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Act Prep Books

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A Guide to Selecting an ACT Prep Book

Yehudah Posnick

If you’re in your last year of high school, you’re probably already feeling the pressure of applying to different universities. Besides keeping up with your coursework and getting good grades on your transcript, you’ve also got the standardized exams hovering overhead, such as the SAT or the ACT. The most demanding universities will have cutoff scores on these exams, and will only consider applicants who get above a certain grade. So it’s very important to do well on these exams. To do your best, there are lots of ACT prep books around, that can help you prepare for the types of questions in math, English, and reading comprehension. With the right amount of preparation, you can average 34 points or more!

We’ll see that there are several types of ACT prep books. Some specialize in individual test subjects, while others try to be comprehensive and cover all of the subjects, as well as the proper test-taking strategies. And other books come together with online exams and even lectures. You won’t have many chances to take the ACT–so it’s best to try to ace the ACT the first chance you get! These ACT Prep books can help you do just that!


Do I have to take the ACT exam? Doesn’t the SAT already test my math and English ability?

There’s even more overlap than that. The English section on the SAT already combines reading comprehension and English grammar and usage, while the math section on the SAT will include both the ACT’s math and much of the scientific reasoning section. And they both have an optional essay question section.

It may still be worthwhile taking both the SAT and the ACT exams so that you can submit the higher of the two to the universities of your choice. And if you do well on both, that’s also worth showing university admissions!

What are the parts of an ACT exam?

The ACT exam consists of 4 parts:

  • 75 questions in English to be completed in 70 minutes, which tests your knowledge of sentence structure, punctuation, and usage.

  • 60 mathematics questions to be completed in 90 minutes, which tests your knowledge of the different number systems, algebra, functions, geometry, and statistics/probability.

  • 40 questions in reading comprehension skills to be completed in 55 minutes, which tests your ability to focus on the main idea of a paragraph, which details are most important, comparing and contrasting different texts, and more.

  • 40 questions in scientific reasoning to be completed in 55 minutes. The content can be from biology, chemistry, physics, or earth science texts, but the test determines your reasoning ability more than your knowledge of the scientific discipline discussed in the reading selection.

  • There is also an optional essay question which you have 60 minutes to complete. The grade on this essay is not averaged into the scores on the other 4 parts.

Each part is graded into a “scaled score”. Since individual tests can be of varying difficulty, the raw score that you have received is then weighted, so that it can be compared to other ACT scores. The maximum scaled score is 36 on each of the four parts. You are also presented with an average of the 4 individual scores on English, math, reading comprehension, and science reasoning.

Types of Act Prep Books

We can divide ACT prep books between those that concentrate on theory, and those that concentrate purely on practice:

  • ACT Strategy Books: These books will focus primarily on test-taking strategy. An example is the ACT Prep Black Book. (The same company also puts out the ACT Prep Red Book, which focuses on sample exams and questions.) It contains over 600 ACT test questions with step-by-step answers. It will train you to narrow down the possible correct answers and methods to solve the math questions in less than 30 seconds!

ACT Prep Black Book

  • Sample Exam Books: These will contain sample exams, in the same format and length as an official exam. Most books will also include additional practice questions, as well as diagnostic questions to see where you need the most help. One of the most complete is the Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep, with 8 complete practice tests, as well as content review and test strategies.

Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep

  • Exam books with online course material: There are some ACT preparation books that include online quizzes and videos, for up to one year after purchase. An example is the ACT Prep Plus 2023. It includes 1 full-length practice exam with solutions, 4 online practice tests, diagnostic pre-quizzes, and practice quizzes after each chapter and at the beginning of each lesson!

ACT Prep Plus 2023

  • Individual Subject Exam Books: There are also ACT prep books that contain only single subjects: devoted only to math, English, reading skills, or scientific reasoning. There are also books devoted to the optional essay questions. For example, there is the Princeton Review ACT Reading Prep. It includes how to handle dual passages, where two different authors express different viewpoints on a single topic. There are also tips and tactics to address reading passages and the assigned questions.

Princeton Review ACT Reading Prep

What reviewers say

Many customers had very brief, positive comments about the ACT Prep Book that they bought. Some were convinced that the practice and explanations were exactly what they needed to pass. But there were also some negative and more critical reviews:

  • Some books are too wordy: One customer said that their ACT prep book had a lot of useful information, but it also had 600 pages of verbose talk about test-taking strategy. The customer wanted to focus more on sample exams and their solutions instead.

  • Some books reuse exams: One student was disappointed to see that the book that they bought had three sample exams and that the student already had done two of them in the classroom! It’s better to opt for a book with many exams, or for online exams as well.

Important Features

Here are some tips from the manufacturers and users, regarding selecting the right ACT book for your needs:

  • Teaches you how to pace yourself: One customer chugged away at his ACT preparation book and finished it in a single week! He said that the practice allowed him to be familiar with the types of questions asked, and how to pace himself on the difficult parts. (One rule is to answer the easy questions first so that you’re sure that they’re out of the way. Then you can devote time to the harder sections.)

  • Teaches all the math you need to know: One customer who bought the ACT Prep Book 2022-2023 with Practice Tests said that it made him reflect on how much harder it was for him to study 40 years ago for the SAT. He is confident that a person can study math just from this guide, and still manage to master all that they need to know!

Final Verdict

We went through the different types of ACT study guides. Some are comprehensive and include sample exams for all 5 sections. Others also include additional questions. Some focus on test-taking tips and tricks, and yet others are for individual sections, treating just math or English, for example. Check out the Best Reviews Guide list of ACT prep books. You’re sure to find the study guide that’ll pull you through!

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