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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Book Review: The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition

The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition Note: The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition is no longer the newest official guide from the makers of the ACT. If you’re looking for information on the newest ACT book from the test-makers, check out our review of The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016-2017.

I know that it initially may seem odd that I would critique the old official ACT prep guide from the makers of the ACT (aka “The Red Book”). After all, how could it not be the best prep guide? Well, aside from being slightly outdated (the ACT has changed a bit over the last few years), it is the 2nd best. But if you are serious about preparing for the ACT, it’s important for you to know that The Real ACT Prep Guide falls short in some key areas.

Still, if you already have The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016-2017 and are looking for more official practice, it remains a great buy. This is the only other recent book out there that is going to give you the real deal: five official ACT tests from past administrations. You aren’t going to get this from a non-ACT source. This means you also get real scaled scores that you can rely on to help predict your performance on the ACT.

However, that being said, these tests in the 3rd edition are older tests. Many current test takers have reported that they thought their ACT was different (and harder) than the tests in the Red Book. The ACT has changed in some subtle, but significant, ways over the past few years. For example, tests in the past year have included comparison passages on the Reading test, but you won’t find samples of them in the Red Book (you can find an official one here, though!).

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Some students have also reported that the test they saw was harder than the tests they took in the Red Book. Granted, the pressures of the real exam are probably playing a role in perceived difficulty here. But from the more recent tests I have seen, I have to agree with them. English questions seem to be getting a little more nuanced; Science passages a little more complex. (The newest edition of this book, The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016-2017, solves some of these issues by including practice tests with the new ACT format, new Writing section, and some new practice questions.) Despite these reservations, the tests in The Red Book are still some of the best practice tests out there (and if you don’t have the time or energy to do all of them, I suggest you focus on Tests 4 and 5, which are the more recent ones).

The answer explanations for the practice tests will often make you go, “Huh?” Sometimes they are incomplete; sometimes they do little more than rephrase the correct answer choice, sometimes they include far more technical scientific or mathematical explanations than you really need to answer the question. But a strength is their consistent thoroughness in addressing every answer choice: you will always see both an explanation of the correct answer choice and an explanation of why each additional answer choice was incorrect.

As far as strategy goes, I think the ACT does a better job than the College Board in not trying to pretend that this is a straightforward academic test. It actually does include some decent strategy advice, but it stops short of allowing that you can solve problems with anything other than a straightforward academic approach. You won’t see the ACT suggesting you plug in answer choices into the question to solve a math problem, for example. However, I do really like the book’s friendly tone. And the helpful folks at the ACT even give you some advice on holistic test prep (watch your diet and get some exercise!).

The bottom line is that The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition can be an important component of your test prep plan if you’re looking for additional, official strategies and practice—but you are going to want to supplement it with resources that will teach you the test-specific strategies and techniques that have proven to work on the test—because the ACT wouldn’t dare share those with you!

Report Card

Strategy C

Practice Tests A- (tests are in need of an update!)

Style Points B


About Kristin Fracchia

Dr. Kristin Fracchia makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

6 Responses to “ACT Book Review: The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition”

  1. Daksh Saksena says:

    Can you please do a review of the McGraw Hill ACT (2015) book along with the review of its online practice tests? Thanks

    • Kristin Fracchia Kristin Fracchia says:

      Hi Daksh! Thanks! I am actually planning on doing McGraw Hill next (although on the 2016 book which recently came out).

  2. Jill H says:

    Hi!  Looking to study for ACT over the summer.  Any word on the 4th Edition of the Red book?  Are there any other books you would count as your #1 pick if the update isn’t available?  Thanks!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      The 4th edition is out, under the title Official ACT Prep Guide, as reviewed here on our blog by Kristin.

      It’s a mixed bag, but is a definite improvement over the Red Book. I would certainly recommend it as a resource for ACT study this summer. Just be aware of some of its shortcomings as you use it. (And again, see Kristin’s review for a lit of both the shortcomings and the very useful improvements that you can benefit from!)

  3. Prerna says:

    Hey! There’s also a ‘The official act prep guide 2018 edition (amazon)
    So what should I buy? This one or the 2016-17 edition?

    • David Recine David Recine says:

      If you have to choose between one or the other, I’d probably recommend the 2018 edition. Although I haven’t personally seen that edition yet, the ACT always makes some improvements with each new edition. But if you’re considering instead buying an edition that’s been read and reviewed by the Magoosh staff, you can use our review of the 2016-2017 ACT OG to help you make your decision.

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