Book Review: Barron’s ACT 36: Aiming for the Perfect Score, 2nd Edition

Generally speaking, Barron’s ACT 36 is one of the best third-party ACT prep books out there (but not necessarily for the purpose stated in its title–see below). I do love the tone of it; it’s straight to the point without being boring; it’s engaging without trying too hard to be hip (thus vastly reducing eye-rolling amongst high schoolers). And its questions are better than either Kaplan or Princeton Review.

That being said, Barron’s ACT 36 does have its flaws. In fact, I think this book would be disappointing to many students who are shooting for a perfect score: the questions are not nearly hard enough, and it doesn’t really dig deeply at the nuances and tricks that make for REALLY hard questions. But the title is undeniably a good marketing strategy, so I don’t blame Barron’s. In fact, this is good news for the vast majority of students taking the ACT who shouldn’t be intimidated by the title if they are shooting for the low-30s or even mid-to-upper-20s. This is a book that is well-suited for any student who does well academically even if he or she is not aiming for a perfect score. (Not sure what score you should be aiming for? Click here to figure out what’s a good ACT score for you.)

The English and Reading review chapters are quite good, albeit brief. The Math review is too fundamental for students aiming for the upper 30s. And the Science review truly falls short–this chapter mainly explains the passage types without giving a lot of advice on how to attack questions and what traps to watch out for. (Also, its time-management advice is out of date: ACT Science passages can no longer be relied upon to have a certain number of questions per passage type.)

Throughout the book, the practice questions are mainly of good quality, although they are more at a “medium” level of difficulty than a “very hard” level of difficulty. If you are looking for a book that will mimic the hardest questions on the ACT, this isn’t it.

The biggest downside to ACT 36 is that the book completely neglects to teach students the test-taking strategies that will help them save time and avoid silly mistakes. There’s not even a peep about backsolving or substituting in numbers on math problems, for example. Or using your answer choices to more quickly get the question right without fully working out an equation.  Even though the book does frequently emphasize the importance of time management when shooting for a perfect score, it completely fails to mention countless strategies that will help students become smarter, more efficient test-takers.

Nevertheless, as far as test prep books go; Barron’s ACT 36 is one of the best out there for a quick, crash course review. Because it’s of a manageable length, has solid advice, and contains good practice questions, it’s a book I would recommend to any student who does decently well in school and has limited time to study before the test.


Report Card:

Strategy: B (for the typical ACT student); C+ (for those really shooting for a perfect score–there’s not enough high-level strategy in here)

Practice: A- (for the typical ACT student); B- (for students shooting for the highest score–again, it’s lacking in very hard questions).

Style Points: A-




  • Kristin Fracchia

    Dr. Kristin Fracchia has over fifteen years of expertise in college and graduate school admissions and with a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, with several 99% scores. She had a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA degree from The Catholic University, and BA degrees in Secondary Education and English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was the recipient of the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Club Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. She’s worked as a high school teacher and university professor, as an independent college and graduate school admissions counselor, and as an expert tutor for standardized tests, helping hundreds of students gain acceptance into premier national and international institutions. She now develops accessible and effective edtech products for Magoosh. Her free online content and YouTube videos providing test prep and college admissions advice have received over 6 million views in over 125 countries. Kristin is an advocate for improving access to education: you can check out her TEDx talk on the topic. Follow Kristin on LinkedIn!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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