The Only Books You Need for Acing ACT/SAT Grammar

To conquer the ACT English or SAT Writing sections, you don’t need a lot of books, but you do need the right ones. This is going to be a very short post because there are only two books I recommend:  Erica Meltzer’s The Complete Guide to ACT® English and The Ultimate Guide to SAT® Grammar. If you stop reading here, the most important thing I can say about them is that they’re excellent and that they truly help students raise their scores.  (And if you don’t believe me, just check all the great Amazon reviews.)

I initially found Erica Meltzer and The Critical Reader books when my older child was beginning the test prep/college process. Though I bought the books for her, a lifelong grammar-phile myself, I was curious and began reading them. My immediate reaction was “Wow, every English teacher everywhere should be using these books in their classrooms.” And it was these books (in addition to Erica’s wonderful SAT Reading Comprehension book) that inspired me to revisit my inner grammar nerd-dom and ask Erica to train me as an ACT/SAT tutor. I wanted to learn from the best in the business, and Erica Meltzer is the real deal: an experienced tutor and author whose methods not only bring score gains on the ACT and SAT, but also result in students becoming better readers and writers generally.  

All ACT/SAT Grammatical Concepts Are Covered

Each of these books covers all the concepts you need to successfully answer the usage (standard English convention) questions as well as the rhetoric questions (e.g., Should this sentence be added/deleted? Where does this sentence belong? etc.), and they include exercises to solidify those concepts and teach you how to apply them in the ACT/SAT context.

The Critical Reader Books Get Results

High school juniors are really, really busy; they need the most efficient and effective test prep methods available. I’ve witnessed many students jump 100+ points on their practice tests - before they even begin additional tutoring - just from working through Erica Meltzer’s books. They are that effective!

A 35 after using this book for only one week. It was the only book my kid used to study for the ACT. (If he had done all the exercises, maybe he would have gotten a 36.) I highly recommend it!
— Rixin Zhou, parent

Tips for Using The Critical Reader Grammar Books

The ACT English and SAT Grammar sections are often the easiest ones on which to gain points; for many they’re the low-hanging fruit, but you have to prep for them correctly:

  1. Do a practice SAT or ACT  grammar section to see where your gaps are.

  2. Work through either the entire book or selective chapters as needed, based on #1.

  3. Do not complete the books/chapters in one day. Spaced learning yields better retention. (See our other post about that here.)

  4. Do the exercises — even if you don’t think you need to.

  5. Do all the punctuation chapters — even if you don’t think you need to. The ACT/SAT test some lesser-known punctuation rules, ones that most people do not use in their everyday writing.

  6. Do more official ACT and SAT grammar sections, and check to see if you’re applying the concepts.

  7. Revisit chapters as needed throughout your ACT/SAT prep.  Repetition reinforces learning.

  8. Practice again!

Side Note If You’ve Read This Far

Being Good At Grammar Isn’t The Same As Being Able To Teach It

I don’t know about you, but when I want to learn something, I want to learn from the best. Many people think because they get a 36 or an 800 on a test section, they are qualified to tutor.  And many of the large firms hire that way — doing minimal or even no training. But there is a distinct difference between being good at doing these ACT/SAT questions yourself and being good at teaching others how to become good at them. I am so grateful to have been trained by the best: Erica Meltzer, even more of a grammar geek than I am, long-time tutor herself, and author of these incredible books. (Thanks Erica!)