different, as it gives you a whole new fun experience in studying for your ACT test. You will see this book as a good old friend telling you how to succeed. There’s a good amount of excitement and empathy as you move from one page to another.
Furthermore, this book covers not only comprehensive practice materials but a lot of study tips and strategies. There are over 300 practice questions that can help you track your progress. Plus, there are lessons for every ACT area with a corresponding tip on how to approach each section.
This book also provides an FAQ section to help you with basic questions, such as test format, best test date, and many more. The ultimate take about this book is the fact that the creators cared enough to make sure the test prep is stress-free, hence all the additional book activities in place.
Finally, it’s pretty much the book version of the Magoosh online course (1), so all the fun and wise prep practices are given in this book. Like its online course version, the ACT Prep by Magoosh also promises a 4-point score improvement as long as you dedicate a significant amount of time to prepare for your ACT test.
3. Barron’s ACT 4th Edition (2019)
Barron’s ACT 4th Edition (2019)
This is a great supplemental book if you have already tried the previous recommendations of an ACT review book, such as the Official ACT Prep Guide. The comprehensiveness of Barron’s gives it a good reputation as a well-recommended ACT book second to the official books released by ACT.
There are several books by Barron’s and the most recent one is the 4th Edition released last year. The content of this book is made for the 2020 and 2021 tests, so you can be sure that the practice test questions are not outdated. Overall, it also covers 4 sets of practice tests.
Moreover, Barron’s ACT books are known to have highly difficult practice questions that can come out unrealistic for the students’ benefits. Surprisingly, upon reviewing the 4th edition, it shows up to be less challenging than other prep books. It has practice questions that are easier than the actual ACT test, but its comprehensiveness defeats its less-challenging practice questions. All the more that it also features additional study tips and advice on acing ACT sections.
The strategy-advice section of Barron’s ACT 4th Edition, however, is almost identical to its old edition which makes it quite unappealing for those who already have the previous edition. What we find highly recommended is its ACT Writing guideline because it is fully updated to satisfy the current needs for the upcoming ACT test this year and next year. The other sections for the ACT English, Math, Reading, and Science are almost close to the previous edition, so we find this aspect of the Barron’s ACT 4th Edition uninteresting.
Its main takeaway is the extra practice questions updated for the upcoming ACT tests. The sample responses and scorer commentary are also fantastic features to Barron’s ACT 4th Edition.
4. Ivy Global ACT Guide Edition 1.0
Ivy Global ACT Guide Edition 1.0
You might be surprised as we have included a lesser-known ACT practice test book. Worry not because this has to be included for a good reason.
The Ivy Global ACT Guide is a new quality source of ACT test prep guidelines and practice questions. It is fairly new in the sense that Ivy Global is known to produce materials for the SAT and not the ACT. The first edition, however, is worth your time.
Our impression of this ACT study book is its minimal approach to information organization. it is less-cluttered compared to other study books that tend to overwhelm students. The book gives you a clear and concise test introduction and tips on test-taking strategies. Its section-specific reviews are also great in terms of giving you a content refresher, but not great enough to supplement your ACT test prep, especially when it comes to the newest ACT trends.
Overall, this study book offers three sets of practice test questions that are not adequate to cover your study gaps. However, there are free additional practice tests on the website (2).
5. McGraw-Hill ACT 2020
Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-McGraw-Hill ACT 2020
This ACT prep book offers practice tests, four print practice tests on their book, and another four practice tests that can be found on their website. There are also additional practice tests and a diagnostic test as you begin the book.
There is a major comparison to the 2020 edition to its predecessors, specifically the 2018 and 2014 editions. We would like to touch on this. Both the 2020 edition’s ACT English and ACT Math are way better than the previous editions. They are quite a little easy but both have the right mix of concepts and their length is sufficient enough to cover what needs to be covered.
As for the ACT Reading section, we would say that the ones they have in the 2020 edition are too difficult to come by. The ACT Science, on the other hand, is great as it has been even in the previous editions. Lastly, the ACT Writing section is a good corner to supplement your writing practice, but the opinions of the tutors are way lengthy to be appreciated.
Moreover, their strategy tips are many that would require for you to gauge which of them works in reality. A few of what we like about their suggested strategies are for pacing and multiple choices. Other than that, there is significant unequal attention to the length and content of each ACT section of this book. ACT Science, for example, has surprisingly short content than that of other chapters. ACT Math, on the other hand, has an inconsistent focus on easy and difficult concepts. Some students may find this a little hard to navigate when looking for tips on the difficult areas.
6. The Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep 2020
The Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep 2020
Like the Official ACT Prep Guide, The Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep is another reputable ACT material. After all, it’s the test prep company’s flagship in terms of its test prep courses. The 2020 edition, however, is much like the old editions, which is why we don’t recommend this to those who already have the previous ones. You’ll be better off investing in newer, more updated prep books than buying something with similar content.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that this 2020 edition is a Premium, which means that it has eight practice tests compared to the regular version, which has only six practice tests.
We would specifically like to touch on the ACT Reading section. The practice questions are surprisingly not closer to the actual questions on ACT Reading. Some dual passage questions are either too easy or too hard to interpret because of the ambiguous use of vocabulary.
The case with the ACT Reading is apparently the opposite of the ACT Writing because the writing prompts are difficult compared to the actual writing prompts. While the gap is present, we still find it advantageous for those who will be taking the writing portion of the test because getting used to the difficult method helps with the actual construction of ideas.
Finally, we would like to highlight Princeton Review’s plan to cover pre-writing which is a writing phase often ignored by many. We are excited about what material they can present in terms of that aspect. It’s an amazing initiative that can help encourage more students to take the optional writing section.
Now, onto our recap, take a look at what we like and what we don’t like about this ACT study book.
7. Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020
Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020
Much like its other top competitor, The Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep 2020, this edition of the Kaplan ACT prep book is loaded with subtle hints of branding. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t necessarily find it as a weak point, but having those sale tactics spread across an educational material is quite distracting.
Anyway, this book is an exhilarating version compared to the previous editions. What appeals to us the most is the combination of right and wrong answers that distract in a good way. The answer explanations are also of higher quality now compared to its old editions. Plus, the explanations are now lengthier which makes us think that they have given sufficient time to put up these explanations in such an efficient manner.
You will find different approaches in different sections. As for ACT English, we appreciate the overview of grammar rules on top of its main content. As for the ACT Math, there is also an overview of Math principles on top of the main concepts laid down across the section. We also love the in-depth explanations in the ACT Reading and ACT Science, which is great since both sections are data-heavy.
Moreover, while The Princeton Review is exploring a new venture into prewriting content, Kaplan already has this feature in their study book. In their ACT Writing section, brainstorming and outline ideas are shared with the students. However, the method used in the book is far unrealistic if we take into account the time limits in the writing section of the ACT.
For an affordable price, Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020 is worth it. It covers three full-length practice tests that are great supplementary sources.
8. The ACT Prep Black Book 2nd Edition
The ACT Prep Black Book 2nd Edition
This book is entirely different than the other books because it isn’t a book with practice tests. Instead, it discusses all possible test-taking strategies.
It combines perfectly with the famous Red Book of the ACT that provides all the practice test questions, while this ACT Prep Black Book gives all the strategies you have to learn to ace the test. Remember that the actual ACT is loaded with lots of tricks, which is expected of any standardized exams to test not only the knowledge but also the students’ analytical skills.
We also love that this book has a deep understanding of the students’ differences, so various strategies are suggested with an optimum reminder to do trial and error to find which strategy works best for each student. Also, even though the ACT Prep Black Book doesn’t have practice test questions, it offers answer explanations for the most difficult questions found in the official guide book.
As a whole, its comprehensive strategies are amazing that it would help you develop that intuitive insight on how to approach a certain question in the real ACT test. You will walk through several strategies that are all helpful in solving or answering a question exactly how the ACT test-makers want you to. Of course, as mentioned, you must possess great intuition in order to find out which strategy works for you. You’ll have to learn how to do this all by yourself if you’re not enrolled in a test prep course that will give you access to tutorial sessions. It’ll be a tough job, but discovering which works best for you is definitely a takeaway.
9. Manhattan 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems
Manhattan 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems
This book on practice problems is not an official practice book but, when used with the Official ACT Prep Guide, provides an effective study tool that you can use.
The best part about it is the ACT Math section because it’s consistent with the actual test in terms of difficulty and format. What’s not-so-great about it is the ACT English, ACT Science, and ACT Reading sections that are easier than the actual test.
This is because the book focuses on one-skill prompts. In the real ACT, each question will test you on more than one skill. For example, one question on Reading will test you on literary devices and vocabulary. What Manhattan did was limit the skill prompts to just one. As a result, the practice questions are easier as a whole.
ACT Science in this book also uses many “EXCEPT questions” that require you to identify an idea that doesn’t exist in the passage. Not exactly unique in the ACT since this is done in the Reading section but not in Science.
Moreover, ACT Math includes pre-algebra math operations that you can use for practice but are inaccurate enough to rely on.
Other books like the Black Book give you abundant opportunities to figure out what strategies work best for you to navigate through the trickiest questions. This one is just plain tricky.
10. The Princeton Review Crash Course for the ACT 6th Edition
The Princeton Review Crash Course for the ACT 6th Edition
This is a fairly new type of ACT test prep book that is different from The Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep 2020. This is because it is not just created for ACT test-takers, but also for those who are taking other standardized tests. This book contains a lot of general drills and strategies that you can apply in various standardized tests.
It’s a good supplementary material but not as a single reference if you are preparing for the ACT. What’s great about this book, however, is that there are practice questions and study guide tips that other test prep materials do not possess. Also, it’s called a crash course for a reason. This is a book for those who are rushing to learn and are aiming to garner higher scores at a limited time.
Basically, this test prep book lets you learn the 10 simple steps on how to boost your ACT score (3). It provides you with a list of how to exactly do it.
Furthermore, this study book may be pretty average when it comes to content, but the overall quality is decent. Below, we’ll look at what are the other things that we like and, of course, what are the things we don’t like about this book.
11. McGraw-Hill 10 ACT Practice Tests 5th Edition
McGraw-Hill 10 ACT Practice Tests 5th Edition
We have previously reviewed the McGraw-Hill ACT 2020, and it’s now time to review its other test prep book. What is the difference between these two McGraw-Hill ACT books?
The McGraw-Hill ACT 2020 has only four printed practice tests and another four online practice tests. The materials are not condensed in one material which makes it inconvenient to use. The McGraw-Hill 10 ACT Practice Tests book, on the other hand, gives you access to 10 practice tests.
How are the ACT sections in this material?
Be ready to see a see-saw pattern among different sections.
- The questions in the ACT Math section in the book are easier than the actual ACT, which many students find less appealing and helpful. Also, the focus is more on Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra, which doesn’t align with the real ACT.
- The questions in ACT Science are fairly good.
- The passages in ACT English are too long, you’re likely to go over the time limit working them out.
- The ACT Writing section is more improved than the previous editions.
- The sections in ACT Reading are harder to understand but kept too short. This is probably due to the disproportionately large number of grammar questions that other sections are sacrificed.
Moreover, while this ACT study book boasts of 10 ACT practice tests,
While this ACT study book boasts of 10 ACT practice tests that are sure to help you prepare, the answer explanations are anything but helpful. Some explanations are either ambiguous or don’t explain anything at all. A statement that says, “It’s the only answer that makes sense,” hardly makes sense. What can a student possibly learn from this?
Using this book can be hard if you don’t have a previous background in test prep. Overall, it makes a great supplement study material.
Other Book Recommendations – Per Subject
The above-mentioned books are not single-subject books as they all aim to provide comprehensive coverage on what goes on during the actual ACT test. Now, here’s a short overview of the test prep books by the subject that we recommend if you need to dig deeper into a certain ACT section.
The Complete Guide to ACT English
This book offers a very articulate presentation on grammar rules, rhetoric topics covered in the real written part of the ACT, and explanations of errors. It is authored by Erica Meltzer who also wrote The Complete Guide to ACT Reading.
Ultimate Guide to Math ACT
There are a lot of difficult concepts in Math, and we love how this ACT Math study guide breaks down the concepts into sub-topics to make them more manageable and enjoyable to digest. It covers a range of topics, from algebra to trigonometry. Whatever you need to know to achieve your full potential during the college admissions test is included in this guide book. The book is divided into 2 parts–a review of Math topics and advice on preparing and taking the test.
The Complete Guide to ACT Reading
Authored by the same person behind The Complete Guide to ACT English, it has a similar quality in terms of presentation of ideas, details, and tips. Here, Erica Meltzer dissects the ACT Reading portion through type and skill as indicators.
The PrepScholar Guide to ACT Science
This book is a complete breakdown of what to expect during the actual ACT Science test. Not only does it provide an in-depth analysis of the section but it also dissects the many reasons students find the Science section tricky.
The ACT for Bad Test Takers
Created by Moshe Ohayon, an ACT tutor for over fifteen years, this book is not a practice test per se. Rather, it provides students with the strategies to ace the ACT, making it a strategy book than anything else. Paired with a practice book, you are sure to improve your scores in no time.
Who needs ACT prep books?
- Self-disciplined students who can work by themselves.
- Students who are serious about the ACT test prep and are looking for supplementary materials.
- Students who want to improve their scores by 2 points or higher.
- Resourceful students who see the need to augment their test prep course with supplemental books and guides.
The ACT study books that we have just covered have their fair share of strong and weak points. No single ACT test prep book is perfect, including the Official ACT Prep Guide. The good news is most of them have stronger points than weaker ones.
It comes down to personal preference and study needs.
- Which section of the test do you need to improve on?
- Which book do you find easier to understand, digest, and help with memory recall and retrieval?
- Which material suits your needs best?
We’re hoping that our list of ACT prep books helped narrow down your options, so you only have to go through the materials rated as better and best, rather than sort through plenty of bad ones.