Monday, May 14, 2018

The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016 - 2017 1st Edition by ACT (Wiley)

I’m a Harvard graduate, SAT/ACT perfect scorer and full-time tutor who has taught the ACT for nearly 20 years.

We’ve been waiting since 2011 for a newer edition of this book, and at long last, it’s here: the included 3 tests reflect the minor changes to the ACT Reading and Science portions, and most importantly, the major changes to the new ACT essay (Writing) section. All 3 exams also include answer explanations, and for the first time ever, the book is also offered as an instant digital download from the Kindle store at a discounted price. (Although the Kindle version--accessible not just for Kindle owners but on nearly any device with a screen--is admittedly very convenient and environmentally friendly, I would still recommend that you buy the physical book, because the actual ACT is still a paper-based test.)

The Official ACT Prep Guide 2016-2017 (formerly the Real ACT Prep Guide) continues to be the most essential preparation guide for the ACT, because it is the only source of official test questions—the practice ACTs in all other books are nothing more than subpar imitations of the real thing. Seeing that this updated version of the ACT has already been around since the September 2015 administration of the exam, the publication of this book is long overdue…but it’s better late than never.

Unfortunately, this most recent edition of the "Big Red Book" contains only 3 updated tests, and those tests include many recycled questions from the previous (3rd) edition, as well as from the April and June 2015 versions of the ACT, which is why I’m removing one star from my review (I was awfully tempted to remove two), but again, that’s better than only 1 new test (google “Preparing for the ACT Test 2016”), which until now is all that was available. Combine the 3 tests in this book with the 5 tests in the Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition The Real ACT Prep Guide (Book + Bonus Online Content), (Reprint) (Official Act Prep Guide), and the free online test mentioned above, and you’ve got 9 official ACT tests total. Then, combine those 9 tests with the 3 older ACTs available for free download (google “ACT Action Plan - McElroy Tutoring” for links), and you’ve got a healthy dose of 12 official practice exams that should be sufficient for a full ACT preparation.

In addition, professional ACT tutors like me will often have a collection of additional real ACT exams at their disposal, compiled from past years' exams that were publicly released, but neither sold at retail nor available for download.

It is true that any publicly released exams prior to the December 2015 version of the test, including the 5 ACT exams from the 3rd edition, are now (slightly) outdated, especially the old essay sections (Writing Test), which should be ignored, but given that the vast majority of the ACT exam has stayed the same, these older versions of the test are still quite helpful for practice, despite the significant question overlap. Think of the 3rd edition as a book full of practice questions rather than a book full of diagnostic tests--the score prediction element is lost due the to the question overlap, but there are still plenty of unique questions and additional opportunities for learning.

It's not a perfect solution, and yes, it would be nice to be able to practice with 12 distinct ACTs instead of 4 new ones and 8 old ones with a significant number of overlapping questions, but for now it’s the best we have, and it’s the highest number of real ACTs that have ever been available for retail purchase and/or download. Let’s hope for another batch of updated tests to be released sometime before the end of 2016, but again, 4 ACTs in the new format is far better than only 1.


English - exactly the same (45 minutes, 75 questions). Mostly grammar, paragraph structure and punctuation.

Math - exactly the same (60 minutes, 60 questions). A broad survey of high-school math, with questions ordered from easy to hard.

Reading - almost exactly the same (35 minutes, 40 questions), but the new ACT now includes Dual Passages (google “Preparing for the ACT Test 2016”, open the PDF, and scroll to pages 36-38 for an example of what the dual passage looks like). Curiously, the third test in this book does not include a Dual Reading passage, but the first two tests do.

Science - almost exactly the same (35 minutes, 40 questions, mostly data interpretation and graphs/charts), but you are now given 6 passages instead of the traditional 7.

Writing (Essay) section - much different! Instead of 30 minutes to write, you are now given 40 minutes, and instead of being given only a prompt and an assignment, you will now be provided with a prompt, an assignment, and three different perspectives on the essay.  You are then asked to evaluate all three perspectives on the issue, to provide your own perspective, and to explain the relationship between your own opinion and the three opinions provided, using examples, analysis and logic. (In the words of the ACT, students are asked "to develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others.")

The new essay will be scored out of 36 points instead of 12.  It will also be given a grade of 2-12 in the following areas:  Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, & Language Use and Conventions.

I’ve been hearing plenty of stories about ACT students getting very low essay (Writing) scores relative to their other scores. Ignore the essay at your own peril! (There are three brand-new essay topics in this book.)

Also, please note that the ACT essay is optional, but that many colleges either require or recommend it, so be forewarned if you are planning on skipping that portion of the test.

When it comes time to re-try the questions you answered incorrectly, I recommend that you either buy a 2nd copy of the physical book to keep blank, or that you print out fresh copies of the questions using the Kindle version (this option is not currently offered on Kindle, so you may have to find a way to convert to PDF first, or simply take screenshots of the pages you need, using the desktop version of the Kindle software). It's what I call a "blind review": going over all the questions you got wrong without first checking the correct answer/explanation, or seeing any of your previous work. In my opinion, blind review is one of the key facets of effective test prep. Thus, you should only mark your answers as correct or incorrect (this is easier when working with a partner). Most importantly, don't indicate the correct answers on the test before you get a chance to review them.

In contrast, if you go over questions by checking the correct answers right away, then you can fool yourself into thinking that you understand them fully, when in fact you are still prone to those types of mistakes. The best way to know for sure is to try the questions again, from scratch, *without* the aid of the answer key or the answer explanations. Only then should you confirm the correct answer and read the explanation provided.

SAT vs. ACT:

These days, many students prefer the ACT to the SAT Official SAT Study Guide (2016 Edition) (Official Study Guide for the New Sat). But the College Board has been fighting back by inflating SAT scores and making other efforts to make the SAT more palatable for students. For example, one major reason to consider taking the New SAT instead of (or in addition to) the ACT is that the SAT allows you more time per question than does the ACT. Thus, if time management is a major issue, then the SAT might be a better test for you:

SAT Reading = 1.25 minutes per question (75 seconds)
ACT Reading = .875 minutes per question (52.5 seconds)

SAT Grammar (Writing and Language) = .8 minutes per question (48 seconds)
ACT Grammar (English) = .6 minutes per question (36 seconds)

SAT Math = 1.4 minutes per question (83 seconds)
ACT Math = 1 minute per question (60 seconds)

Here are my top recommendations for ACT Practice and Strategy:

1) This Book.
2) The Free Online Practice Test from ACT (google “Preparing for the ACT 2016”)
3) The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition: The Real ACT Prep Guide (Book + Bonus Online Content), (Reprint) (Official Act Prep Guide) or The Real ACT (CD) 3rd Edition (Official Act Prep Guide)
4) The 3 other Official ACTs available for free online (google “ACT Action Plan - McElroy Tutoring”)
5) The Ultimate Guide the Math ACT: Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT
6) For the Love of ACT Science: For the Love of ACT Science: An innovative approach to mastering the science section of the ACT standardized exam
7) Mighty Oak Guide to Mastering the ACT Essay: Mighty Oak Guide to Mastering the 2016 ACT Essay: For the new (2016-) 36-point ACT essay
8) The Complete Guide to ACT Reading: The Complete Guide to ACT Reading
9) The Complete Guide to ACT English: The Complete Guide to ACT English, 2nd Edition
10) ACT Quantum Free Math Videos - explanations to every question in the 3rd edition of the Real ACT prep guide, plus the 4 additional tests available online
11) Barron’s ACT, 2nd Edition: Barron's ACT, 2nd Edition (Barron's Act (Book Only))

For those of you who will be taking the ACT with accommodations, you should also know that extended time is more flexible than on the SAT.

On the SAT, extended time is allocated on a per-section basis, but on the ACT with extended time, you are given 6 hours to allocate your time among the sections however you choose, so long as you complete each section in the order provided. You can not go back after you’ve finished a section, but you can, for example, take much longer on the sections that are difficult for you.

This feature is a definite plus for those who are approved for extended time, but some have suggested that the scoring curve may have become tougher on the ACT in recent years as a result. Thus, it's nice to have some newer tests with updated score conversions that more closely reflect the current demographics of the test.

The ACT is administered six times a year, on varying days: September, October, December, February, April and June.

Three times a year, the ACT offers what's called the Test Information Release (TIR), which--unlike the other test dates--allows you to order an actual (paper) copy of the questions, along with your answers. Sign up for the Test Information Release in advance if you can--it costs extra, and takes about six weeks from the time you receive your scores online, but it's still worth it. (You can also order a copy of your essay afterward, which requres an additional form and fee.)

Currently the TIR is offered in December, April and June. Thus, these are the best three months to take the test, because otherwise there will no way to review your incorrectly answered questions.

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