Along with Kaplan, Princeton Review is generally one of the most popular go-tos for test prep materials. But this doesn’t mean it’s the best. Princeton Review’s 2015 edition of Cracking the ACT is definitely better than a lot of what is out there, but it has some serious flaws.
Generally speaking, Cracking the ACT does a good job of simplifying the basics of the ACT and providing students with some good advice on essential strategy. But the flipside of this is that it often oversimplifies the complexity of the test, and many students will find themselves begging for a higher level of help.
As far as style goes, the layout of the book is very clean and easy to follow. The writers try very hard to be amusing, and sometimes they are, but often it seems as if they are trying a little too hard (If I saw the phrase “Here’s how to crack it” one more time, my brain was going to crack). And there are acronyms galore to keep track of: PPD, POE, LOTD, PITA. The worst of all is POOD, which I am assuming is pronounced exactly like it sounds.
This deluge of acronyms is a symptom of a larger issue with PR materials. It seems that the Princeton Review’s focus is more on branding than being helpful to students. It renames sentence fragments “incomplete ideas,” estimating is called “ballparking,” and so on. There are likely some good intentions behind this as well–including a desire to make concepts clearer and more entertaining for students–but the side effect is that students can become lost in this rebranding of concepts, particularly if they are prepping just with the book and not the full PR course.
As far as the strategy sections of the book go, the English grammar review is ok, but on the light side in terms of rigor, and it could be organized better. The Math review is fairly comprehensive and at an appropriate level for the ACT. The Reading strategy section is quite good, actually. It provides concrete strategies for both strong and weak readers that go well beyond vague general advice such as “underline” and “read carefully.” The Science strategy chapter has a nice section on scientific reasoning, but in general does not do an adequate job of helping students cope with the complexity of the Science test. The book’s advice on the essay is fine, although it does not note that the ACT essay will be changing this fall.
How good the practice tests are in this book depend on their section. The English tests are not bad, but a little on the easy side, and the rhetorical questions are sometimes too ambiguous. The Math tests are just a little bit too easy and include a few question types that do not appear on the ACT, so be warned! However, they do a good job of including a variety of interesting word problems and geometry set-ups, which is good practice for the official test. The Reading practice sections are absolutely ATROCIOUS. Do not waste your time with them: some questions are far too easy, and the answer is rarely unambiguously clear on the “difficult” problems. In short, the Reading practice tests are just really bad. The Science practice sets are not terrible, particularly given the fact that ACT Science passages are very difficult to recreate. The book does a decent job of modeling the complexity of the ACT Science passages, but as is true with the other sections, the questions are often a bit too easy.
Be warned as well that the promise of eight full-length practice tests on the book’s cover really means that there are four practice tests in the book and four hosted online.
Practice Tests: C-
Style Points: B