Best ACT Books | 2019 – 2020

ACT can be a tough nut to crack if your preparation is not up to the mark. The right strategy and guidance can help a student in acing the test with an optimum input in terms of time and money. So, deciding on the best ACT books one should buy for ACT preparation is a quest that warrants some attention.

However, before you jump in the fray and walk away with a slew of books in your shopping cart, it is useful to learn about ACT from their official website. Taking an official practice/diagnostic test will quickly reveal the “expectation gap”: the chasm between your current and expected scores.

Putting some effort in crafting a sustainable study plan for the next few weeks/months should ensure that you consistently practice for the exam. Generally, having lots of study sessions spread over a longer period of time is better than cramming in the end.

ACT preparation books differ in their strengths, application, and usage: practice tests, explanations of fundamentals, strong subject areas, congruence with the actual test, examination strategies/tips etc. Here we will look at the best ACT preparation books that money can buy.

List of the best ACT study guides


The Official ACT Prep Guide (2016-2017)

As the name suggests, this book is the one you need to buy if you’re buying just one. The book lets you peek into the mind of the examination-setter in the most reliable way possible.  It elucidates the concepts and skills needed in a very detailed and lucid manner. It is full of actual strategies and tips to improve your score. The explanations given for the answers are pretty solid, especially the incorrect answer explanations for Mathematics (usually hovering around the silly mistakes candidates usually make).

Although the practice tests are good and an accurate reflection of the actual thing, there are only 3 of them in the book. Hence, you need to acquire additional practice tests if you’re going to rely exclusively on this book for your ACT practice.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

ACT Prep Black Book

This book scores big on one important aspect: the strategies to tackle different question types. Be it advice on attacking Math questions by “back-solving” through the answer choices, or cracking English questions without knowing the meaning of the word in question, the book lists all the important ones. It also walks you through the general traps that the test-setter puts to throw you off the track. Another good thing about the book is its colloquial style of writing- it is like having a tutor by your side to gently lead you towards the land of ACT awesomeness.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

Manhattan 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems

Manhattan leaves no stone unturned when it comes to Math, and it shows. Math questions are of the same style and difficulty level as the actual test and should provide ample practice. However, there are some subtle deficiencies when it comes to the English portion.

While the actual ACT English questions usually require knowledge and application of multiple areas (like grammar, vocabulary and literary devices), the ones on the book lean towards a single skill.

The Science section is the one that leaves a lot to be desired. The questions are simpler than the actual ones, and the composition of question types also seem to be outdated, to say the least.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

Barron’s ACT 36, 3rd edition

The book has a nice style and engages the student without over-the-top explanations. While the English section is OK and gets the mental juices flowing, the Maths and Science sections are not up to par for someone who is aiming for a 30+ score.

The book does not provide with enough valuable strategies to tackle tricky exam questions and fails to stress upon a smarter way of taking the test. However, it is a good book for a fast initial review catering to students who are not aiming for perfect scores and short on time.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

Princeton Review Cracking the ACT, 2016 Edition

The book is good at the basics: explaining topics in a lucid manner and solid advice on strategies to tackle the exam. It does seem to oversimplify a bit sometimes, and some advanced concepts will be difficult to grasp with the help of this book alone.

English grammar is fine but lacks thoroughness. The Math part is fairly comprehensive. The Reading section is also packed with some good strategies. The Science section fails to equip the students with necessary skills to attain a top score.

The practice tests are generally easier than the actual test. The Math section includes a variety of geometric figures and word problems which serve as good preparation for the real thing. The Reading section deserves to be skipped, given the ambiguity of the solutions. Finally, the brand has a knack for rebranding basic concepts and assigning esoteric names/pseudonyms to simple frameworks that may annoy the average candidate.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

Kaplan’s ACT Premier 2016-2017

The forte of this book is the roadmap it lays out for ACT preparation: the candidate gains a fair idea about the test and learns a strong approach to achieve a high score. The answer explanations are also unique in the sense that the book goes on to explain both the right and wrong answers.

Visibility into the wrong answers gives a chance to gain critical information about the usual traps. Sometimes the explanations do fall short and end up being unsatisfactory. The strategies and skills are pretty comprehensive, although some of the strategies might prove to be too time-consuming and insufficient for the high-scorers.

The practice materials provided by Kaplan are less than satisfactory. English and Reading sections are easier-than-actual, and the harder ones seem to be “artificially hard”. This section also struggles with enough ambiguity amongst answer choices to bewilder even the serious test-takers. Math and Science questions are also easier than they would be on the actual exam. And just like Princeton Review, Kaplan leaves no stone unturned when it comes to branding concepts.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

McGraw Hill ACT 2017

English questions in this book are quite good, with a mix that closely resembles the one on the actual test. However, the passages are too short and dense in some instances, which might lead to some pacing issues. Math has all subject areas covered pretty well, though it is overall easier on average compared to the actual test.

The Science section of this book is pretty neat too, and the style of questions is very much comparable to the “official” ones. This book has good strategic advice, especially for tackling MCQ’s and timing/pacing. The explanations are not something to cheer about, and it seems that equal attention has not been paid to every subject area.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.
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