Many high schoolers have heard of the Princeton Review ACT prep books, including Cracking the ACT. But is Cracking the ACT the right ACT prep book for you? To help you figure that out, we’ve put together a comprehensive review of Cracking the ACT.
To help you get a sense of what’s covered in Cracking the ACT and how it can improve your ACT score, we will:
- Explain what Cracking the ACT covers, and where to find copies of the book
- Summarize each section of the book, focusing on the ACT topics and test taking strategies they discuss
- Assess the book’s strengths and weaknesses
- Explain how to decide if Cracking the ACT is right for you.
Now, let’s take a closer look!
What Is Cracking the ACT?
Cracking the ACT is a Princeton Review ACT book that teaches you fundamental skills that are tested on the ACT and reinforces them through practice problems and tests. The purpose of this book is to help students prepare effectively for the ACT by teaching students what to expect from the test format as well as covering exam content areas, explaining test taking strategies, helping you evaluate your current skill level, and providing practice problems to help you improve.
Cracking the ACT Format and Content Overview
The Princeton Review ACT book is divided into nine parts (with 28 chapters total). Print editions of Cracking the Book run just shy of 800 pages, while eBook versions are around 900 pages.
While the length of the book might seem alarming at first glance, keep in mind what the book includes:
- multiple full-length practice tests (the number will vary based on the edition of the book that you purchase) with detailed explanations for each question
- a review of each ACT subject area, including all English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing topics
- a how-to guide for approaching each subject area
- answers and explanations for sample drill questions that are provided in each section covering the different ACT subject areas
While that sounds like a lot, try not to be intimidated by Cracking the ACT’s length and content. Think about it this way: the ACT is testing you on skills that you’ve learned over the course of multiple years. It takes a lot of pages to cover all that info!
And just because the book is hundreds of pages long doesn’t mean you have to read every single page. Using practice tests as a diagnostic tool will help you zero in on areas you need to improve, so you can better use your study guide and your time.
Want to know more about what's between the covers before you buy? Read through our content overview to see if Cracking the ACT is a good fit for you.
What Topics Are Covered In Each Subject Area Section of the Book?
Cracking the ACT is divided into ten sections that address different aspects of test preparation and test-taking strategies, as well as specific subject areas that are covered on the ACT.
We’ve put together a breakdown of each section in Cracking the ACT where we summarize the section’s purpose, then give you an overview of the content covered in each part of the book.
Part I: Orientation
This short section of the book primarily emphasizes authors’ recommended strategy for preparing for the ACT: taking practice tests that are modeled after the real ACT.
Specifically, the book urges students to not just take practice tests, but to use them strategically for the following purposes:
- to build up familiarity with the exam
- to learn how to avoid the types of mistakes that a student might be currently making
- to master test taking techniques and strategies in order to save time and earn more points.
Part II: How To Crack the ACT English Test
The first subject area covered by Cracking the ACT is the ACT English test. This section, Part II, includes four chapters divided into the following main topics:
- Chapter 5: Introduction to the ACT English Test
- Chapter 6: Complete
- Chapter 7: Consistent, Clear, and Concise
- Chapter 8: Rhetorical Skills
Chapter 5 provides an overview of what’s on the ACT English Test in terms of skills and topics, then explains a five-step basic approach to answering both usage and mechanics and rhetorical skills questions.
Chapter 6 discusses the questions on the ACT English section that cover sentence structure and punctuation. This chapter focuses on how test takers can identify ideas as complete or incomplete, and it also addresses how to use punctuation and conjunctions to properly convey different ideas.
Chapter 7 provides sample English questions and brief explanations of how to “crack” them using a mix of skills and strategies.
The eighth and final chapter of Part II teaches readers how to answer Rhetorical Skills (one of the two main types of questions on the ACT English section). The chapter explains how to use the process of elimination to answer wrong-answer questions, and highlights other testing strategies you can use.
Need some extra math help? Cracking the ACT has seven chapters (!!!) that can help you polish up your skills.
Part III: How To Crack the ACT Math Test
Part III, “How to Crack the ACT Mathematics Test” is made up of seven chapters that cover the following ACT Math topics:
- Chapter 9: Introduction to the ACT Mathematics Test
- Chapter 10: Fundamentals
- Chapter 11: No More Algebra
- Chapter 12: Plane Geometry
- Chapter 13: Word Problems
- Chapter 14: Graphing and Coordinate Geometry
- Chapter 15: Trigonometry
The Introduction (Chapter 9) to this part of the book discusses the types of questions that will appear on the ACT Math and how test takers can use organizational strategy, estimation, and elimination skills to improve their score.
To provide a foundation for using the skills listed above, Chapter 10 reviews fundamental vocabulary terms that test takers must know (e.g. factors, exponents, prime numbers, etc.).
Chapter 11, called “No More Algebra,” provides some work-around strategies for answering common types of algebra problems on the ACT, including step-by-step guides for how to answer word problems and “plug-and-chug” problems.
Chapter 12 covers plane geometry, and it includes a helpful list of “fun facts” about figures (e.g. a right triangle, a circle, parallel lines, etc.) and important formulas to remember for solving geometry problems.
Chapter 13 addresses common word problems (e.g. percentages, ratios, probabilities, averages, etc.) that appear on the ACT Math section. This chapter explains how to tackle geometric word problems using the skills you learn in Chapter 12.
Chapter 14 gives a brief overview of coordinate geometry. This chapter teaches you the main formulas and rules test takers need to know to answer coordinate geometry questions.
Chapter 15, the last chapter in the section on ACT Math, covers the trig identities and rules test takers need to know in order to be successful on these exams questions.
Part IV: How To Crack the ACT Reading Test
Part IV of Cracking the ACT helps readers learn about and develop strategies for acing the ACT Reading section. This part of the book is divided up into three chapters that address the following:
- Chapter 16: Introduction to the ACT Reading Test
- Chapter 17: Distractors
- Chapter 18: The Four-Step System
Chapter 16 gives readers an overview of the content and structure of the ACT Reading exam.
Chapter 17 shows readers how to pick out wrong answer choices that are written to trick test takers. The book authors call these wrong-but-looks-right answer choices “distractors,” and they identify and explain four main types of distractors that test takers will encounter on the ACT Reading.
Chapter 18 presents “the four-step system,” which teaches readers how to arrive at correct answers systematically and strategically.
The Cracking the ACT Science section can make sure you don't feel like this guy on test day.
Part V: How To Crack the ACT Science Test
Part V of the book, “How To Crack the ACT Science Test,” is comprised of four chapters that cover the ACT Science section:
- Chapter 19: Introduction to the ACT Science Test
- Chapter 20: Scientific Reasoning Skills
- Chapter 21: The Basic Approach
- Chapter 22: Fighting Scientists
Chapter 19 explains the challenges of the ACT Science test and explains the section really tests how well you look up and synthesize information from tables, graphs, illustrations, and passages.
Chapter 20 describes how test takers can use common sense to solve problems that require “scientific reasoning” on the exam, like questions about direct or inverse trends of variables, graphing relationships, and positive and negative slopes.
Chapter 21 addresses the “basic approach,” or the efficient and strategic approach to the ACT Science section that shows test takers how reasoning skills can help to a) quickly assess the content of a passage and b) methodically answer the questions on this part of the ACT.
Chapter 22 breaks down a four-step approach to cracking the seven questions that will appear with scientific reading passages and includes sample questions to demonstrate each step in action.
Part VI: How To Crack the ACT Writing Test
Part VI is the final part of Cracking the ACT that addresses a major subject area of the ACT. This part, which discusses the ACT Writing test, consists of only one chapter entitled “The Essay.”
The chapter describes what the ACT Writing covers, what the graders are looking for and grading you based on, and three steps to getting a good score on this portion of the ACT. It wraps up with four practice essay prompts for you to practice with.
Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX
Having covered each of the subject areas that are tested on the ACT, Cracking the ACT dedicates Parts VII, VIII, and IX of the book to providing answers to drill questions and including six full practice exams.
There's a lot to love about Cracking the ACT.
5 Pros of Cracking the ACT
There’s a lot to like about Cracking the ACT. Here are the biggest pros to using this book as part of your ACT study prep.
Pro #1: It’s Comprehensive
Cracking the ACT covers every single section and subject area of the ACT, down to the specific types of questions that appear in each section of the exam. For students who need a test prep resource that glosses all aspects of the ACT and how to prepare for it, Cracking the ACT is an excellent choice.
Pro #2: End-of-Chapter Summaries Keep You On Track
The Princeton Review ACT book’s end-of-chapter summaries are one of its most helpful features, providing one-to-two page bulleted reminders of the most important content covered in the preceding pages. The chapter summaries tend to focus on summing up test taking strategies and skills in memorable ways, so that readers have easier mental access to those tools when it’s time to take the actual ACT.
Pro #3: There Are Multiple Practice Tests
The Princeton Review emphasizes the importance of taking practice tests as the #1 way to prepare for the ACT, but it urges Cracking the ACT readers to only take practice tests once they’ve learned and settled upon useful test-taking strategies. Cracking the ACT limits its book content to including two practice ACTs that are based on careful study and analysis of real, past ACTs.
Rather than providing several practice tests that readers might be tempted to speed through aimlessly with a quantity-over-quality approach, readers can avoid wasting valuable study time and mental energy by carefully applying the test-taking strategies vetted by the book authors.
Pro #4: The Book Gives You Access To Online Materials Too
There’s good news for students who want to go beyond the pages of this book to prepare for the ACT: Princeton Review provides free online resources available with an access code provided in the book.
“Go Online” icons are also peppered throughout the book to indicate which topics have additional online resources. The online materials include step-by-step guides to solving problems, tutorials that put test-taking strategies into practice, more info about ACT scores, score improvement, and college admissions, interactive learning for English, Math, Reading, and Science, overview of the question types found on the ACT, and one additional practice test.
These additional online materials are free with your purchase of the book as long as you don’t buy it used, and the book explains how to register online to gain access. This is a great feature because it allows readers to fit in additional studying and dive deeper into tough topics.
Pro #5: It’s Encouraging!
The Princeton Review is a no-nonsense test prep company, and their philosophy that the ACT is predictable and, thus, conquerable is reflected in the pages of Cracking the ACT.
The book authors encourage readers not to evaluate their potential for succeeding on the ACT based on their grades in school or their perceived intelligence, but on their knowledge of how the ACT works. By emphasizing that anyone can do well on the ACT through careful development of test-taking strategies and dedication to understanding the question types that appear on the exam, Cracking the ACT makes test prep accessible to a wide range of readers.
Nothing's perfect, including this study guide. Here are some of the drawbacks you should know before you commit.
2 Cons of Cracking the ACT
Even though we really like Cracking the ACT, it’s not a perfect book. Read on for the two biggest drawbacks that come with using this particular ACT study guide.
Con #1: It’s Long
One possible downside of Cracking the ACT is the simple fact that it’s long (like, Anna Karenina long). Because the book is geared toward ACT prep beginners, it includes some content that may not be beneficial to more experienced readers.
Basic explanations of the format of and topics covered on each section of the ACT may feel like review to students who have already taken an ACT prep course or used other study materials, and the fundamental explanations of tried-and-true test taking strategies could strike some readers as overkill.
The book’s dedication to detail and providing a foundational understanding of the ACT for those who are new to studying certainly adds to the length of the book, but it’s important to keep in mind that a good chunk of the content is practice exams and answers to drill questions as well.
Con #2: It Isn’t A Deep-Dive
While Cracking the ACT is really long, that doesn’t mean it can be used as a deep-dive into specific subject areas tested on the ACT or a thorough guide to test-taking strategies. If you’re looking for targeted practice for a certain subject or rigorous practice with a certain approach to taking the ACT, there are other test prep resources available that are better suited to this purpose.
Cracking the ACT is best used by test-takers who are just getting acquainted with what the ACT is, how it works, and what it covers. Students who need lots of work bringing up their score on a specific test area should look for a different, more targeted study guide.
How To Figure Out If This Princeton Review ACT Book Is Right For You
In order to decide whether Cracking the ACT is a good fit for you, it’s important to first consider your test prep needs. Consider starting by asking yourself the following five questions:
- Are you new to studying for the ACT?
- Are you looking for general knowledge about the ACT and how it works?
- Do you want to learn test taking strategies for all of the ACT subject areas?
- Are you seeking out models for how to answer real ACT questions across all subject areas correctly?
- Do you want to take practice tests that are modeled after the real ACT as a form of preparation for the exam?
If you answered “yes” to most or all of the questions above, it’s very likely that Cracking the ACT will be a helpful test prep resource for you. The comprehensive, accessible, practice-based guide can help students from various skill levels and backgrounds of experience with the ACT develop a solid approach to taking the college entrance exam.
We’ve covered a lot in this review of the test prep book Cracking the ACT, so let’s recap the main takeaways:
- Cracking the ACT is a comprehensive guide to all subject areas of the ACT and is intended to help test takers develop practical strategies for acing all question types and topic areas on the exam.
- The book provides practice drills with answers and explanations for question types in ACT English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.
- The book provides two full length ACT practice tests that are modeled after the real ACT.
- The book is affordable and available in print or eBook format, with additional online study features available for free with purchase of the book.
- This book is best for students who are new to taking the ACT and/or are looking for an overview of the entire ACT exam.
Are you looking for more ACT prep books? Be sure to check out our master list of best best ACT books out there.
Using an ACT prep book is just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re looking for a stellar score, you’ll need a study plan, too. Luckily for you, we have four tried-and-true study plans for you to choose from.
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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.