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Best ACT Prep Courses & Classes
Our comprehensive guide to the best ACT prep courses
With most every college applicant having a solid GPA and impressive extracurriculars, it is tougher than ever to get into the college of your dreams. As such, your ACT score will likely be the difference maker on your application, and to get a great score, you’re going to need a prep course. But with so many prep options to choose from, how do you decide? Our team of test prep experts has taken and reviewed every major prep course on the market and ranked the best ones here, so you can make an informed decision.
Princeton Review offers one of the best all-around curriculums and bundle of study materials in ACT prep. Their prep course covers every instructional method, including video lessons, live classes, practice work, textbooks and even tutoring with their top tier package. This varied approach to teaching offers superior material comprehension and retention, and accommodates all learning types. Princeton’s video lessons lead the way on the instructional side, and they do not disappoint. The quality of their video content and delivery is unparalleled in the ACT prep space and we believe this is the highlight of the course. The video lectures are complemented by live class sessions with instructors who know the ACT inside and out. The Princeton live classes are jam-packed with content review and testing strategies, as well as helpful side tips form the individual teachers.
These teaching elements are backed up by two excellent coursebooks and a set of first-rate practice work. Though Princeton doesn’t provide quite as many practice questions as other prep providers, the quality is outstanding. These problems, which have been carefully crafted by Princeton’s team of in-house ACT experts, closely mirror the real questions you will see on game day. Although they take a more traditional approach to test prep, when all of these elements are rolled up together in one bundle, it is a powerful prep experience that our team of experts agreed was near the top of our best list.
Superb Video Lessons
The highlight of the Princeton Review ACT prep course is clearly the video lessons. Understanding that it is very difficult to hold a teenager’s attention for more than a few minutes, Princeton smartly designs their video lectures into short, engaging clips. Each mini-lesson only runs for 4 to 10 minutes. This creates a real sweet spot to deliver some seriously informative content, while being short enough to hold your attention the entire time. And beyond the quick hit nature of the videos, the format of delivery is also fantastic.
Your instructor appears on screen before a plain white background. But rather than using a whiteboard and having the instructor turn around frequently to jot down notes with their back to the camera, Princeton uses some nifty digital effects to superimpose the text and graphics onscreen in front of the instructor. This allows the instructor to always be facing the camera and to use a marker to take notes right in from of them (between the teacher and the audience). This delivery is really cool and keeps all the material right at the forefront of the lesson. Not only does this improve engagement, but material comprehension as well. I personally loved these video lessons, and think they are about the best across the ACT prep industry.
Proctored Practice Exams
A very nice benefit available to students who take Princeton Review’s prep course (though not the self-paced version) is the series of proctored practice exams that Princeton Review administers. Throughout your live class schedule, and before exam day, Princeton Review will have you sit through a fully proctored practice exam. Though it sounds miserable, this is a huge advantage. There is often no better means of preparing than taking practice tests under exam-like conditions. And this feature allows you to do just that. That way, when exam day rolls around, there will be no surprise and the test will feel just like any other practice test you’ve taken. No nerves, test day jitters or other reason to foul up your score. You will get either 3 or 4 proctored exams depending on which course type you enroll in.
Prep Expert broke onto the ACT prep scene back in 2016 after founder Shaan Patel’s appearance on the hit show Shark Tank. While our team was a little skeptical about the effectiveness of a course that made its name through a reality TV show, after reviewing this course I can say the Prep Expert ACT prep package is the real deal. The course largely revolves around Shaan’s 100 self-created ACT testing strategies, which helped him achieve a perfect score on the SAT (the strategies have been tweaked to apply to both the SAT and ACT). More on these testing strategies below, but in short, I loved how Prep Expert doesn’t waste time feeding you tens of hours of standard content review. They cut straight to the chase and teach you the tricks and techniques that are most effective in achieving major score gains.
Prep Expert accomplishes this primarily through 36 hours of live online instruction (assuming you’re in the 6-week or 3-week course) and prerecorded video lectures. I found their live online classes to be engaging, informative and downright helpful. The Prep Expert instructors have all scored in the top 1% of all scorers on the ACT and have been trained on Shaan’s testing strategies, so you get a consistent lesson across teachers and lesson format. Alternatively, for those students taking Prep Expert’s self-paced course (and as backup for those students in one of the live classes), you get access to prerecorded video lectures from founder Shaan Patel himself. While I really liked Shaan’s teaching style and obvious mastery of the material, the video format and delivery wasn’t my favorite, finding it a little outdated and jumpy. Beyond the instructional channels, Prep Expert also offers students an excellent opportunity to practice under exam-like conditions with some high-quality practice questions and simulated exams. All in all, Prep Expert offers a very well-rounded course curriculum that is one of the best in the ACT prep space.
Prep Expert’s 100 ACT Strategies
The clear of highlight of the Prep Expert ACT prep program is their bundle of 100 testing strategies, which were developed by founder Shaan Patel. Shaan created these strategies while studying for the SAT over a decade ago. Yet, while they are now 10+ years old and were originally designed with the old SAT in mind, these techniques still apply today and work very well for the ACT. For example, some of these strategies include “remove nonessential appositives,” “tackle line-cited questions first” and “ace exponents.”
These test taking strategies are the basis of most lesson plans and your instructor will spend significant time hammering these techniques. I loved this concept of making strategies the foundation of the course as opposed to old school content review. Your instructor generally presents the technique by identifying a way in which the ACT attempts to trick you or where students frequently get off-track. He or she then presents the technique as a means of resolving the common issue and demonstrates how it plays out with a few practice problems. Across 100 strategies, this provides a lot of shortcuts and easy fixes that are sure to get extra points that otherwise would have been missed because of difficulty or timing.
Magoosh makes our best ACT prep courses list in large part for one reason – value. With all three of their ACT prep course offerings coming in under $100, the value of this course cannot be overlooked. The “bang for your buck” aspect of this package is discussed more fully below, but despite being a budget course option, Magoosh still delivers a hefty quantity of practice material. Boasting 250+ video lessons, 1,300+ practice questions and up to 4 full-length practice tests, it makes you wonder how they can offer all of this at such a low price. But it is not just the quantity that impressed our team – the quality is also quite good as well.
The 250+ video lessons are each short in length (generally 5 to 15 minutes) and are in PowerPoint form. This is great for visual learners, as the instructor draws up notes right on screen and all of the material is presented visually right in front of you. That said, these videos are dull. The format of these videos creates a boring delivery, but they are nonetheless very informative and the length saves them. In addition to a healthy library of video instruction, students also get access to some very solid practice questions, as well as four practice tests. But more important than the practice questions themselves, Magoosh delivers a text and video explanation for each and every problem. I do not know how they can afford to do this at their low price points, but these explanations are a highlight of the course. All things considered, Magoosh may be the value pick based on pricing, but they also provide a very reliable prep course.
The Most Bang for Your Buck
As mentioned above, the Magoosh prep package is all about bang for your buck. You won’t get this kind of value for your dollar anywhere else. At price points of around $80, $90 and $100 for their three offerings, you will not have to break the bank for this prep course. But when our team assesses the value component of a course, we always weigh the price against the materials you get. And Magoosh doesn’t disappoint. They provide some rather astounding levels of video lessons, practice questions and problem explanations for this low cost. The video lecture quality isn’t the best and there’s no live class work, but for many students the video lessons in Magoosh’s library and the practice work may be all they need.
Text and Video Explanations
The highlight of the Magoosh course content is very likely the text and video explanations that accompany each and every practice problem. The text explanations are extremely thorough and written in a very easy to understand manner. In addition, many of them contain graphics and diagrams to help visualize the solution. To be honest, the text explanations standing alone are better than you get with many prep companies’ practice questions. But Magoosh doesn’t stop there. The also provide a video explanation of each solution. These videos take the same general PowerPoint approach as the video-based instruction, and explain step-by-step how the problem at hand should be solved. So whether you are a visual or textual learner, Magoosh has you covered. This is a fantastic benefit that you wouldn’t expect to get with such an affordably-priced course.
Kaplan makes our list of best ACT prep courses for many of the same reasons that Princeton Review does. That is, Kaplan offers a robust course plan and top-notch study materials. But the main difference between the ACT prep offerings of these two test prep giants is that Kaplan has partnered directly with the makers of the ACT exam. In fact, it is actually an official ACT prep package “powered by Kaplan.” As such, students get direct access to official, previously used ACT questions and tests. The value of this realistic practice cannot be overstated. Princeton does an excellent job designing problems, but the real deal questions will always get the edge, even if slight. Beyond the first-rate practice material, Kaplan also offers some excellent instructional materials.
While Kaplan doesn’t provide as many live class hours as Princeton Review and has fewer video lessons, the quality of their lessons is still very good. The Kaplan ACT prep package is a rock-solid all-around course and the partnership with ACT jets it straight to the upper tier of our best list.
Partnership with the Makers of the ACT
As discussed above, Kaplan offers its students the unique opportunity to practice with real, previously used ACT questions. This is an exclusive benefit to Kaplan that others simply cannot provide. The partnership between Kaplan and ACT is actually so close that it is labeled as ACT’s official course on their website and powered by the Kaplan platform and expertise. Anytime in test prep that the makers of an exam, like the ACT, partner with a test prep company, that company has to get immediate attention. Practicing under exam-like conditions is one of the keys to effective prep work, and practicing with real questions is about as good as it gets. The questions don’t just resemble real ACT, they ARE real ACT questions. This provides a best of both world scenario – you get the expertise and capabilities of Kaplan prep, with the official test material.
Excellent Video-Based Instruction
Similar to Princeton Review, Kaplan provides some top shelf video lectures. The two prep companies take a different approach to format, however. Kaplan’s video lessons feature your instructor sitting behind a desk on camera. As he or she speaks, notes and key points appear on screen next to them. They also frequently break to a practice problem to help exemplify the points they are trying make. At this point, they pause the lesson for a moment to allow you to work the practice problem on your own. Then they return to explain the problem and walk you through how to solve it. The video cuts to a digital whiteboard and the instructor takes notes right onscreen with their tablet and stylus, showing you how you should have attacked the question. This use of practice problems to demonstrate points, when combined with the content review portion of the video, makes for a powerful delivery.
In addition, similar to how Princeton Review does things, Kaplan keeps their videos short and sweet. These engaging videos last just 7 to 12 minutes, which is just enough time to get the material across without losing the attention of a 17-year-old. The final point worth mentioning about the Kaplan videos is their audiovisual quality – it is stellar. The picture is sharp, the digital effects are perfectly executed and the all-around delivery is very sleek. I loved these Kaplan video lectures.
PrepScholar makes our best list in large part because of their library of fantastic practice material. Offering one of the most voluminous and high-quality sets of practice questions and tests in the ACT prep industry, other prep providers struggle to keep up with PrepScholar on this front (more on this below). But PrepScholar offers students much more than just a boatload of solid practice work – they also provide one of the most extensive and well-planned curriculums around. Across 40+ individual lessons, PrepScholar guides students step-by-step through what, when and how to study. There is never a question with PrepScholar about what you should be doing at a given point in the course. They walk you through every bit of material on a strictly scheduled basis, ordered in a manner to maximize gains.
In addition, PrepScholar offers some incredibly informative instructional lessons with a varied approach to teaching. These lessons consist of a mix of both text-based trainings and video lectures (though you don’t get a video with every lesson, just some). While I found the text-based lessons to be a bit lengthy and dry, they are about as detailed as they come. They cover every testable point on the ACT in extreme detail and thoroughly explain both the content side and strategy side of a given lesson.
Beyond the text passages, most lessons have a corresponding video lecture as well, which I really liked. The delivery format isn’t perfect, but the content is dead on and the lesson itself is engaging. When these video lectures are used in conjunction with the text-based lesson, it doesn’t get much more thorough. For students that learn well through text, PrepScholar could be a great fit, especially when you consider the value of their practice work.
Quality and Quantity of Practice Material
If you’re the type of student that loves to work practice questions and learn by doing rather than just studying content and strategies, you’ll love PrepScholar. Offering 2,400+ practice questions and 5 full-length practice tests, PrepScholar boasts some of the best practice work numbers in the industry. While their 2,400 questions aren’t quite as numerous as Testive’s, it’s important to bear in mind that Testive’s 3,000 questions are used for both their SAT and ACT review. When PrepScholar’s ACT questions are lumped in with their SAT material (through their Dual SAT + ACT course), you actually get 9,500 total practice problems and 15 practice tests.
These are some absolutely wild numbers and it is unlikely you’d ever get to them all. And to be clear, PrepScholar does not just create practice problems for the sake of practice problems (and getting this volume recognition) – these are questions of first-rate quality. PrepScholar’s ACT experts have clearly spent considerable time on these questions, as I found them to be very close in terms of content and style to real ACT questions. When you think of PrepScholar practice material, you have to think quantity and quality.
Testive provides an ACT prep course unlike any other. While traditional test prep companies pack students into classrooms for live class sessions or make students read dense textbooks, Testive builds their course around personalized tutoring. At the heart of your Testive prep experience is your weekly coaching. Testive assigns each student a dedicated ACT coach that guides them throughout their entire prep journey. Each week you meet with your ACT coach to review your practice work, talk through issues, plan your schedule for the coming week and cover any questions you may have. Based on your performance and weaknesses detected by Testive’s adaptive software, your coach tailors a study plan to fit your needs.
In between coaching sessions it then falls to the student to complete frequent, but short assignments. These assignments generally consist of a number of practice questions, with the directive to review missed problems as you go. The quality of the practice problems is very impressive, and the solutions that accompany them (text and video) are even better. These sessions only take 20-30 minutes, which helps keep students focused and motivated. We found that this Testive combination of traditional practice work with personal guidance and coaching creates a very effective prep experience that generates real results.
Awesome Personal Coaching
By far and away the highlight of the Testive prep package is their private tutoring, which they call coaching as they believe it is more comprehensive that just tutoring. And they’re right. Your Testive coach doesn’t just tell you what to do or how to study; they provide more of a partnership in your prep journey. You set realistic goals with your coach at the beginning and work towards that end. Along the way, you meet weekly with your coach to stay on track and to learn. These sessions are generally just 30 minutes in length, but are packed with things to cover. Your coach has access to all of your performance data from the previous week, so they always come in fully prepared.
There is no catching up and asking questions like a normal tutoring session. Your coach just dives right in. You usually start by reviewing your work from the prior week, where your coach covers what question types you missed, why you fell for trap answers and where you can improve. This is a critical part of the learning process and your Testive coach covers these weak spots with you in detail. And it never feels like they’re cracking down on you – your coach is always upbeat and optimistic, looking for opportunities for score gains. You then generally plan for the week ahead and your coach will create study plan for you in tandem with Testive’s adaptive software. Finally, before you break, you can talk to your coach about anything ACT related – fears, content questions, whatever. Your Testive coach is there to help guide you, so they are always (at least in our experience) very approachable.
Fantastic Practice Problem Explanations
When it comes to doing practice work, completing the question is only half of the learning process. The other half is following through to review the answer and explanation behind it. Testive recognizes this, and to make sure students get the best learning experience, offers a text explanation of each problem as well as a video solution. The text explanations are very well-written and cover why the correct choice was correct, while the incorrect choices were, well, incorrect. The text explanations are superb and do a great job of giving the basics. The video solution then goes the extra mile and explains, step by step, how you should have attacked the problem. It walks you through the process for solving the question at hand, following which Testive asks you categorize your mistake (if you missed the problem) and take notes as to why. This is some next level self-reflection that just don’t get with other prep companies. Testive really hammers home the learning from your mistakes angle, which our team of test prep experts agrees with and appreciates. In short, these are some of the best problem explanations we have seen in ACT prep, both from a content and delivery perspective.
Administered by ACT, Inc. and commonly used by colleges and universities as a determining factor for admissions, the ACT Exam is a standardized, multiple choice test that is typically taken by high school students in their sophomore, junior or senior year. The ACT measures skills in English, Reading, Math and Science, with an optional Writing section.
How the ACT is Structured
The ACT comprises four sections in the following subject areas: (1) English, (2) Math, (3) Reading, and (4) Science. Examinees can choose whether or not to complete an optional Writing section. The testing time for the four main sections is 2 hours, 55 minutes, plus an additional 40 minutes if the writing option is exercised.
The first section covers English usage and mechanics, including punctuation and grammar. It also covers rhetorical skills, together with sentence structure and organization. The English section has 75 questions with a testing time of 45 minutes.
Math is the second section of the exam and tests the subjects of pre-algebra, algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and trigonometry. For the math section you are allowed to use your 4-function scientific or graphing calculator, provided it is not on the ACT’s prohibited list. Be sure to check the ACT website for a current list of prohibited calculators. The math section has 60 questions, with a testing time of 60 minutes.
The reading section of the ACT consists of four different passages in the subject areas of Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Prose Fiction, and Humanities. Measuring your overall reading comprehension, you will be assessed on your ability to identify and understand main ideas and details, use reasoning skills, interpret important details, make comparisons and grasp cause and effect relationships. The reading section has 40 questions, with a testing time of 35 minutes.
The science section is formatted similarly to the aforementioned reading section, wherein students read passages of varying formats, which may include graphs, charts, and conflicting viewpoints. After reading each passage, students answer a series of questions assessing their interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning and problem-solving skills. The science section has 40 questions, with a testing time of 35 minutes.
Optional Writing Section
Administered at the end of the exam and measuring overall writing skills, the optional writing test consists of one essay question where students are asked to respond to a given prompt. Students are provided with three different perspectives relating to the prompt, and encouraged to develop and explain their own point of view. The writing section has one essay question, with a testing time of 40 minutes.
How Often is the ACT Offered?
The ACT is administered seven times a year on a Saturday during the months of February, April, June, July, September, October and December (Note that New York does not offer a test during the month of July). It is recommended that you register with ACT at least six weeks prior to your desired test date.
Preparing for the ACT
Start by taking a practice test. This will provide you with baseline information about your strengths and weaknesses and allow you to become familiar with the testing format. You will see how test questions are asked, as well as understanding the instructions given on the test.
Utilize prep courses, books and sample questions available from ACT, Inc. Join or form an ACT study group and take a prep course. Take at least one practice test with the use of a timer to simulate the real test. This will give you a sense of timing so you can learn to pace yourself accordingly. Practice, practice, practice!
Increase the time you spend reading and brush up on your reading skills. Expand your reading to new types of books, articles, and magazines. There is a lot of reading on the ACT, so get yourself prepared to quickly read, understand and answer questions effectively.
Practice self-care. Studying for the ACT exam can be stressful, but it will be far more daunting if you don’t take care of yourself. Make sure to stay hydrated, eat healthy meals and take time for physical exercise daily. Don’t skimp on sleep. Practice mindfulness daily, and stay connected with friends and family.
Do I need an ACT prep course?
If you are targeting a better-than-average ACT score, yes. In today’s competitive college admissions landscape, your ACT score will likely be the difference maker on your application and you’ll want to make sure you get a prep course to ensure you’re fully prepared.
How much does a typical ACT prep course cost?
ACT prep courses can cost anywhere from as low as $80 up to $2,000+, all depending on the features, resources and level of personal touch that you need.
Will an ACT prep course raise my score?
Very likely yes. Most ACT prep courses provide a thorough curriculum of instructional material and practice work, that when completed will almost surely raise your score.