As a soon-to-be high-school junior, I, along with millions of students, will be taking the SAT later this year. Many of us have been preparing in one way or another since the start of freshman year, but as the exam date draws near, I’ve found the abundance of study books and other standardized testing prep resources to be overwhelming (and expensive) — and that’s especially true for an increasing number of students who plan to take both the SAT and the ACT.
To determine what’s actually worth buying, I reached out to nine students who earned perfect scores on the ACT and/or the SAT, sourced through local news stories and contacted, in true Gen Z form, over Instagram DM. Ahead, the resources that helped them ace the tests.
The Best ACT Prep Books
Seven out of nine students I spoke to found The Official ACT Prep Guide, written by the makers of the ACT, to be particularly helpful. It’s “one of the most thorough review books I have encountered,” incoming University of Texas Dallas freshman Anisha Holla says. “It not only covers and explains all topics unique to the ACT test but also includes innumerable practice questions.” Practice tests are included, and students can access additional full-length tests and resources online. Incoming Duke University freshman Naomie Gao liked using the online features to “create question banks specifically for the question types you’re struggling with.”
Dhruv Rungta, who will be a freshman at the University of Virginia, called Barron’s ACT 36 “the best book for explaining all the concepts.” This guide focuses on some of the harder portions of the ACT, which is ideal for students aiming for a perfect score. “I really think it’s concise and a perfect tool for anyone,” Rungta adds.
Incoming Princeton University freshman Shrey Addagatla says this book is “as efficient as possible.” A more advanced guide, it bypasses ACT basics and focuses on specialized methods to help students achieve top scores. Since the Princeton Review ACT Elite 36 focuses on teaching strategies and the Princeton Review ACT Prep has practice tests, these two books are even more effective when paired together.
Addagatla, who previously served as an ACT tutor, used the Kaplan Test Prep book with his students. The book contains one practice test and with the purchase of this book, four online practice tests are available. “Kaplan ACT Prep Plus focuses on specific skills included in the ACT more than other prep books,” Addagatla notes.
As someone who struggled with the science section of the ACT, Mason High School student Ayanav Roy found the ACT Math and Science Workbook “especially good” because of the test-taking strategies and practice material. And while he liked this particular edition, Roy notes that “if either the math or science portions are a weakness for you, any book by Barron’s will be helpful.”
Roy found practice questions from The Complete Guide to ACT Reading to be very similar to the actual ACT exam. The book addresses common question types and provides two full-length practice tests. “If reading comprehension is an issue for you, then this book is the way to go,” Roy advises.
The Best SAT Prep Books
Like the Official ACT Prep Guide, the Official SAT Study Guide provides students practice tests straight from the College Board. Though free versions are available on sites like Khan Academy, Nisala Kalupahana, who earned perfect scores on both the SAT and the ACT, prefers a paper version, which replicates the experience of taking the actual exam. “You should always try to study with the real deal,” Kalupahana advises.
For more targeted prep, Kalupahana, who will be attending Vanderbilt University this fall, liked this math-specific prep book. He felt the math section required the most subject matter knowledge and he wanted to be prepared. “There’s always a possibility they’ll throw one crazy question in that you won’t be able to answer because you just don’t know the concept,” Kalupahana says.
Incoming Washington University in Saint Louis freshman Caroline Sauer found this book to be “invaluable” for SAT and ACT prep alike. She worked her way through the entire book and found it to be “quite challenging, specifically in the end chapters.” This math guide includes 16 practice tests and more than 250 practice questions.
Recommended additional test prep
Painless Grammar is true to its name; Gao called it an “enjoyable, lighthearted way to learn basic grammar.” While the book is not marketed specifically towards the ACT or SAT, Roy says “it very well could be.” “Beyond just test prep, having a solid understanding of grammar helped my writing and reading comprehension as well,” Gao says.
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