10 Best ACT Exam Prep Books (2020)
When it comes to studying for any standardized test, there’s a plethora of prep books out there, and the ACT is no exception. However, not all of these guides will be worth the purchase and time to study them.
Instead of leaving you to stress about making the right choice, we’ve found the best ACT prep book choices. We’ve looked over options to see how they handle practice questions and tests, the strategies they give, how readable they are, and more, so you can get an excellent idea of how they stack up against the competition.
While we’ve ranked these ACT prep books by how well we think they perform, you may find that another recommendation fits your needs better. That’s why we’ve included as much information as we can to help you make an informed decision that best fits your study habits.
With that said, let’s dive into the reviews!
The Best Books to Prepare for the ACT Exam
Table of Contents
- ACT Prep Book Reviews
- 1. Barron’s ACT Premium Study Guide
- 2. ACT Prep Black Book, Second Edition
- 3. The Official ACT Prep Guide 2020-2021
- 4. Ivy Global ACT Guide
- 5. Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020
- 6. 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems
- 7. Up Your Score: ACT, 2018-2019 Edition: The Underground Guide to Outsmarting the Test
- 8. Princeton Review’s Premium ACT Prep
- 9. ACT Prep by Magoosh
- 10. McGraw-Hill Education ACT 2020
- ACT Exam Q&A
ACT Prep Book Reviews
1. Barron’s ACT Premium Study Guide
Barron’s ACT Premium Study Guide with 6 Practice Tests provides online practice, customizable study plans, and expert advice from experienced teachers who know the test.
Number of pages: 864
Since the ACT is a timed test, having the right strategy is just as essential as understanding the concepts necessary to pass. Barron’s ACT Premium Study Guide combines these two elements to create a comprehensive guide that has a lot going for it. The opening sections aim to help you understand the ACT, with an introduction, study plan suggestions, and a diagnostic test to judge your starting skill level.
There are comprehensive breakdowns of each ACT section, which allows you to focus on the areas you need the most time to review. Each of these sections has a detailed overview of what you can expect and guides you through the standard question types for each. It also covers test-taking tactics to improve your strategy and your knowledge of the subject. The book contains four total practice tests, with an additional two available online.
While it contains plenty of reliable information, this prep book’s practice questions are more complicated than those on the official test, which can give you a skewed perception of your skill level. For some students, it will be more efficient to use a different guide.
- Provides a diagnostic test and six practice tests
- Gives detailed overviews of each test section
- Teaches essential test-taking tactics and question types
- The difficulty of practice items is more challenging than those on the actual ACT
2. ACT Prep Black Book, Second Edition
An in-depth guide to help students make the most of the Official ACT Prep Guide while providing a new way to think about the ACT.
Publisher: ACT Prep Books
Number of pages: 580
The ACT Prep Black Book is, in some ways, a supplement to other guides, but it has a wealth of information inside that makes it worthwhile. Easily some of the best information comes in the introductions, including a fresh way to think about the ACT. Overall, this can be helpful, as it serves as a strong motivator for helping students feel like they can succeed.
Of course, no prep guide worth its salt would stop just there. The ACT Prep Black Book also gives a variety of potential strategies to help come test day, providing various options so that you can find the best approaches that work for you. It also offers in-depth explanations of all the questions in the 2018 version of the Official ACT Prep Guide, which supplements that book’s biggest weakness.
If you don’t plan to buy more than one book, you’ll limit the usefulness you can get out of this prep guide. Additionally, this book is most suitable for motivated self-learners, as it can be difficult at times to use effectively.
- Gives a variety of potential strategies to use on the ACT
- Offers an in-depth explanation of answers from the 2018 Official ACT Prep Guide
- Provides a possible new outlook on the ACT
- Requires the 2018 Official ACT Prep Guide to be wholly effective
3. The Official ACT Prep Guide 2020-2021
The only guide from the ACT organization, the exam makers, with five genuine, full-length practice tests in print and online.
Number of pages: 976
If you want to have a practice text experience that’s as close to the real thing as possible, then The Official ACT Prep Guide 2020-2021 is easily one of the best resources.
As the name suggests, it comes from the makers of ACT, so you can know that questions you’re covering are comparable in quality to those you’ll see when you step into the test room. After all, they’re from previous versions of the official test.
This prep guide includes five full-length official practice tests, which gives you potentially 20 hours of material to use. You can also combine these resources with the online practice questions for even more options for learning. The tests in the book do contain answer explanations as well, allowing you to self-score and review as you practice.
However, while this book does include explanations for why answers are correct, it lacks a bit in elaborating on why incorrect answers are so. You can still get a lot of mileage from these tests, but you’ll be missing out on a deeper understanding of some concepts.
As an aside: while we recommend the 2020 version of this book since it’s the most up to date, you’ll want to look into the 2018 edition if you plan to use the ACT Prep Black Book.
- Five full-length official practice tests
- Has 400 additional practice questions available online
- Includes explanations for practice test questions
- Question explanations are somewhat limited for self-instruction
4. Ivy Global ACT Guide
A straight-to-the-point guide gives an overview of the essential topics and provides thorough practice test answer explanations online.
Publisher: Ivy Global
Number of pages: 800
Ivy Global is a bit more well-known for SAT prep, but their ACT guide is also overall reliable in helping you get ready for test day. A lot of test prep books focus on an energetic writing style to help with engagement, but if you find that kind of thing more distracting than useful, this book will be a good fit. The language is clear and lets you learn what you need as you read.
The introduction includes core test information and strategies to get you started, and subject sections provide a pretty good review of the information you’ll need to have a grasp on when you test. There are numerous example questions throughout, and you’ll find three full-length practice tests as well.
While you can check your answers in the book, the full answer explanations are only available online.
Since the only way to dive into understanding the questions is online, you can’t just use the book solo. However, since the online materials are part of what you receive when you purchase the book, it balances out.
- Comes with three practice tests
- Language is clear and to the point
- Offers full answer explanations via online resources
- Having answer explanations only online can limit access
5. Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020
Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020 has the detailed subject review, practice tests, and expert strategies you need to prepare for test day.
Publisher: Kaplan Publishing
Number of pages: 876
While Kaplan’s ACT Prep Plus 2020 does come as a physical book, most of its benefits are in the available online resources. Whether you’re preparing to take the test online, or you study best on a screen, this prep guide quickly has some of the best choices.
Online you’ll find video tutorials, quizzes, and practice questions to help you master skill sets. For those who don’t do as well studying while reading through a book, having the alternative can be essential.
Inside the book, you’ll also find a wealth of information to help prepare you for different question types you’ll find. Kaplan’s online resources also help guide you through the most commonly used topics and skills, letting you efficiently use your study time. The book includes one full-length test in the book, with five more available online.
Unfortunately, the practice test questions are easier than official ones, which can skew your perception of your skill level. Even so, the strategy resources are still relevant to the test and can gain a lot of mileage.
- Has an extensive number of online resources
- Helps you prepare for the most common types of questions on the exam
- Gives access to six total practice tests
- Questions are somewhat easier than those on the actual ACT
6. 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems
As one of the longest prep resources out there, the 5 lb. Book of ACT Problems puts its size to good use with several practice tests and thorough answer explanations.
Publisher: Manhattan Prep Publishing
Number of pages: 1164
For a book that has no shortage of practice tests and question explanations, the 5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems has over one-thousand pages to utilize. The introduction sections include a practice test to give you a starting point from your skills. This inclusion gives you an idea of your starting level, allowing you to track your progress as you go through the practice tests.
While many ACT prep books give you practice tests in a combination of physical and digital formats, every question and explanation that Manhattan Prep gives you is in the book. That only accounts for part of the size in its namesake, as you’ll find wholly detailed descriptions of all the answers as well, giving you an improved understanding of why the answers are what they are.
The thoroughness of this book is what helps it stand out, but its age means that it could stand to use an update. For a more accurate idea of what the real ACT will look like, we’d recommend also taking a few official practice tests as part of your prep.
- All practice tests are in the physical edition
- Comprehensive explanations of all questions and answers
- Has a diagnostic test
- As an older book, it’s not the most up to date
7. Up Your Score: ACT, 2018-2019 Edition: The Underground Guide to Outsmarting the Test
A fun and engaging approach to help alleviate student worry about the ACT while giving them an overview of what to expect on test day.
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Number of pages: 368
Up Your Score’s guidebook has one of the more fun-oriented approaches out there, with plenty of humor to help keep students engaged as they work their way through the sections. While this approach may not work for more serious students, it’s an excellent resource to help alleviate test-time worries and stress.
Aside from the usual review of the format and concepts of the exam, this book has many stories from test takers to give the insider’s perspective on how it feels to sit down and take the ACT. This approach helps make the material more relatable, which also helps with the engagement factor. Up Your Score overall presents its topics simply and understandably.
While this book is helpful, it can serve better as a stepping stone into studying, especially for more serious students. The most recent version of this book is also a few years out of date, further enhancing the need for another prep book. Thankfully, the lower cost means you won’t break the bank to use it.
- Uses fun and engaging language to help with studying
- Gives lots of tips to help calm your nerves
- Breaks down the format and concepts of the exam
- Hasn’t had a recent update
8. Princeton Review’s Premium ACT Prep
Filled with tips and strategies, along with plenty of math and science prep, Princeton Review’s Premium ACT Prep has numerous practice options to utilize.
Publisher: Princeton Review
Number of pages: 848
Princeton Review’s Premium ACT Prep serves as a good starting point for getting into your ACT preparation journey. Aside from its review of materials, this guide also goes over critical strategies for handling the test, such as the process of elimination and time savers. Each subject on the ACT gets its section in the book for review, populated by examples, key concepts, and practice questions.
In particular, the math and science sections give a lot to work with, helping you identify core concepts that are likely to be on the exam. The version that we recommend has four full-length practice tests in the book itself, with an additional four provided online. Princeton also offers various other online resources for more accessible learning on the go when you don’t want to carry a large book with you.
While there are plenty of practice materials to work with, sometimes the content can lean on the easier side than the actual exam, inflating your ACT score estimate. Additionally, the math and science areas receive more attention than the English based ones, so you’ll want to pick out a different book if that’s your weakest subject.
- Gives access to eight total practice tests
- Reviews helpful time-saving strategies
- Each section has focused practice questions
- The math and science sections receive more attention
9. ACT Prep by Magoosh
An engaging and more relaxed approach to take the stress out of prepping for the ACT.
Publisher: Writers of the Round Table Press
Number of pages: 562
Preparing for a standardized test isn’t always the most exciting thing in the world. While a lot of ACT books have an excellent trove of information in them, the language isn’t the most engaging—especially for students who have a tricky time when it comes to studying. ACT Prep by Magoosh has a lot going for it, then, as the language is more engaging, making it feel like you have a tutor working through the material with you.
As you’d expect from an ACT prep guide, there are reviews of the major sections and their topics, along with many practice questions. You’ll also find test strategies and a recommended study schedule and other helpful information for applying to college. After working your way through the sections, you can use the full-length practice test to gauge your skill.
While the Magoosh guide does come with a coupon for their online ACT study services, only having one practice test is somewhat limiting. Also notable is that this version’s math section has some errors in the trigonometry section, which is unfortunate.
- Language is more on the fun side
- Has both test and college prep info
- Includes a full-length practice test and 300+ practice questions
- Has only one practice test
10. McGraw-Hill Education ACT 2020
McGraw-Hill provides ACT coverage with numerous practice tests, coverage of all subjects, and some worthwhile strategies for test day.
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
Number of pages: 688
McGraw-Hill is a well-known name for education, so it’s not all that surprising that they’ve produced an ACT prep guide. The 2020 edition provides some updates and improvements from previous books. Inside you’ll find an overview of each of the different subjects, along with some strategies on how to approach the test.
In particular, Mc-Graw Hill shines when it comes to approaching multiple-choice questions and tips on how to handle pacing your way through the exam to make the most of your time. You can find several practice tests within the book, and more are available online. Additional digital resources include extra test information and recommendations.
While this book does discuss every subject on the ACT, some areas get more page time than others, and the quality also varies. There are multiple strategies, but these too can be hit or miss.
- Provides practice materials for all subjects
- Useful strategies for pacing and multiple-choice questions
- Includes access to 8 full-length practice tests
- Inconsistent subject coverage
ACT Exam Q&A
How Helpful are ACT Study Guides?
As you’ve likely noticed by looking over our reviews, the quality of ACT prep books can vary significantly among the top candidates. That quality is going to play a role in how helpful a book is overall, but it’s still not entirely accurate to say that’s the only thing that makes a prep guide useful.
Everyone has learning approaches that work best for them. For students that do well with self-study reading/writing approaches, ACT prep books can be an incredibly useful tool that allows them to assess their progress and review essential concepts. For others, they may prefer online video resources or having a tutor to work with to keep them focused.
Even if sitting down with a book isn’t the most engaging method for you, there’s still value in reading over strategies for the exam and working your way through practice questions to get an idea of how the test feels beforehand. Thankfully, there are plenty of prep books aimed towards just that that you can use.
What Should I Look for in an ACT Prep Book?
While we have our recommendation for the best ACT Prep Book, everyone’s learning approaches are different. If you’re having a tough time narrowing down which option would be the best for you, then here are some of the criteria we considered when picking our choices:
Language – The writing style in a prep book can make or break how it works for you. Some take on a more cut and dry approach, while others focus on being engaging and sometimes humorous.
Strategies and Subject Coverage – With the tight time limit on the ACT, knowing how to take the test is just as essential as knowing the information that’s on the test. Reliable guides will give you a strong overview of what to expect, section by section, as well as provide a variety of strategies to provide you with options.
Practice Tests – Taking a practice test (or several) can help give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. The quality of the included practice tests is essential, especially in how accurately they are to what you’ll find on test day. Some books will also give access to some tests in the book and others online.
Answer Explanations – Even if a practice test gives you a feel for the ACT, it won’t do as much good if you can’t learn from it. With that in mind, your prep book should include explanations on not only why an answer is correct, but also why the wrong answers are incorrect.
Online Resources – Aside from just practice tests, some prep guides also provide access to the publisher’s online resources. These can often help reach different learning types, plus they give you an option for studying on the go that doesn’t involve lugging around a several-hundred-page book.
Should I Get More Than One Prep Guide?
This decision is entirely up to you. Finding other prep guides can give you a more comprehensive picture of the ACT, plus it can let you take more practice tests. Like the ACT Black Book, some books are only helpful when paired with the corresponding Official ACT Guide. How much time you have for studying can impact your decision as well.
While we’ve focused on all-around prep guides for this list, there’s a chance you may do well in some subjects while having a harder time in others. Rather than buying a whole new book for extra practice, you can pick up a specific guide to an ACT subject to make more efficient use of your time and money.
We’ve covered some of the best ACT prep guides here, but Barron’s ACT Premium Study Guide wins our recommendation for the number one slot. The difficulty of questions may be higher than the actual ACT, but if you don’t mind overpreparing some, the rest of the resources are some of the best, especially if you can only pick up one book. The free Official ACT online practice tests can serve well as supplemental material.
Of course, there’s no rule saying you can’t use more than one prep book. Use these in-depth reviews to determine which ones will serve you well, and rest easy knowing that you have an ACT guide that will be worth studying.