As far as third-party ACT test prep books go, Barron’s ACT (2014) is one of the best. It’s straightforward, friendly, and thorough–it will feel as comfortable to students as one of their high school textbooks. It’s missing the hip flair of some other test prep books, but it gets the job done. Most importantly, it’s practice questions are pretty good. Making ACT-like questions is a difficult job, and Barron’s does it much better than Princeton Review or Kaplan.
Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses in a little more detail:
Advice on more than just the questions. Like a good tutor, Barron’s is careful to point out the important practical considerations surrounding the ACT that many other books neglect. For example, it points out that high schools often have larger desks than colleges, making it easier for students to fully spread out their test booklet and answer choices. Or that if you are prone to competition anxiety, you should sign up for a test location where you won’t know many people. There’s more here on mindset, stress management, etc. than you’ll find in many other resources.
ACT-like questions. Some test prep resources baffle me with their shocking inability to model ACT questions. Barron’s does this well, although it definitely is lacking in tougher, more complex questions (see weaknesses below).
Designed like a workbook. Barron’s provides good structural elements for students to work their way through ACT review. The “Diagnostic Test Analysis Guide” following the diagnostic test is a solid resource that helps students figure out what they need to focus on, whether that means punctuation, finding the main idea, trigonometry, etc. There are grammar drills to hammer concepts into a student’s brain (and as dull and painful as they might be; they are effective).
Questions are not hard enough. The Reading and Science practice sets and tests are a little too straightforward, and all four sections are missing some of the more complex and nuanced questions the ACT has been throwing at students in recent years.
Neglects some important ACT question types. There are some key ACT question types that Barron’s omits in review chapters or on the practice tests. For example, almost every ACT Math section includes a couple data interpretation sets (a series of 2-4 questions based on the same tables or graphs) and there are none in Barron’s. Barron’s also fails to fully prep students for questions that require outside knowledge on the ACT Science.
Writing section is obsolete. Although the book does warn students that the writing test will be changing in 2015 (it most certainly did as of the September 2015 test), the advice in this chapter is still on the old essay. As of the date this blog was published, Barron’s has not released an updated edition of this book.
Overall, Barron’s (along with Barron’s 36 ) is a pretty solid resource and one of the few ACT prep books that I would recommend. It’s not perfect, but it will help students feel much more comfortable on ACT test day.
Practice Tests: B+
Style Points: B
And, for a similar book from Barron’s, check out Barron’s ACT 36: Aiming for the Perfect Score, 2nd Edition.