Barron’s is a well-known provider of test preparation resources, and their ACT prep book, Barron’s ACT 36 4th Edition, is a go-to resource for students taking the ACT.
But just because a study guide is popular doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you! If you want to get the most out of your ACT study time, then you need to make sure you’re selecting the right ACT guidebook for the job.
That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive review of Barron’s ACT 36. This article will provide a full rundown of the book, including explaining:
- What Barron’s ACT 36 is
- What content is covered in the book, chapter by chapter
- The Seven pros and cons of the book
- How to decide if you would benefit from using Barron’s ACT 36 for test prep
Let’s get started!
What Is Barron’s ACT 36?
Barron’s ACT 36 is a book designed to help students “strive for perfection” on the ACT by learning the nuances of the test and developing strategies for answering the hardest ACT questions correctly. More specifically, this book is aimed toward students who already have a decent understanding of the ACT and are looking to push their skills to the next level.
Barron’s ACT 36 consists of an introduction and five core sections that are divided out into 25 chapters over 322 total pages. The book is more concise than some of the other ACT prep guides on the market, but it still covers a ton of topics like:
- What content is on the ACT, how scoring is figured, and how to get ready for test day
- Full sections on ACT English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing
- Descriptions of the topics and types of questions that will appear in each ACT subject area.
- Mini-lessons and exercises for difficult questions
Barron’s ACT 36 is available in print format for about $16 on Amazon. Unfortunately, there’s not a digital edition of this book.
It's important to evaluate study guides before you buy them to make sure they're what you need. Not every ACT study guide will work for everyone! That's why we're including a quick breakdown of the content you'll find in Barron's ACT 36 below.
Section-By-Section Breakdown of Barron’s ACT 36
Barron’s ACT 36 consists of six main sections: an introduction, then one section per ACT subject area.
The five sections dedicated to ACT English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing are then divided out into chapters that cover the topics that test takers can expect to encounter in each subject area on the exam.
Below, we’ll hit the highlights of each section and chapter included in Barron’s ACT 36, summing up the most important content in each chapter and how it aims to work for test takers’ score improvement on the ACT.
Section 1: Introduction
The Introduction to Barron’s ACT 36 kicks the book off by explaining the purpose of the book: “to help you gain skills and strategies that go far beyond the basics.” This section focuses on reviewing the basics of the ACT: what content is on it, what each section of the test looks like, how scores are figured, how many questions you can miss and still earn an exceptional score.
Section 2: English
The first main section of the book dives into the ACT English test. This section explains the conventions of English usage, test strategies, and tips for demonstrating your formal knowledge of the English language on the ACT. Each chapter in this section on the English ACT provides practice questions, answers, and explanations that correspond with each topic that will appear on the exam, so you’ll get a chance to reinforce the concepts you’ve just learned every step of the way.
The section starts out with an overview of the timing, structure, and topics covered on the ACT English test, then recommends that test takers employ the following five “keys” for success on this section: economy, order, pacing, intuition, and clarity and logic.
Chapter 2 of this section addresses punctuation questions that appear on the ACT English test. This chapter explains 12 punctuation rules that test takers will likely need to know on the exam.
Chapter 3 of the ACT English section covers sentences, focusing specifically on questions about subject-verb agreement, tense agreement, syntax, and style.
Chapter 4 describes different types of word choice questions that will appear on the ACT English test. The word choice mistakes addressed in this chapter include colloquialisms and slang, misused verbs, prepositional idioms, adjectives and adverbs, comparatives and superlatives, incorrect conjunctions, and imprecise and redundant phrasing.
Chapter 5 explores strategies to consider for answering these questions on the ACT English section, and it goes over the following question categories: relevance questions, meaning questions, clarity and precision questions, and organization and relationships questions.
You don't have to feel like this on test day! The Math section of Barron's ACT 36 is designed to help give you the edge you need to make a perfect score.
Section 3: Math
The section covering the ACT Math test begins with an overview of the topics covered on this section of the ACT and the types of questions that you’ll be asked to answer.
In terms of topics, the book authors state that test takers can expect to encounter a certain percentage of questions that will test you on:
- high school algebra
- number and quantity
- geometry including trigonometry
- statistics and probability
These topics will appear as word problems or multiple choice questions, both of which are covered in Barron’s ACT 36 math chapters. This section also includes plenty of practice problems to help reinforce what you learn.
Chapter 8 begins with one of the key topics that will appear on the ACT Math section: algebra. The book states that questions in this math topic area will include probability, percents, proportion, expressions, equations, polynomials, and factoring problems.
Next, Chapter 9 addresses intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry. This chapter explains the main topics pertaining that will appear on the exam, which include sequence and series, combinations and permutations, matrices, rational expressions and functions, logarithmic and exponential functions, graphing linear functions and inequalities, systems of equations and inequalities, quadratic functions, function notation, and conic sections.
Chapter 10 covers plane geometry and trigonometry, which includes the following topics: angles and relations among parallel and perpendicular lines, properties of circles, solving for angles in two-dimensional shapes, transformations, reasoning and proof, volume, right triangles, and values of trigonometric functions.
Finally, Chapters 11 and 12 provide mini-lessons on conic sections and trigonometry and a math practice test, respectively. The mini-lessons are meant to function as a review of the formulas that test takers should memorize for conic sections and trigonometry.
Section 4: Reading
The section on ACT Reading starts off with Chapter 13, which opens with descriptions of the types of questions that will appear on ACT Reading and some general testing strategies for the ACT Reading section.
Chapter 14 tackles the prose fiction passage that appears on ACT Reading. The purpose of this chapter is to teach readers to read fiction in a way that maximizes the text’s value to the test taker. For example, this chapter describes the “COST” strategy and the “CAPS” strategy for approaching a fiction passage, then provides three exercises that readers can use to practice applying the COST or CAPS strategies to questions based on fiction passages on ACT Reading.
Chapter 15, the last chapter in the ACT Reading section, explains time management strategies for ACT Reading questions, then describes how to use strategic guessing, key ideas, and details to find the correct answers for inferential, rhetoric, and language use questions.
Want to nail the ACT Science section? Barron's ACT 36 walks you through the tricker things you need to now, like how to manage your time on passages and how to use strategy to pick the most likely answer when you're stumped.
Section 5: Science
Chapter 16 begins the section on ACT Science with an overview of the test. This chapter reviews the structure and timing of the test, introduces general strategies for success on the test, and explains the format of the rest of the book.
Chapter 17 follows up this general introduction to ACT Science by describing the basics of the three main types of passages that appear on the science ACT: Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints. This chapter presents the “SCIeNCE” strategies that test takers should follow to maximize their score on the ACT Science test. This acronym breaks down like this:
C - Check the main idea.
Ie - Ignore the extras.
N - Note the reference in the question.
C - Choose the best answer.
E - Eliminate the incorrect answers.
The next six chapters in the ACT Science section break down and “dissect” specific types of passages that appear on this section of the ACT:
- Chapter 18: Passage Dissection: Introductions
- Chapter 19: Passage Dissection: Tables, Graphs, and Figures
- Chapter 20: Passage Dissection: Questions
- Chapter 21: Data Representation Passages
- Chapter 22: Research Summaries Passages
- Chapter 23: Conflicting Viewpoints Passages
These chapters that dissect the different types of reading passages that test takers will encounter on the science ACT follow the same structure, beginning with a few paragraphs of advice for approaching the passage type, sample passages, and strategy practice charts. Each chapter provides answer explanations, as well as lots of tips for how to read, interpret, and respond to content on the exam. Each chapter also includes special “Inside the ACT 36 Mind” advice, which is geared toward increasing your score on this section of the ACT.
The Barron’s ACT 36 section on ACT Science wraps up with Chapter 24, which covers tips for boosting your score on this section of the ACT. These “suggestions for success” are broken down into nine real actions students can take to increase their knowledge of scientific terminology and ability in scientific reasoning. This final chapter on the science ACT concludes with advice from real, high-scoring students to help readers find their own success on this portion of the ACT.
Section 6: Writing
The final section of Barron’s ACT 36 addresses the optional ACT Writing test. This section, which is contained within Chapter 25, helps readers set writing goals for the ACT Writing, understand criteria for ACT Writing, learn specifics about the four rubric sections, deconstruct the rubrics, and analyze sample essays.
The chapter concludes with three sample essays that received top scores in response to the same sample prompt. There are explanations with each response so you can get a better understanding of how the ACT Writing section is scored, as well as what your response should include in order to make a great score.
3 Pros of Barron’s ACT 36
There’s a lot to love about Barron’s ACT 36. Here are the biggest pros to using this book as your ACT study guide.
Pro #1: It’s Short
Because this ACT prep book is geared toward students who already have a basic understanding of the ACT and ability to answer most of the test’s easier questions correctly, this book cuts out a lot of the excess explanations that might be better suited to readers who are totally new to the ACT.
This results in a straightforward guide that only communicates the most essential concepts, tips, and advice. Best of all, this means the book doesn’t run on for hundreds and hundreds of pages, making it a time-saver. Rather than putting more experienced test takers in the position of having to constantly discern which content to focus on and which content to skip, this book strips the content down to the most essential info, trusting readers to seek out additional help or resources when they feel they need it.
Pro #2: The Book Knows Its Audience
One of the most helpful things about Barron’s ACT 36 is that it is very clear about who will benefit most from the resources it provides. The book’s introduction provides a bulleted list of characteristics that define the students who are best suited to experience an increase in their ACT score by using their book. If the student described in the introduction sounds like you, their book might be worth picking up.
Barron’s transparency about who its target audience is should help students make informed decisions about whether to use this book or check out other options. The clear description of who would benefit from using this book also shows that Barron’s ACT 36 is a focused and purposeful test prep guide.
Pro #3: The Book Gives You Access To Online Materials
Like many guidebooks for college entrance exams, Barron’s ACT 36 provides additional resources and practice online. These materials are free with purchase of the book--all you have to do is verify that you have a copy of the book online, then register for an account. (If you buy the book used, though, these resources may not be available!)
When you create an online account, you’ll be able to access one full-length ACT practice test. This also gives you access to a 50 question Challenge Round, which includes answers and explanations for all questions. As an added bonus, these practices tests can be accessed from most mobile devices if you need to study on-the-go.
4 Cons of Barron’s 36 ACT
Because Barron’s 36 ACT is a pretty specialized study guide, it won’t be the right fit for everyone. Here are four cons you should consider before you commit to this ACT prep book.
Con #5: It Doesn’t Include a Traditional Practice Test
Barron’s ACT 36 provides full sections of practice problems for each ACT subject area, but these practice sections are separated out and included at the end of each main section of the book. The book itself doesn’t have a full-length practice test included (though there is one available in the online materials).
Dividing up the practice sections based on each subject area might be appealing for some readers who want to parse out their practice into smaller chunks of time, but those students who want the experience of completing one or more full-length, practice ACTs won’t find what they’re looking for in this book.
Con #6: You Need To Purchase Early
While Barron’s ACT 36 is a great resource for students who have their ACT study plan solidified weeks or even months in advance of their testing date, if you’re just a few weeks out from your ACT day, this is probably not the best resource for you.
The book’s authors claim that this ACT prep book works best when students use it methodically and practice with it consistently, beginning (ideally) a few months before your test date and supplementing with other study materials.
Con #7: It May Not Be A Good Fit for Beginners
The authors of Barron’s ACT 36 are straight-up about who this book is for, and it isn’t students who haven’t given the ACT much thought yet. This book assumes that its readers have prior experience with ACT coaching, study strategies, and practice tests, and have considered their strengths and weaknesses on the ACT.
If you’re just beginning to prepare for the ACT, it might be best to pair this study resource with other materials that provide a more thorough introduction to the basics of the ACT and preparation strategies. Consider busting out Barron’s ACT 36 when you’re a bit further along in your ACT prep journey.
Con #8: It’s Short
Yes, we know we have this listed as a pro, too. But depending on your needs as a student, the fact that Barron’s ACT 36 is short might not be a good thing. Students who need in-depth explanations and thorough descriptions of the most basic aspects of how the ACT works and how to approach test-taking strategies may find that this book doesn’t have everything they need.
Our short quiz can help make weighing your ACT study guide options a little easier.
How To Figure Out If Barron’s ACT 36 4th Edition Is Right for You
If you’ve read our full Barron’s ACT 36 review and are still unsure if you should add this book to your list of test prep materials, ask yourself the following five questions to decide:
- Do you already understand the basics of how the ACT works and how to prepare for it, and hope to gain skills and strategies that go far beyond the basics?
- Are you a student who is already a high achiever in math, English, reading, and science?
- Are you willing to plan and practice for the ACT, weeks or even months in advance of your exam date?
- Are you seeking a test prep resource that reviews the content you need to know in order to answer all types of questions correctly on the ACT?
- Are you looking for a test prep book that doesn’t over-complicate things, but instead provides simplified, easily remembered advice for approaching the test?
If you answered “yes” to most or all of the questions above, you might want to consider checking out Barron’s ACT 36 4th Edition. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker is and the purpose and goals of this book is the best way to determine whether it’s a good fit for you.
Barron’s ACT 36 Review Summary
We’ve covered a lot in this Barron’s ACT 36 review, so let’s recap the four main takeaways:
- Barron’s ACT 36 is written for high-achieving students who have prior experience with ACT prep and practice.
- The book is divided up into concise, purposeful sections centered on how to prepare for each topic and question type that will appear on the five ACT subtests.
- This book includes a wealth of practice questions, answers, and explanations for each subject area and subtopic, but no full-length, traditional print practice tests.
- Barron’s ACT 36 provides free online resources with purchase of the book, including an online practice test.
- If this ACT prep book isn’t for you, that’s okay. You have a bunch of options! Here are our top ACT study guide picks this year.
- An ACT study guide is only going to help you if you actually use it. That’s why you need a study plan! Luckily for you, we have a one-month free study plan designed to help you raise your score as quickly as possible.
- Listen: you’re busy, and it can be easy to let ACT prep get away from you. If you have, you may have to cram. While we don’t recommend cramming, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of your last minute ACT studying.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.