Ever since a student introduced me to the College Panda SAT math books by Nelson Phu, I’ve kept an eye out for an ACT version. A couple of weeks ago I spotted it. I ordered both the ACT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook and the ACT Math Workbook: More Advanced Practice by Topic. Like the SAT book, the ACT book is light on test strategies. Any gains you make will be strictly due to improvements in your math capabilities.
In the first guide, the explanations are clear, but strictly math-based. There is no mention of calculator use. Math purists often make it a point to take their college entrance exams without using their calculators, but I rarely see those students. Most of my students appreciate a word or two on the best use of their calculators. The answers to the exercises are explained, but the explanations are ….succinct. Usually, they just walk you through any algebra involved. There is no mention of ways to avoid the algebra altogether by, say, noticing that the slope of the line must be positive and that there’s only one answer choice that offers that option.
Most of the time, the primary weakness in an ACT math book is a failure to cover certain topics at all. This book is better than the competition in this area. The only topic I couldn’t find – I haven’t read it cover to cover – is vectors. I will say that the coverage of the miscellaneous topics (matrices, Venn diagrams, sequences and ellipses) is cursory, but it is there. There is a nice selection of problems at the end of each chapter.
When I ordered the books, I wondered about the title of second one: Did the “more” mean more practice, or did it mean more advanced? It means more practice, and I’m not sure whether I’m pleased or disappointed. The ACT Math Workbook covers the same topics as the Advanced Guide. The main difference is that the explanations have been left out, so the volume is slimmer – and less expensive. The problems in each book are different, and, unfortunately, if you wanted to see the full spectrum of problem types for each topic, you would need both books. However, if you are working with a tutor, you could use the slimmer Math Workbook and count on your tutor to fill in any missing problem types.
Overall, I recommend these books. Up until now, I have used my own ACT materials with my students, but I will consider having those students who are comfortable with their calculators purchase the ACT Math Workbook and then supplementing with my own materials.
If you need to order one – or both – you can do so here: