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PrepScholar vs Kaplan SAT & ACT
Our detailed comparison of the SAT and ACT prep courses from PrepScholar and Kaplan
For many people, when they think of test prep, they think of Kaplan. They are almost always the first company to pop up in search results, and everybody has a sister or a friend who’s used them to prep for some exam. However, in recent years, a number of smaller test prep companies, including PrepScholar, have made waves in the test prep world for their combination of affordability and effectiveness. In this side-by-side comparison, we see how the SAT and ACT prep courses from Kaplan and PrepScholar stack up.
To most effectively see how the SAT and ACT courses from Kaplan and PrepScholar stack up, we think it is best to see a side-by-side comparison of the key features of each course. Based on our evaluation, here is how we see these two prep options rating out.
Quality of Curriculum & Coursework
Kaplan and PrepScholar take vastly different approaches to their SAT and ACT curriculum. PrepScholar takes a very classic (and proven) approach to instruction of “learn, practice, review.” You may be able to guess how this works, but essentially you get a text and video lesson on a given topic, then hammer practice problems to test your knowledge following the lesson, and finally review solutions to the problems to reinforce your learning. This simple, yet effective instructional design is backed by learning science, and our team loved its use in this course.
By contrast, Kaplan uses a much more modern approach to teaching its SAT and ACT material by trying hard to appeal directly to teenagers. Kaplan uses video lessons that feature an instructor sitting on a couch with a coffee in hand, speaking causally to the camera like you were an old family friend. Kaplan’s overall course structure is cohesive and well-designed, but it’s this modern component that really jumps out.
Our team found both approaches to teaching to be highly effective; however, it is PrepScholar’s smart, adaptive software that seals the deal for us in this category. Wrapped around every lesson and set of practice work, PrepScholar employs a very smart algorithm to analyze your strengths and weaknesses, constantly re-allocating practice work and lesson time to compensate for where you need help. This streamlines the learning process and cuts out unnecessary repetition and material. We loved this combination of old school lesson work and smart, adaptive software – and as such, we give PrepScholar the win here. Advantage: PrepScholar.
Pricing & Course Options
Pricing is a tough category to judge between these two prep companies, as it really depends on which package you go with. On the one hand, Kaplan provides an on-demand course that runs for right around $200, as well as more robust course options with live classes that range in price from around $700 up to $1,300. On the flip side, PrepScholar offers its flagship “Complete Course” (a self-paced option) for a shade under $400, as well as a course option with live classes for around $900.
So, on the surface, it would seem that Kaplan gets the win on straight pricing; however, as discussed more fully below, PrepScholar provides nearly 3x the amount of practice work as Kaplan, as well as more in the way of guarantees, so this makes it very hard to judge. Thus, looking to value – price weighed against quality and quantity of material – we have to give the nod to PrepScholar. Advantage: PrepScholar.
When it comes to production value, Kaplan is the clear winner. Their picture and audio quality are supremely good, and the use of sharp and well-timed onscreen graphics is superb.
However, in terms of the style of these videos, it just feels like Kaplan tries a little too hard. Most videos either feature an instructor sitting on a couch, casually chatting with you like you’re a friend, or an instructor onscreen with an actual student walking through some lesson in a corny way. The student pretends to not understand something and the instructor explains the concept in a clearly scripted way. It just feels somewhat patronizing, and I don’t think they are giving 17-year-olds as much credit as they deserve. By contrast, PrepScholar’s lessons are all business.
They take the form of a classic PowerPoint-style slideshow, and the instructor gives their verbal lesson while updating the slide with notes in red ink. The PrepScholar video lectures actually reminded me of a number of my college courses. In any event, this makes this a tough category to call, but ultimately, if you can get over the corniness of the Kaplan lessons, they are really helpful. Advantage: Kaplan.
This category is a pretty easy win for Kaplan. And that’s because Kaplan provides prep books in both hardcopy and digital format, while PrepScholar does not provide any. To be clear, PrepScholar does provide their written lessons, which are exceedingly detailed and insightful, in printable format, but they are not written like books. Whether this will matter to you depends totally on whether you are the type of student that need prep books. But in either case, Kaplan gets the win here for their well written prep books. Advantage: Kaplan.
Although it is PrepScholar’s on demand “Compete Course” that gets all the fanfare, their “PrepScholar Classes” package – which as you can probably guess, includes live classes – is actually incredibly impressive. In fact, so much so that I was pretty surprised to find out that it wasn’t their best seller. We found PrepScholar’s live classes to be highly effective, with clear and helpful instruction from some awesome teachers, as well as a fantastic digital classroom setup. In addition, their live classes were much smaller in size than the Kaplan classes.
This gave a feeling of more personalized instruction, and less intimidation to ask questions. Kaplan’s live classes are effective as well, though we just don’t think they pack the same punch. Kaplan is a test prep giant that’s been doing live classes on a nationwide basis for decades, but with that comes the type of issues that typically accompany mass production. The live class lectures are streamlined, but lessons feel robotic and the instructors just aren’t quite as passionate or eager to stop for questions (especially with those class sizes). Advantage: PrepScholar.
When it comes to practice materials, PrepScholar wins by a mile. A country mile. Not only does PrepScholar win on quantity, but they also win on quality of practice work. Let’s start with the numbers. PrepScholar offers a combined 9,500 SAT and ACT practice questions to Kaplan’s 3,000, and 15 combined practice tests to Kaplan’s 13.
That makes the volume side of the equation an easy call. However, we also give the nod to PrepScholar on quality. We found PrepScholar’s question content, difficulty and length to be a closer match for the real thing. And that doesn’t even cover the actual problem explanations, where we again favor PrepScholar’s work. Advantage: PrepScholar.
User Experience & Interface
In an increasingly digital world, user interface and experience are becoming more important than ever for ACT and SAT prep courses. Having a platform that is intuitive, easy to use and clean can even make a difference in the efficiency of your studies. And on this point, Kaplan wins. Their overall user interface, like their video lessons, is modern and cool.
It is also extremely easy to use, with clear direction on what to study and when. This is not to say PrepScholar’s user interface is bad – it is perfectly serviceable and we actually quite liked it – but it’s just not as good. Advantage: Kaplan.
Honestly, both PrepScholar and Kaplan each provide pretty sparse supplemental resources to their courses, particularly when compared to other SAT/ACT prep providers like Princeton Review. That said, if there is one notable resource between the two companies, it is definitely Kaplan’s SAT Channel and ACT Channel. This “Channel” is meant to act like a sort of television channel that you tune into every night.
In reality though, it’s more of an office hours style lesson. A Kaplan instructor takes a deep dive into one particular topic for the night and covers everything you need to know from test taking strategies to advanced content review. Bottom line, it’s a super helpful resource for students and the only real worthwhile resource here. Advantage: Kaplan.
PrepScholar gets the easy win in this quantitative category by offering 1 year for access to their prep materials, as compared to 6 months of access with Kaplan. Advantage: PrepScholar.
Oddly enough, Kaplan provides a score guarantee for their SAT prep program, but not their ACT prep program. Given that their prep curriculum for the two exams is nearly identical, this oneleft me scratching my head a bit. In any case, Kaplan’s SAT prep course comes with their usual “higher score guarantee.” Meaning, they guarantee you’ll score at least one point higher on the real exam than before you started studying.
Not much of a promise, and a little disappointing in a category that we always put heavy weight on. By contrast, PrepScholar’s SAT prep course has a 160+ point increase guarantee, and their ACT program comes with a 4+ point increase guarantee. These are two of the highest guarantees in the industry, and we were quite happy to see this. Advantage: PrepScholar.
Verdict: Kaplan vs PrepScholar Comparison
While we found the SAT and ACT prep courses from both Kaplan and PrepScholar to be effective, we ultimately give the nod to PrepScholar as our preferred prep option. Kaplan has a lot to offer in terms of high-quality video lessons, solid prep books and live classes that have been clearly vetted to near perfection over the course of decades. Yet, this same Kaplan course also feels clunky. The video lessons try too hard, almost to the point of turning you off, and the curriculum is overoptimized, with rigid study plans and instructors going through the motions.
PrepScholar, on the other hand, does an incredible job blending old school learning patterns with new world AI-driven software. Their masterfully designed curriculum with short, digestible lessons, mountains of practice work, and smart software is the perfect recipe for an effective prep course. PrepScholar isn’t perfect either, but our team does prefer them to Kaplan, especially at their attractive price point.
Which prep course is better, PrepScholar or Kaplan?
After thoroughly reviewing the SAT and ACT prep courses from Kaplan and PrepScholar, our team prefers the prep course from PrepScholar. That said, there are some key differences, so make sure to read our full analysis.
What’s the main difference between PrepScholar and Kaplan?
The clear difference between Kaplan and PrepScholar is each company’s approach to video lessons. Kaplan takes a casual, conversational approach to video lectures, while PrepScholar relies on a more traditional and thorough lesson presentation.
Do both PrepScholar and Kaplan have score increase guarantees?
PrepScholar offers extremely generous score guarantees for both its SAT and ACT prep courses (+160 points and +4 points, respectively), while Kaplan oddly guarantees a “higher score” for its SAT course only.