Category Archives: ACT

ACT test prep products that aren’t terrible

I am so sick of the quality of the ACT test prep products available on the market today. Actually, before I proceed with my tirade, I should clarify that by ‘products,’ I’m referring to ACT prep books and software geared toward those who are preparing for the ACT on a budget. I thought the $1000 Kaplan course I taught for four years was fabulous. But really, how many people can afford that in today’s economy?

Let’s say a student wants to prepare for the ACT as inexpensively as possible. No pricey course or personal tutors. (This precisely describes my situation when I was in high school. I am the oldest of 8 children (!) and there was no way my parents could afford an ACT prep course. But I digress…)

You want to prepare for the ACT on a budget. What are your options? Let me put them out there. You can buy The Real ACT Prep Guide: The Only Official Prep Guide From The Makers Of The ACTpublished by the ACT company. This is the #1 ACT prep book as ranked by This is a great book because it’s the only one that offers official ACT tests. But this book is really weak on ACT strategies. After all, giving away “sneaky” test taking strategies would be a conflict of interest for the ACT people. There’s also not a lot of review of the actual skills tested on the ACT. Not sure what subject-verb agreement is? Don’t know how to calculate the distance formula? You’re stuck. Sorry.

You can buy one of the strategy books out there like Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2010 Edition or Kaplan’s Kaplan ACT 2010 Premier Program . What’s wrong with these? This is where I get particularly cranky. First of all, their practice tests are terrible approximations of the actual ACT. Just read the reviews on Amazon:

The tests in this book were nothing like the real test. Not a great thing to discover at the June 2009 test.

The actual test was a lot harder than the tests in this book.

Ouch. Check it out. There are more. The other problem with these books is how watered down the strategies are. As someone who taught Kaplan courses for four years, I get really steamed up when I see just how few of their decent strategies actually make it into their books. My friends who worked for Princeton Review report the same thing about Princeton Review books. These companies save most of the really fantastic tips and tricks for the folks shelling out the $1000 + for their courses or private tutoring. And obviously, this makes business sense. But where does that leave those of us who want effective ACT test taking strategies, but just can’t pay that much?

Then there are the ACT books like those put out by Peterson’s, McGraw-Hill, and Barron’s. The problem with these books is that these companies are not actually test prep companies. Peterson’s is mainly in the educational consulting business. McGraw-Hill is a global publisher of all sorts of educational materials. Barron’s is another publisher that publishes a huge range of educational materials. In fact, my daughter’s potty training book is one of them.

When it comes to college admissions, your ACT score can make it or break it. It can mean the difference between a full scholarship and no aid at all. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather put my test prep in the hands of people who pour millions of dollars each year into test prep, and only test prep. Which brings us back to Kaplan or Princeton Review. Or does it?

Well, here’s where the shameless self-promotion comes in. Here at Advantage Point, we have created an amazing software product called Boost Your Score! Students using this product have reported tremendous successes. In fact, if you combine our software with the ACT folks’ The Real ACT Prep Guide , we think you have all you need for ACT success. The software picks apart your performance on four official ACT tests (the free one on the ACT website as well as the three in The Real ACT Prep Guide ). It provides comprehensive diagnostic feedback so you know exactly which skills need improvement. Then, a resources section provides targeted review and practice of all the skills you need to boost. There’s also a wealth of fabulous strategies including sneaky tricks that can help you get a question right even if you have no idea how to solve it. You can buy the product or find out more here. We’re also publishing our own ACT test prep book, The Underground Guide to the ACT. You can read more about it here. The book will be out in 2011, so stay tuned!

The new Real ACT Prep Guide is out!

51U6jA1UduL._SL500_AA300_I had to consciously stop myself from hugging the poor UPS guy when he unloaded a box of the new Real ACT Prep Guides in our office. I then proceeded to take one of the new books out and perform a little cubicle happy dance. (Ok, that last part is a joke. I thought about it, though. Then I worried it would wrinkle the cover.)

Why is this new version so exciting? Here’s my take on the new third edition of The Real ACT Prep Guide. I should note first that we have always used The Real ACT Prep Guide, put out by ACT, Inc. for our students. The ACT folks have very specific algorithms and very particular topics they test repeatedly, test after test, year after year. Because the ACT is so predictable, the best way to crack it is by taking and analyzing real ACT tests and this book is the only easy-to-find source of official tests. Yes, students can take the fake Kaplan and Princeton Review tests, but they really are not the same. Scores on those tests also don’t boost student confidence (or highlight opportunities for growth) like those on the real ACTs.

The previous editions of The Real ACT Prep Guide included three real ACTs. Along with those three ACTs, we had students take the free ACT on the ACT website (found here: for a total of four real ACTs. We felt that was still wimpy, especially for the many students who benefit from taking a bunch of timed sections (instead of only full-length tests) to practice pacing on particular sections. We therefore had to buy additional tests from the ACT company for our local students so we could guarantee they had enough practice with the real stuff.

Now, this new Real ACT Prep Guide has five official ACTs! (FYI: The first three tests match the ones in the previous versions; the last two are new). When you combine five official ACTs (with great answers and explanations for each test) along with the free test on the ACT website, you get 6 full-length official tests to work with. I don’t think that’s wimpy anymore. Students can really improve their ACT scores if they take – and analyze – six real ACTs. In fact, in our experience, something marvelous really ‘clicks’ when students transition between ACT #4 and ACT #5. It’s like they finally have gone through the entire ‘question bank’ of every type of question the ACT folks will ever ask and they truly know exactly what to expect. Again, the ACT is probably the most predictable test students will ever take. Take the test enough times and the questions all start to look very, very familiar.

(Shameless self-promotion alert:) Take those six ACTs and use them along with ourBoost Your Score software to target and boost weak skills, and you’ll be set on test day!