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Which ACT prep book is best in 2021?

Throughout the United States, the ACT is among the primary standardized tests considered in college admissions. It contains four main subjects — English, Math, Reading and Science — and an optional writing section. It is designed to evaluate the various skills necessary to succeed in college. 

The ACT can be a major stressor for many students applying to colleges, and being properly prepared can make a big difference. A good ACT prep book can help guide you through the study and preparation process, alleviate some of the fears and get you ready for test day. 

The Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of Practice Problems is recommended for an overall, in-depth treatment of every subject with a variety of practice questions and answers. 

What to consider before you buy an ACT prep book

Test overview 

With major tests, nerves can be an obstacle even for those who know all the material. To increase your confidence and sense of preparedness, good prep books have a complete overview of the ACT. This should cover the different sections, how many questions are in each and how long you will have to complete them.

Diagnostic test

Tests like the ACT cover a lot of material, so you will want to prioritize your study around the areas you need the most help with. A good ACT prep book will have a diagnostic test for each section, allowing you to get a feel for your own skills and knowledge going into it so you can spend more time reviewing the parts that you struggle with. 

Test-taking strategies 

Make sure the book you purchase has test-taking strategies to implement on test day. This can include how to pace yourself for each test, how to review the directions for each test, how to know which questions to answer first and how to know when and how to guess. 

Test section reviews

The best ACT prep books should include a conceptual review of each subject on the test. A comprehensive subject review for each section should allow you to rely primarily on the book itself, rather than having to find outside sources for studying. 

Sample questions and explanations

As you review the material for each section, you want a book that shows you what sorts of questions you may be asked about that material. Sample questions can get you into the right frame of thinking as you study. Be sure that there are also detailed explanations of the answers so you can see not only what you got wrong, but why you got it wrong and how to improve. 

Practice tests and answers

Practice makes perfect, and taking practice tests can be the most straightforward and effective way to prepare yourself for the ACT. Choose a book with at least three practice tests, so that you can evaluate your progress (and your score) at the beginning, middle and end of your prep time. 

Supplemental study aids

Many ACT prep books will also offer additional study tools, such as online practice exams, online video tutorials and/or a disc with practice questions and explanations. 

How much you can expect to spend on an ACT prep book

Books for ACT prep typically range from $10-$35. Lower-cost books will contain only a couple of practice tests/questions and will have little to no supplemental materials, while higher-cost books will have up to six practice tests, up to 2,000 practice questions and a variety of supplemental materials. 

ACT prep book FAQ

When should I start studying with an ACT prep book?

A. The amount of time you need will depend on your study needs and habits. A good rule of thumb is three months of ACT prep, so you have enough time to go over and familiarize yourself with all the material. 

Can an ACT prep book replace an in-person prep class?

A. For some people, an in-person class with hands-on instruction is necessary to really get ready for the ACT. But for those who work well independently, going through a book on your own, adding some video tutorials and/or having someone grade your test can be a sufficient way to prepare for test day. 

How important is my ACT score to college applications?

A. In some cases, it will depend on the school. Generally, though, colleges use ACT scores to determine not only admission but scholarships and financial aid, as well. Even though standardized test scores are important, colleges also look for GPA, extracurricular involvement, admissions essays and interpersonal skills to find stand-out students. 

What’s the best ACT prep book to buy?

Top ACT prep book

Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of Practice Problems

Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of Practice Problems

What you need to know: This book contains a very thorough treatment of ACT information in every subject. 

What you’ll love: It provides extensive information, practice questions with detailed answer explanations and access to even more resources online. 

What you should consider: Written in 2015, this book does not get updated yearly. It may be too general in some cases. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon  

Top ACT prep book for the money

Barron's ACT, 3rd Edition

Barron’s ACT, 3rd Edition

What you need to know: This is a great general overview for ACT prep at a low price. 

What you’ll love: It provides advice for developing a study plan and dealing with test anxiety and has over 2,000 practice questions between the book and online access. 

What you should consider: It’s lacking in organization, and some questions seem out of date. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Kaplan ACT Test Prep 2021

Kaplan ACT Test Prep 2021

What you need to know: This book is a good mix of guidance for both first-time test-takers and those working to improve their scores. 

What you’ll love: There are high-quality practice tests, additional practice questions and a money-back guarantee if your score doesn’t improve. 

What you should consider: Some of the practice questions are too easy compared to questions on the actual exam. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 


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Collette Bliss writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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