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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020 | Book Review

If you’re looking for an ACT prep guide, chances are that you’re considering using The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020. After all, it comes directly from the test-makers, it’s recently been updated, and you can even get it as an eBook. What’s not to love?

official act prep guide 2019-2020 review - magoosh

Well, hold on a minute! While The Official ACT Prep Guide is definitely a volume worth using, it’s not perfect. (It is, however, definitely a big step up from its predecessor, The Real ACT Prep Guide.) Before you get too far into your ACT studies, you should be aware that the book is great—but it alone is not sufficient to preparing you for test day. I know, I know. It seems like a book that comes right from the test-maker should have everything you need…and this book almost does.

Let’s take a look at its strengths, first.

Pros of The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020

Even though you’d think that a prep book directly from the creator of the test would mirror it perfectly, this hasn’t historically been the case with the ACT’s prep guides. However, The Official ACT Prep Guide has been updated. Its test questions are now reflective of what you’ll see on test day, both in terms of difficulty and in terms of content tested.

Another great thing about this book is that there are really strong explanations for the five (yes, five…more on this in a moment!) practice tests. Not only does each question have a corresponding explanation of what the best answer is and why, but it also discusses why each of the other answers is not the best answer, and it does so in more than a perfunctory way! The test-makers are finally catching on that learning why the wrong answers are wrong is just as important as learning why the right answers are right!

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One last note on the practice tests: the book provides a great guide for using the first test you take (the “diagnostic”) and identifying your strengths and areas for improvement in all subject areas. I love this way of thinking about the ACT, because when you start studying for the test, your scores are almost unimportant; the more important thing is where to focus your studying.

As for the other information in the book—of which there is a lot—the book is incredibly thorough in terms of how it describes the test. For example, it lists the math topics you should know for the exam in great detail, such as “Write powers of 10 using exponents.”

Cons of The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020

On that note, though, the book does not cover or review this material in a thorough manner! There are guides to improving your scores in each section, but just keep in mind that this book is really more about the format of the test itself and an introduction to the test. For content review, you should look elsewhere so that you can be both more methodical and more thorough.

Secondly, if you have both books or came across our post about The Real ACT Prep Guide, you may have noticed that there’s some overlap between what I’m saying about The Official ACT Prep Guide and what Kristin has to say about The Real ACT Prep Guide. That’s because this is an updated version of that book. In fact, Kristin notes that the 4th edition of The Official ACT Prep Guide (they’ve since switched to years rather than editions) is just about the same book as an earlier version of The Real ACT Prep Guide.

As Kristin notes about the 4th edition, “even though this is a refreshed guide for 2016-2017, the tests are a hodgepodge of old and new material, including material you could access in old ACT prep materials or on the ACT website.” The test-maker has been better in this version about website materials, but there are definitely still problems from previous versions of the book in here.

While the book is definitely thorough, it does not review material on the test in great detail. In fact, the writers at times seem to go to great lengths to avoid doing so. This makes some of the tips frustratingly vague: “Remain calm,” for example, or “Use logic.” These read as filler in what is already a long book!

Finally, while we love a good eBook, this one (probably to avoid copyright infringement issues) presents its tests as images rather than text, which makes them pretty difficult to read. I’m even using Kindle for Mac and have been looking at the tests in full-screen, and they’re still hard to read! Since this is a paper and pencil test anyway, this is one book that is definitely better in person (just, you know, re-gift or recycle after you get that perfect score).

What’s New in the Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020

We were really excited to see that this year, ACT’s bumped up its practice test game from three tests in the 2018 edition to FIVE tests in this book! (To be fair, previous editions of the Official Guide also had five practice tests…and we did not like it when two of them disappeared!) So that’s great news for students looking for more practice. Is it worth purchasing the book just for those two tests? That’s up to you. The book’s list price is a whopping $34.95, with the Kindle edition $18.39 (as of this writing), so keep that in mind!

If you’re looking for more instruction, new instruction, or any new content at all, really, look elsewhere: the 2019-2020 Official Guide isn’t for you.

How to Use the Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020

So is this a book to avoid? No, it’s a good prep book! Is it a book to use in combination with other materials? Absolutely, 100% yes. Here’s what The Official ACT Prep Guide is great for:

  • an introduction to the test
  • a diagnostic test
  • setting up your study plan in terms of your strengths and weaknesses
  • four other tests

And it really is great for all those things! However, if you’re looking for:

  • in-depth lessons
  • all the practice tests you’ll need before test day (particularly if you have more than a month to prep)
  • entirely new material from previous editions of the book

…you will want to supplement your prep with other great ACT materials. And of course, Magoosh ACT is a great way to round out your prep as well! Before you subscribe, you can start out with a free trial. Or better yet, you can start out with Magoosh’s free full ACT practice test, featuring questions and answer explanations from Magoosh ACT.

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!

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