Cracking the ACT isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. But, finding a high-quality ACT prep book is one of the best places to start when studying for the exam.
Working through an ACT test book can help high school students familiarize themselves with test questions and the style of answer choices seen on the ACT. By knowing what to look for, students will increase their chances of getting a high score on the ACT. A great ACT score, along with an above-average SAT score, is an important factor in standing out to college admissions and improving your overall competitiveness as an applicant.
From practice questions to step-by-step answer explanations, here's a list of the best ACT prep books to boost your preparedness for the ACT exam.
The Best ACT Prep Books
ACT books are important for understanding how the ACT test works. The more ACT practice sessions you take, the more comfortable you'll feel when taking the actual ACT. Specifically, ACT test prep books show you what to expect from ACT questions, including which question types are most common.
Such resources also offer detailed answer explanations regarding why an answer was correct, which can help you see the exam in a whole new way. The full-length practice tests also serve as a study guide for taking the ACT — helping you learn to pace yourself, work through difficult problems, and skip questions when needed.
Here’s a look at the top 6 ACT prep books and subject matter guides to consider when studying for the exam.
Barron's ACT 36
"Barron's ACT 36" is a test prep book that's been used by millions of students. Easy to find on Amazon, this book helps high school students identify and work through some of the most difficult ACT questions. In addition to providing challenging questions in every subject area, Barron's ACT 36 also provides students with instruction on how to read and listen effectively.
These skills are important both when studying for the ACT and when taking the reading and writing portions of the test. This has been a top choice due to its high-quality, difficult ACT practice tests, and it’s known as one of the best ACT prep books available online today.
The Princeton Review ACT Prep
The Princeton Review offers one of the best ACT prep guidebooks. This book targets the three areas where test takers often struggle: understanding efficient problem solving, misunderstanding test questions, and focusing too much on memorization.
The Princeton Review helps students get into the mind of ACT scorers, targeting not only the answers to the questions, but the formats, too. Whether its math questions or writing responses, The Princeton Review helps students prepare for everything they'll encounter on the ACT — and then some.
McGraw Hill ACT
"McGraw Hill ACT" is one of the best books for step-by-step ACT test prep. The 2020 edition is equipped with 8 practice tests, each one as long as the actual ACT. This test prep book includes detailed preparation for the English section, science section, reading section, and math section.
Compared to previous versions, this ACT exam guide is much more comprehensive. Most importantly, it offers expanded question explanations to help you better understand question types and their correct answers. Purchasing this book also gives you access to McGraw Hill's online resources. This includes a detailed digital study plan, flashcards, progress reports, and games to keep you engaged while you study.
The Real ACT
"The Real ACT" is the industry standard for ACT preparation. Why? Because it’s made by the same people who write the ACT, making it the Official ACT Prep Guide. There’s no other book on the market that features proven and authentic content from question writers and scorers like this book. Unlike other prep books, the questions in the red book are taken directly from past tests and are thought out by the same brains that come up with the questions on the real ACT.
The 5 practice tests featured in the Real ACT are the best offered on the market. The biggest flaw with the book is that it is thin on instruction. Meaning, the actual lessons in the book are basic. It’s great for the practice tests, but if you’re looking to brush up on specific math and English lessons, it’s best to look elsewhere.
5 Ib. Book of ACT Practice Problems
"5 Lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems" from Manhattan Prep is the perfect prep book for a student looking to complete as many practice problems as possible. It’s a great resource for high repetition practice. Studies show that the best use of a student’s time studying for the ACT is completing as many practice problems as possible. This book is an excellent resource, but keep in mind that the practice problems are not taken directly from old tests like the Real ACT.
ACT Prep Black Book
"ACT Prep Black Book" breaks down the strategy of the ACT better than any other prep book. While the practice problems may not be the quality of the Real ACT, there are still hundreds of them in this book. The strategies articulated in the Black Book will help students understand the ACT on a more conceptual level.
Remember, it is a standardized test, meaning there won’t be any surprises. If you study the ACT, you will know exactly what to expect on the test and when to expect it. Although the Black Book is not the best resource for practice problems and practice tests, it is valuable for its in-depth breakdown of ACT strategy.
Subject Specific Prep Books
As you know, the ACT is split into five different tests: English, Math, Science, Reading, and Writing. It's normal to be stronger in some subjects and struggle on others. Everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. That being the case, there are a few prep books out there that focus exclusively on one subject of the test. Here are the best ACT prep books for subject-specific studying.
"Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT" is the best option when studying specifically for the Math section. This book has 200 pages of in-depth strategy for the ACT Math test. The math skills developed in this book will undoubtedly help you improve your answers to math test questions.
The only downside to this book is that it has not been updated since 2012. This is not a huge issue, as the test itself has not changed much in the last six years, but keep this in mind if you’re choosing this book over other prep books.
"The Complete Guide to ACT English" is one of the best ACT English prep books available. This book expertly explains the grammar rules relevant to the English test, and complements these lessons with great practice problems. It is a little pricey for a book that covers only one test, but if you're worried about the writing section and you need an extra English lesson, it’s worth the cost.
"The Complete Guide to ACT Reading" breaks down the English portion of the test expertly. From strategies for taking the test, to top-tier practice problems, to invaluable reading and writing lessons, this book has it all. If you’re looking for a comprehensive resource for the ACT Reading test, this is one of the best options you'll find.
There isn’t a great option for the ACT Science test, but we recommend "500 ACT Science Questions to Know by Test Day." Keep in mind that the science test is really just a glorified reading test, and that reading comprehension is the most important skill. There’s very little science knowledge that you need to succeed on this portion of the test. It’s more about knowing how to read graphs and parse through experiment descriptions. This book is a good tool, but it’s not essential.
"How To Write A Killer ACT Essay" is a helpful book if you're worried about your results on the essay writing portion of the exam. While you'll only be writing one essay on the ACT, you won't have a lot of time to complete it. It’s better to allot your studying time to other topics, like math or English questions, that will be more predictable and prevalent on the ACT.
What If Studying Using a Practice Book Isn’t for Me?
If practice books and practice questions aren't the way you learn best, don't fret. Some students struggle solely using prep books, especially if they're visual or hands-on learners. Plus, most prep books are somewhere between 500 and 800 pages, and crammed with confusing practice questions. For students who struggle to learn in this format, the best option is to find a tutor or program that will cater to their learning style. A tutor won’t just give you the answers — they’ll help you gain a deep understanding of the subject matter.
Everyone learns differently, and for some students, learning visually is much more effective than reading prep books. We recommend taking a look at the TutorMe ACT Prep course, which is the perfect combination of guided lessons and practice problems with explanations. Another option is to find a private tutor.
How to Find the Best ACT Prep Book
The best ACT prep book for you depends on your needs and learning style. While some students may achieve a perfect score with just one ACT prep book, others may need to also spend time with practice questions on different subjects. That's why it's so important to find the right book and identify areas where you can improve.
Combining prep books with online courses, private tutors, and diagnostic tests can be effective for many students. Whether you're acing sample questions from the beginning or you know you'll need a math tutor, these books can help you understand what you're already good at — and where you can improve.