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The Official ACT Subject Guides: Expert Review

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The Official ACT Subject Guides are a series of test prep books designed to help students improve their scores on each subject test on the ACT. While there are lots of ACT prep books out there, the official guides are the only ones put together by the makers of the ACT exam! 

In this article, we’re going to go over each of the Official ACT Subject Guides for Math, Reading, English, and Science. In each review, we’ll explain what each study book includes, what each book is good for, and what each book isn’t helpful for. We’ll also give you three tips for how to incorporate the official ACT subject guides into your study routine. 

So let’s check them out. 



What Are the Official ACT Subject Guides? 

The Official ACT Subject Guides are individual prep books designed by the creators of the ACT to help students study for each ACT Subject test. Unlike comprehensive study guides that cover everything and the kitchen sink, each of these books is focused on one area of the ACT test. 

This series of ACT guides includes the following individual books: 

  • The Official ACT English Guide
  • The Official ACT Mathematics Guide
  • The Official ACT Reading Guide
  • The Official ACT Science Guide

Each Official ACT Study Guide is geared toward helping you improve their ACT scores by teaching you the structure, content, and question types that you’ll encounter on each section of the ACT. 

Each of these books is uniquely tailored to fit the subject material covered in that part of the exam. So for instance, the English Guide will teach you how to break down long reading passages, whereas the Math Guide will break down all the formulas you need to know. 

Because this series is split into four books, we’ll review each guidebook in the next section! For each book, we’ll go over what it covers, what the book excels at...and what the book struggles with. That way you can pick the study guide (or study guides!) that are right for you. 


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Official ACT English Guide

The Official ACT English Guide is a book designed for individualized prep for the English section of the ACT. You can find this book on Amazon for about $17.


What the ACT English Guide Book Includes

The Official ACT English Guide includes the following content:

  • An overview of the ACT English and Writing tests, including what to expect from the structure and content of both the required English section of the ACT and the optional writing section.
  • A detailed description of the skills and concepts you’ll be tested on, each type of question that will appear on the exam and how to answer it, and examples and explanations for each skill, concept, and correct answer reviewed.
  • A PIN on the inside front cover that provides online access to a full print version of the book and access to a pool of practice questions.


What the ACT English Guide Book Is Good For

This ACT English study guide will help you with three main aspects of ACT prep. 

The first thing the book covers is the structure and content of the ACT English Subject Test. The Official ACT English Guide dedicates its first two chapters to a thorough description of the structure and content of the English subject test. This information is crucial for students who aren’t very familiar with what to expect from the English subject test and is designed to save you time and effort when you take the ACT. 

The ACT Math Guide Book provides a great comprehensive review of all the skills and knowledge you’ll be tested on. This book is full of example questions and detailed answer explanations that explain all of the big concepts you need to know. 

An added bonus in this book is dual prep for English and Writing. This Official ACT English subject test guide emphasizes many of the same skills you’ll need to succeed on the ACT Writing Subject Test, too. In that way, this book is a bit of a two-for-one deal!


What the ACT English Guide Book Isn’t Good For

This official ACT subject guide also has some drawbacks.

First, this book lacks targeted practice in your grammar/writing problem areas. This ACT prep book covers everything that will appear on the ACT English test, but it isn’t necessarily designed to help you focus on question types that you struggle with. If you’re looking for score improvement by mastering questions and content that you often miss during your practice sessions, it might be worth it to combine this guide with additional practice materials. 

The Official ACT English Guide provides prep for basic to advanced skills that you’ll need to master in order to score well on the ACT. However, it isn’t the type of guide that is geared specifically toward, say, a crash course in the basics of ACT English or a deep dive into the most advanced skills and content that will appear on this exam section. It’s more of an overview of the skills, concepts, and techniques you’ll need to know for the ACT English test. If you need lots of help understanding the basics of English, or if you’re scoring well and need a little extra help getting that perfect 36, then you should use a different study guide. 

If it sounds like you might need to supplement the Official ACT English Guide with materials that will meet your personalized test prep needs, consider checking out Erica L. Meltzer’s The Complete Guide to ACT English. Unlike the Official ACT English Guide, Meltzer’s book distills grammar drills and skills down into exactly what you need to know for the ACT, saving you from slogging through content you might not need to review. Its practice questions also emulate a format that’s super similar to what you’ll see on the ACT. 


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Official ACT Mathematics Guide

This official ACT guide covers all of the content that appears on the ACT Math subject test, and it also costs about $17 on Amazon


What The ACT Mathematics Guide Book Includes

The Official ACT Math Guide includes the following features: 

  • A detailed description of the structure of the ACT Math test, including how each category of math question affects your overall ACT score. 
  • A multi-chapter refresher on the math topics you’ll be tested on, including practice ACT questions for most math topics, and explanations for the concepts, procedures, and techniques the questions cover.
  • More than 130 practice ACT Math questions (available in the guidebook and online) accompanied by detailed solutions and explanations.


What the ACT Mathematics Guide Book Is Good For

The Official ACT Math Subject Guide is great if you’re looking for guidance about every math topic that appears on the ACT Math test. This official ACT guidebook will walk you through explanations for each math topic you’ll need to be familiar with, explain how to answer questions about each topic, and break down the solution to every sample question. Students who need a little extra help with math will probably find these features really useful! 

This guide also uses real ACT Math questions from past exams. The ACT Math section is sometimes considered the most intimidating portion of the ACT, which is why this guide’s use of legit official past questions is super useful. You can be confident the sample questions in this book will actually prepare you for the challenging problems you’ll encounter when you take the real ACT. 


What the ACT Mathematics Guide Book Isn’t Helpful For

Like any ACT prep guide, the Official ACT Math Guide doesn’t have everything. Here are a couple of weaknesses of this ACT guidebook that you may want to consider before purchasing. 

To start, it’s light on test-taking strategies. While this official ACT Math guide book gives you a full review of all of the content you’ll need to know, it doesn’t really dive into the strategies you’ll need to know to really boost your score. This means you may want to think about supplementing this ACT Math guidebook with another, more strategy-minded resource to really go for that perfect score.

This book also doesn’t provide an in-depth review of each and every math topic you’ll need to know. This ACT Math guidebook does cover every topic you’ll see on this section of the ACT, but only briefly. For some students, a little brushing up might be enough prep. But for students who need more targeted, conceptual practice with math topics they struggle with might need to supplement this book with other study resources.

If you want to supplement the Official ACT Math Guide with another prep book, consider checking out the Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT and The Best ACT Math Book Ever. The Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT helps students focus on the more challenging and advanced material. If more practice questions are what you need, the Best ACT Math Book Ever offers over 1000 practice drills taught by a Stanford-educated math tutor.


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Official ACT Reading Guide

The Official ACT Reading Guide covers everything you need to know to familiarize yourself with ACT Reading Subject Test. This book will cost you a little more than the other guides on this list—it runs about $19 on Amazon.


What the Official ACT Reading Guide Book Includes

This book includes the following: 

  • An overview of the structure, content, and scoring of the ACT Reading test, including the four types of reading passages that you’ll encounter on the exam.
  • A description of the reading skills you’ll need to succeed on the exam, an overview of the different question types that appear across different passages, grouped by genre.
  • 150 official ACT reading questions with detailed solutions and explanations, available online and in the guidebook.


What the Official ACT Reading Guide Book Is Good For

The Official ACT Reading Guide is a solid source for both timed practice and learning how to get through long passages. 

The end of the book includes several reading passages that you can use for timed practice, which is crucial to success on the ACT Reading test. (One of the places students struggle is with reading everything!) Start by working through the advice and explanations provided in earlier chapters of the book, then spend some time applying those strategies as you work through the timed practice reading passages.

This book gives you basic tips and advice for reading more quickly and retaining information. It also offers a few high-level strategies to help you raise your SAT Reading score. While the information isn’t super in-depth, this ACT Reading guide does provide some good advice for increasing your reading speed, getting through questions quickly, and understanding information in test passages. Having a basic knowledge of these reading hacks will give you options as you work through Reading questions on the ACT.


What the Official ACT Reading Guide Book Isn’t Helpful For

One thing this book isn’t great for is getting practice with complete reading passages. In some cases, this guidebook uses ellipses (. . .) to indicate that a paragraph has been omitted from a reading passage for length. Some students may find the abridged version of these ACT Reading passages don’t help them prepare for the actual ACT Reading test.

Also, while this book does provide overviews of general reading skills—including skimming, scanning, speed reading, and annotating—it doesn’t provide thorough, direct advice for using these reading skills on actual ACT Reading passages. For test takers who need more guidance on how to apply strategies to the ACT Reading test, be sure to supplement with other resources...or even another guide book!

For additional practice, consider pairing this ACT Reading guide with Erica L. Meltzer’s Complete Guide to ACT Reading, Third Edition. This book is helpful because it dedicates an entire chapter to each question type, giving added practice for students who may struggle with reading comprehension. 


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Official ACT Science Guide

The Official ACT Science Guide is a complete overview of all of the ACT Science Subject Test. This book costs about $18 on Amazon.


What the Official ACT Science Guide Book Includes

This ACT Science guide includes the following: 

  • Descriptions of what you can expect from each type of passage that appears on ACT Science, including guidance for how to approach each passage type.
  • Explanations of the different types of graphs, charts, and scientific units and measurements that you’ll encounter and use on ACT Science.
  • Review of scientific vocabulary you’ll need to know.
  • A section of practice questions, answers, and explanations, provided in the book and online.


What the Official ACT Science Guide Book Is Good For

If you’re not sure how to interpret graphs, charts, and different types of reading passages...then this book can be really helpful. This ACT Science prep book provides thorough breakdowns of example passages and the types of graphs and charts that may appear on the exam. The book also has lots of advice on how to interpret the information in order to answer the questions correctly on the real exam. 

Another point in this book’s favor: it has guided practice on questions from real past ACT Science sections. This Official ACT Science guide provides practice questions in the book and online with analysis to help you understand how to approach each type of question you’ll encounter on this particular ACT subject exam.


What the Official ACT Science Guide Book Isn’t Helpful For

There are a couple of features of the Official ACT Science Guide that may not appeal to certain types of test takers. 

For instance, if you’re looking for a quick overview, this isn’t it. Like the other Official ACT subject guide books, the ACT Science guide is heavy on wordy explanations and light on engaging guidance through test-taking strategies. The wordiness may be challenging for some students to slog through. 

It’s also common for some students to find particular passages that appear on the ACT Science test to be more challenging than others. However, this test prep guide is not a good resource for getting in-depth practice on particular passages. Many students also need the chance to start with basic difficulty level prep and increase to more challenging material. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t do a great job with the difficulty levels of the questions. If you’re looking for super easy questions to get you started (or advanced questions to boost your score!), this book might not be right for you. 

If you’re interested in supplementing the Official ACT Science Guide with other forms of test prep, you might look into The PrepScholar Guide to SAT Science. This test prep book is designed to be an engaging, thorough, and easy-to-read guide to get you ready for the ACT Science test. You’ll also get insider information about the strategies that will help you take your ACT Science score to the next level.




3 Tips for Incorporating the Official ACT Guides Into Your Study Routine

The Official ACT Subject Guides can make a helpful addition to your ACT study plan...if you’re using them strategically!  Keep reading for three tips on ways to use the Official ACT Subject guides to your advantage in your test prep routine.  


Tip 1: Take a Practice Test First

It’s tough to make ACT prep of any kind work to your advantage if you don’t know where you currently stand. It’s important to have an idea of what you’re good at and where you’re struggling! 

Before you sit down with these study guides, we recommend taking a practice ACT. After you finish your practice test, evaluate your strengths in each subject area and make note of your weaker areas. That way you can spend more time studying the information you don’t know as well, so you have a better chance of raising your score. 


Tip 2: Plan Around Your Strengths and Weaknesses

If you choose to use all four ACT subject prep guides, you don’t necessarily need to read every single page of each one! Instead, use the inventory of your strengths and weaknesses from your practice tests to focus on the content in each guide that will help you improve your score in your problem areas. Focusing on your problem areas is the best way to raise your overall test score.


Tip 3: Combine These Books With More In-Depth Prep

At their core, these ACT subject test guides are a high-level, introductory overview to each section of the ACT, designed to help you understand what to expect from each exam section. To use these guides to your advantage, consider treating them as a springboard into more personalized ACT prep.

You can review and assess your performance on the practice questions included in these guides, mark skills and content areas you struggle to understand as you read them, then use this knowledge to seek out more in-depth prep that focuses on particular subjects, skills, or content. 




What’s Next?

If none of these study guides are quite right for you, don’t despair. Check out one of our other ACT study guide lists, like this one!

We also have tons of free ACT prep resources available, too. Start by checking out our ultimate (free!) ACT study guide, then take a look at our breakdown of how to get a perfect ACT score.

Study guides are only good if you use them. (Sorry for the bad news!) Our step-by-step guide to building your perfect study plan will help you stay on track.


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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

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.

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