The 11 Best ACT Prep Books [Proven Effective for 2020]

by: Kristine Kristine Thorndyke | Last Updated November 26, 2019

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Planning on taking the ACT? Join the club. Every year almost 2 million students take the ACT, leaving us with a lot of data on the best ACT prep books available on the market for effective studying. This post will look at some of the best books as well as some of the top options per section including English, Science, Math, Reading, as well as the optional essay.

Choosing the best book for your ACT prep isn’t easy, but these options have all been used and recommended by thousands of high-scorers. So what are we waiting for? Have a look at the best ACT prep books and get to studying!

In a hurry? Here’s our top 3 picks:

Preview
Best for Strategy
ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT...
Best Overall
The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020, (Book + 5...
Best Budget
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems (Manhattan...
Model
ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT...
The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020, (Book + 5...
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems (Manhattan...
Prime?
Price
$27.53
$20.99
$17.96
Best for Strategy
Preview
ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT...
Model
ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT...
Prime?
Price
$27.53
Purchase
Best Overall
Preview
The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020, (Book + 5...
Model
The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020, (Book + 5...
Prime?
Price
$20.99
Purchase
Best Budget
Preview
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems (Manhattan...
Model
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems (Manhattan...
Prime?
Price
$17.96
Purchase

Looking for even more prep? Consider the 8 Best ACT Prep Courses that made our list. 

The 11 Best ACT Prep Books for 2019

1. The Official ACT Prep Guide

Sale
The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020, (Book + 5...
  • ACT (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1008 Pages - 05/07/2019 (Publication Date) - Wiley...

This may not seem like the most original ACT prep book to recommend, given that it is put out each year by ACT, Inc., however, the Official ACT Prep Guide is the cream of the crop when it comes to providing real ACT questions that have been used in previous tests. Unofficial practice questions can be helpful, such as those you can find from Kaplan and Princeton Review, however, to really get to the heart of ACT practice, you must practice with questions you may actually see come test-day.  

This is not a comprehensive study book, as you will not learn the concepts of algebra tested on the Math section or usage and mechanics found on the English section. This book has been created as a practice tool and should be used as such.

Unofficially, this book is referred to as the “Red Book” and is recommended to be used in conjunction with the “Black Book” which we review next in our best ACT prep books list.

 

Top Highlights:

  • 5 full-length practice tests (this adds up to nearly 12 hours of simulated practice)
  • Answers for each question are provided
  • Updated writing prompts and directions
  • New never-before seen full-length practice test (215 questions)
  • 400 additional online practice questions
  • All questions are real and can be found on previous ACT tests

Drawback(s):

The answers to the questions are vague and do not provide you with in-depth understanding as to why a question is correct or incorrect.

Final Verdict:

This is the best ACT prep book for supplementing a comprehensive study course or book set. Its 5 full-length practice tests are best used to practice and hone in on your ability to answer the questions the way the ACT is going to ask them. Don’t use this book as your only ACT study tool and consider purchasing the Black Book to complement the practice.

ACT Prep Black Book 

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ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT...
  • Barrett, Mike (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 579 Pages - 02/15/2018 (Publication Date) - ACT...

The Black Book is marketed to be used in conjunction with the “Red Book,” as it provides tips and tricks on how to “beat” the ACT using real ACT questions found in the “Red Book.” Designed to show you the “flaws” of the ACT, it becomes clear that the ACT Prep Black Book is designed to help you understand the method of questioning and how to solve the problems in a process that can be applied across questions.

As mentioned as a drawback in the “Red Book,” the Black Book makes it in our list of best ACT prep books because it dives deep into the solutions of the questions and how to find them. We love this book because it cuts to the chase and gets us to the solutions we need in an effort to reduce the amount of time spent on each question. This book provides the student with each section’s answer-choice pattern and walks through the process of answering them.

One can also appreciate their efforts to help students reach their highest score by sharing some tips on one of the most difficult concepts of the English section – commas. In addition to walking students through the English answer-choice pattern, the Black Book provides an entire chapter on commas and how the ACT is going to test your understanding of this often missed grammatical point.

For those who may already own the First Edition, please note that there are some updates in the Second Edition, including a fully updated training for the most recent change on the ACT Essay. Similarly, Mike has enhanced multiple strategies in this book to reflect an improved learning experience for students based on feedback from its first edition.

Top Highlights:

  • This book is empowering, as it provides you with a clear guide on how to logically answer questions quickly and confidently
  • More than 600 walkthroughs of real ACT questions in the first 3 practice tests of the latest official ACT publication
  • This book provides various strategies to answer questions, so the student can choose which strategy aligns best with their manner of thinking
  • These are by far the best explanations you are going to find for real ACT questions outside of personal tutoring

Drawback(s):

This book is meant to be used in conjunction with The Red Book, so you must have the third edition of The Red Book in order to be able to use the Black Book.

Final Verdict:

Quite similar to the Red Book, this book is not comprehensive. Even when used with the “Red Book,” you are not going to learn all of the fundamentals tested on each section and makes our list of best ACT prep books when used as a supplement to a fully comprehensive prep book series or course.

Manhattan Prep ACT

Sale
5 lb. Book of ACT Practice Problems (Manhattan...
  • 5 lb Book of ACT Practice Problems
  • Manhattan Prep (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Coming in larger than the average telephone directory, Manhattan Prep is king of the 5-lb practice books. Their bestseller, the 5-lb GRE book has helped thousands and they are prepared to do it again with the ACT. With over 1,800 practice questions, this book makes it among the top of our ACT prep book list because it will help you to hone in on your ability to answer questions on the ACT both quickly and efficiently. Contrary to the “Red Book” reviewed previously, the Manhattan Prep ACT Book also provides thorough explanations to questions that will help you to better comprehend material while also learning how to answer questions found on the test.

Many test prep books will say that they provide 10 full-length practice tests, but only have in print 2 or 3 practice tests, requiring you to print out the rest of the practice tests. The beauty of the Manhattan Prep ACT book is that it gives you all the practice tests you need in this single book.

Top Highlights:

  • All practice tests are found in this book and require no further printing
  • Chapter 2 provides a diagnostic test so that you can identify your strengths and weaknesses moving forward
  • 610 English problems, 500 Math problems, 345 Reading problems and 343 Science problems with answers & explanations
  • Mini-lessons provided with each question

Drawback(s):

The questions used in this book are unofficial, meaning that, in addition to this 5-lb practice book, we suggest working through at least 1 or 2 official ACT practice tests as well.

Final Verdict:

This book is among the best ACT prep books list because it is extremely comprehensive and provides fundamental knowledge for the ACT as well as tons of practice. If you use this book to study, supplement it with a couple official ACT practice tests, as Manhattan’s can be a bit easier than official questions.

Kaplan ACT Prep Plus

Sale
ACT Prep Plus 2020: 5 Practice Tests + Proven...
  • Kaplan Test Prep (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 876 Pages - 07/02/2019 (Publication Date) - Kaplan...

Kaplan is a big player in nearly all test prep scenes, and making its way onto our best ACT prep books list, you can rest assured that this prep material will provide effective strategies and study methods. It’s comprehensive, providing detailed reviews for each section that will be tested on the ACT.

The book includes one official ACT practice test as well as explanations to each practice question. When you purchase this book, you also have access to Kaplan’s online video lessons and additional practice tests and explanations.

Top Highlights:

  • 5 practice tests and explanations (1 in print, 4 online) 
  • Scoring and analysis for 1 official ACT prep test
  • A full-year access to online center with quizzes and videos
  • SmartPoints system – practice on popular topics and questions

Drawback(s):

This prep book only provides one of its five ACT practice tests in print, the others you have to print yourself. Not the end of the world, but I find this to be a headache. The questions also run easier than actual ACT questions that will be tested.

Final Verdict:

This is the best ACT prep book for understanding the sections and brushing up on fundamental concepts that are going to be tested on. That said, the questions are too easy and we recommend practicing with more official ACT practice tests.

Princeton Review Cracking the ACT

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Princeton Review ACT Prep, 2020: 6 Practice Tests...
  • The Princeton Review (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 848 Pages - 12/03/2019 (Publication Date) -...

Unlike the Red and Black Book, the Princeton Review ACT is a truly comprehensive prep book that provides you with full content review of each section, strategies, as well as practice questions. Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT includes the important concepts that you may need to learn and/or brush up on, especially in the English grammar as well as Math sections. 

Although not as thorough in terms of answer explanations as you’d find with The Black Book, Princeton Review’s book makes our list of the best ACT prep books because it will walk you through the line of thinking necessary to answer specific types of questions. Each section provides drills and explanations as well as 6 practice tests that you can use to brush up on your speed and accuracy.

Top Highlights:

  • Optional LiveGrader for essay 
  • 6 full-length practice tests (4 in book, 2 online)
  • Instant scoring for online practice tests
  • Drills and explanations after each comprehensive section

Drawback(s):

The practice tests that are provided are unofficial and are much easier than official ACT questions. 

Final Verdict:

This is the best ACT prep book for reviewing concepts and knowledge necessary for the sections but the practice is too easy. If you use this book, supplement with official practice tests.

Best ACT Prep Book for Math

The Guide to the ACT Math: Skip the Prep

The Guide to ACT Math: Skip the Prep Courses
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Brezinski, Jacob (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

You’re not going to see any big names behind this ACT Math prep book, and that’s okay! Jacob really personalizes this best ACT math prep by providing video explanations of each type of problem you will encounter on the ACT as well as offers a free consultation for those interested in any further tutoring.

This guide is broken up into 6 sections, all including a pre-test so that you can have a better diagnosis of your strengths & weaknesses before diving into the material. Each section provides a large number of practice questions, solutions to the problems, as well as tips on strategy that can be used.

Top Highlights:

  • Personalized prep with a real face behind the book
  • Video explanations for problems for those who need to solidify their understanding of a concept
  • Pre-tests before each section to know what areas you really need to focus on

Drawback(s):

We have found a few typos as well as missing diagrams that are referred to in the material.

Final Verdict:

We added this to our list of the best ACT prep books for those who struggle with math and are looking for a bit more of a personal touch and feeling of organization to their studying, we recommend this prep as a supplement to your comprehensive ACT review.

The Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT

Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT
  • Corn, Richard F (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 268 Pages - 08/10/2018 (Publication Date) -...


This book gets deep into the math ACT and is as close to a textbook for Math as you are going to see in this list. The book is organized with content review and then drills for practice. Anyone who is struggling with their high school math class will find great benefit from this book and be able to either brush up on or re-learn certain math skills necessary to do well on the ACT.

This book features its attention on the simple basics like fractions, decimals, percentages, proportions, basic algebra as well as gets into the more difficult problems that would include matrices, probability, inverse functions, polynomial division, etc. Included are tips for using your calculator (TI-84 series). Check out our advice on choosing among the best SAT calculators

Top Highlights:

  • In-depth textbook that organizes and outlines types of math problems and how to solve
  • A good primer for students who are preparing to graduate to more advanced problems in the near future

Drawback(s):

This book references an older version of The Red Book that you will need to buy to understand some of its questions. This book also does not cover some of the updates to the ACT Math, like slant asymptotes and the equation of an ellipse.

Final Verdict:

This book made our list of the best ACT prep books as it is super affordable and covers the majority of what you need to know for the ACT math very well. If you are struggling with the Math section and enjoy textbook-style organization, this book is going to be a godsend for your ACT preparation!

Best for English 

The Complete Guide to ACT English 

The Complete Guide to ACT English, 3rd Edition
  • Meltzer, Erica L. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 273 Pages - 09/15/2017 (Publication Date) -...

If commas are your nemesis, you may find this book to be extremely helpful with your grammar on the ACT. Meltzer starts at the basic blocks of speech and slowly builds up to more complex grammar concepts as you study on.

This comprehensive approach will be taking you back to grammar you probably haven’t studied since middle school, which is good, because most of us are probably trying to forget those awkward pre-tween years..

Upon each grammar concept introduced, Meltzer provides both correct as well as incorrect examples so that you can see how to fix any possible mistakes. After each lesson, practice drills cover concepts recently learned in similar style to the actual ACT, utilizing short passages to practice on.

What I really like about Meltzer’s organization of this book is that after every few lessons, she combines various concepts into drills so that you can get used to being tested on various grammar points at once. This is taking a very realistic approach to studying for the ACT, as each question on the actual test is not going to be broken up into specific concepts and chapters. Students must learn how to recognize and be tested on concepts without individual instruction.

Top Highlights:

  • Meltzer provides strategies on how to answer questions, enabling students to find answers easily
  • Appendix breaks out grammar points for easy referencing
  • Very thorough writing and breakdown of concepts

Drawback(s):

I’d say the biggest drawback of this book is that the content is really dense. This can be helpful for those needing to get deep into specific grammar points but can prove a bit boring and tedious for those just looking to brush up on a grammar point or two.

Final Verdict:

Erica Meltzer’s book makes our list of the best ACT prep books for those who know they are struggling on English and want to reach the highest score they can, this book is going to be perfect, as you will learn and practice everything that will be tested on this section of the ACT.

Best for Science:

For the Love of Science

For the Love of ACT Science: An innovative...
  • Cerro, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 142 Pages - 10/23/2015 (Publication Date) -...

For the Love of Science, written by teacher and tutor Michael Cerro, is a fantastic prep book for those looking to increase their Science scores. This prep book is comprised of five chapters: 1. The Basics 2. Advanced Question Types 3. Scientific Method 4. Beating the Last Question 5. Attacking Conflicting Viewpoints.

Each chapter is broken down into further sections, with each section followed by a couple drill questions to really nail down the points emphasized in that section. Each chapter is then also followed by a practice test that is going to test you on the main concepts presented. Students will walk away with a firm understanding of the scientific method: hypothesis analysis, experimentation, data collection, numerical and graphic data analysis, and conclusion-drawing.

Top Highlights

  • Plenty of practice problems after each section and chapter to reinforce learned concepts
  • Easy to digest writing style
  • Sample questions are the closest to the real ACT Sciene that we have seen so far

Drawback(s):

As per test prep books that use “unofficial” questions, Cerro’s created imitation questions are meant to be an alternative to the real, ACT questions. However, practicing with real ACT Science questions is going to be the only way to land a 36 on this section.

Final Verdict:

If you are like many and struggle with the ACT Science, this is the best ACT prep book for you, as it is going to give you the confidence you need to ace the Science. Get this book and just be sure to practice real ACT Science questions as well.

Best for Reading:

The Complete Guide to ACT Reading

The Complete Guide to ACT English, 3rd Edition
  • Meltzer, Erica L. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 273 Pages - 09/15/2017 (Publication Date) -...

Written by Erica Meltzer, the same writer for The Complete Guide to ACT English that we previously recommended as the best ACT prep book for the English section. Erica takes a great responsibility on by writing this book, as the ACT Reading section is the most difficult section score to improve for more students. Reading, logical reasoning, and critical thinking are less tangible skills to practice and improve upon, but this book makes a good stab at honing in on types of questions and the skills to go about solving these questions in a systematic manner.

Top Highlights

  • Passages and questions are extremely similar to the real ACT Reading
  • Includes 2 full-length Reading practice tests at the end
  • Suggested reading list provided for additional, supplemental reading study
  • Different strategies provided based on skill level while tackling this section

Drawback(s):

Meltzer is not the most entertaining writer, so the content is quite dry and to the point. This works for some but can be boring for others.

Final Verdict:

This book is aimed at high scorers, meaning those aiming for a 36. For this reason, this prep book is extremely thorough and advanced. Those aiming for a lower score may not find this helpful, as it skips over some of the basic skills needed for the ACT Reading, spending more time focusing on how to hone in on the advanced questions.

Best for the Essay:

The College Panda’s ACT Essay

The College Panda's ACT Essay: The Battle-tested...
  • Phu, Nielson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 58 Pages - 04/06/2016 (Publication Date) - The...

If you decide to take the ACT with writing, the best ACT prep book to prepare for this optional portion of the test is the College Panda’s ACT Essay. As you may have realized, the ACT Essay section score does not necessarily reflect on your writing skills but rather if you are able to fit the formulaic writing approach expected by graders. Essay templates are provided for students to learn how to game the Writing section and achieve the highest score.

Top Highlights

  • Quick read and full of practical ways to improve your ACT Essay score
  • Proven template provided that allows students to essentially “plug in” details based on the prompt

Drawback(s):

This book sets up students to memorize a specific way to write an essay. This can take the creativity and appeal out of writing for some.

Final Verdict:

If you plan on taking the ACT Essay, you should take a gamble on this book. If you do enjoy the memorization of a template to game the essay, then you will be better off doing so!

We hope you found our list of the best ACT prep books helpful! Have any books that didn’t make it on our list that you think are worth mentioning? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts!

Kristine

Kristine Thorndyke

Kristine Thorndyke is the founder of Test Prep Nerds and a seasoned educator.  She has spent years writing test prep advice and tips for students and has been featured on Business Insider, CEO Blog Nation, and Insider.