Best ACT Prep Materials:
Updated for 2017-2018

What are the best ACT prep materials? There are a number of good ACT prep books out there, but there are differences among the assortment of test prep books, so spend wisely!

The most important study material for any standardized test are copyrighted versions of the actual test. If you use these tests, you are practicing on ones very similar to the ones you will take. Unfortunately, there are limited number of these "official" tests, so students will also need to supplement with other resources as well.

"Must Haves"

If you plan to take the ACT, The Official ACT Prep Guide is the best. Why? Because it is the only ACT book that contains "copyrighted" ACT practice tests, ones actually used in previous years by the makers of the ACT test. Anyone, who knows anything about the ACT test, uses this book. If a tutor or company uses other materials, proceed with caution.

Note: This book has initially received low reviews on Amazon. Why? Because many tutors (not students) are bummed that the ACT did not release more "new" tests but the materials in the book are still the best out there. 

What I really like about Brian Leaf's Top 50 Math Skills for the ACT (2nd edition) is the design. Students can complete each skill review relatively quickly and discover the differences between applying that skill to easy, medium and hard problems. This is definitely one of the best ACT prep books for students who need a general math review before the test.

Important Tip: Most students benefit from a generalized math review. Often the ACT exam is taken in the spring of the junior year. By that time in their schooling, many students have advanced to Algebra II/Trig or Pre-Calculus, subjects that are not covered in depth on the ACT exam. For many students, a really good refresher in pre-algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry can do wonders for the ACT math score results.

Best ACT Prep - Advanced

Princeton Review's ACT Elite 36 is a newcomer to the "Perfect Score" genre. What makes it one of the best ACT prep books is the tips are accessible to not just high-scorers, and the strategies are very good. Although it's tempting to select this book (the title is so appealing!), most students will want to start preparing with the books mentioned above and work up to this book. 

For anyone who wants a TON of ACT practice problems, Manhattan Prep's 5lb Book of ACT Practice Problems is a monster, with over 1100 pages of test prep material. With this book, die-hard students can really target weaker subject areas. This book, however, might be overkill for some students. I wanted, however, to include at least one option for those "crazy" students who love the super-intensive preparation. 

Avoid Distractions

So many students could benefit from an inexpensive timer, a necessary test prep tool. In my office, I always have at least three timers on my desk. So many students use cell phones as timers, but the cell phone can be a big distraction when studying for the test. 

While I prefer to always use "copyrighted" ACT practice tests, the Princeton Review's Cracking the ACT with 6 Practice Tests is one of the best ACT prep books, with the advantage of lots of practice tests and strategies and concept review to help raise the score. 

Important Tip: If a student uses a cell phone as a timer, then a student can easily be distracted by phone calls, text messages, get the picture! And keep the timer in the backpack, so it is easily accessible. Although students cannot bring a timer to the test (only a watch), using one regularly really helps with practicing the pacing of the exam.

More ACT Practice Tests

If you already have taken the three practice tests in the The Official Guide to the ACT  (listed above) and you need more tests, I recommend purchasing the previous "official" study guide The Real Guide to the ACT (if you can find a "Good" or "Very  Good" edition), which offers five more additional practice tests with answer explanations. 

Note: All of these tests are very similar to the current ACT. The one exception: the essay prompt at the end of each test has changed substantially (do not write on the prompts in this edition).

Everything Except Math

What I really like is the way Top 50 Skills for English, Reading, and Science helps students to learn the differences between applying that skill to easy, medium and hard problems. Brian Leaf also gives great answer explanations to each of the questions. This is definitely one of the best ACT prep books and my students give it good reviews too (which is rare for a test prep book!).

Note: If you are looking for specific test preparation by section (i.e. ACT Reading only or ACT Math), please read more book recommendations by section topic. Often students who want to score 30+ will need to get more in-depth prep in their weakest section.

Raising the ACT Essay Score

For the essay, I really like the College Panda's ACT Essay: The Battle-tested Guide because the person who gives the advice has experience testing for the New ACT Essay prompt (most guides rely on outdated material for this section). Not every college requires the ACT Essay, but many do, so I always recommend sitting for this section. 

Upcoming ACT Test Dates

If you need the ACT test dates for 2017-2018, please click here. Test dates typically correspond to the school year, rather than calendar year, but every year, the test are offered six times: February, April, June September, October, and December. Most colleges will take test scores from any test taken before December of the senior year (and some schools may also take the December ACT test too). 

Test Prep Updates: Stay Current

Several times each week, I post articles and test taking tips about the SAT and ACT tests as well as college admissions. These blog entries are a great way to keep current with what is happening in high school test prep and college admissions. So please bookmark this page (or subscribe to my RSS feed) and let your friends and family know about!