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Kaplan ACT Prep Review
Our in-depth evaluation of the Kaplan ACT online prep course
When most people hear that test prep giant Kaplan has partnered with the makers of the ACT to bring students exclusive access to official ACT problems and practice tests, as well as video lessons and a budget friendly price point, they search no further. But does a partnership with ACT necessarily mean that they offer the best all-around package for ACT preparation? We take a close look at the Kaplan ACT prep course in this detailed review and analyze all of its features.
Kaplan offers three separate prep packages, each catering to students seeking a different type of course format. Your prep options are as follows:
The Self-Paced course is Kaplan’s most basic package, and is by far their least expensive. At just under $100, this prep package offers everything the DIY student should need to prep. This includes 30 or so on demand video lessons, 2,000+ practice questions and 5 practice tests. While this offering doesn’t have quite the same level of guidance or support as Kaplan’s upper end courses, for strong and independent students, this may be all they need. In addition, this course competes directly with the pricing of Magoosh’s high-value self-directed course that gets much acclaim.
At the next level up, Kaplan offers its flagship Live Online class. This course gives students all of the same materials as the Self-Paced course, but adds in the all-important live teaching element and an e-book. These course components are discussed in more detail below, but they add significant value. For these extra resources, the price is increased to around $400, which is still a good value as compared to other full-service courses with a class component.
Finally, Kaplan offers its Online Tutoring package for those students needing significant attention and/or seeking high-end scores. This course includes the basic online course materials buts adds in either 10, 20, 30 or 40 hours of private 1-on-1 tutoring. Basically, if you’re trying to get into a top 25 university or know that you need some very specialized attention, this package is for you. That said, it doesn’t come cheap. This package starts at around $1,400.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication
Evaluation of Kaplan ACT Online Prep Coursework
The most unique and valuable aspect of the Kaplan ACT prep course is that they have partnered with ACT directly to bring their students an exclusive learning experience. In partnership with the makers of the exam, Kaplan’s course offers students access to real, previously used ACT questions and full-length practice tests. In fact, the two organizations are so closely intertwined in their prep that you actually are re-directed to purchase the course through ACT’s website, and the actual online materials say it is an ACT prep course “powered by Kaplan.” So essentially the prep course is from the makers of the ACT, with expertise from Kaplan.
In my opinion, the value of this partnership cannot be overstated. No other course gives students this level of realistic practice. Other courses like Princeton Review come very close and do a fine job in their question design, but this is the real deal and the main reason why our team jolted Kaplan to the top tier of our best ACT prep courses list.
As for the actual study plan, you follow Kaplan’s “Learning Path” throughout your studies. This Learning Path guides you through the on demand video lessons, required practice questions, and short readings. This is the basis of the coursework for Self-Paced students. And for those students taking the Live Online course, this online platform works in conjunction with your live classes, which are discussed in greater detail below.
The Learning Path generally consists of 5 study units, with 5 practice tests mixed in between units. The practice exams are generally back end loaded, so that you have a better grasp of the material before diving into testing under exam-like conditions. Within each study unit there are generally 16 to 20 activities, which in total take about 2.5 to 4 hours to complete. So you can expect to study for about 15 to 20 hours across the 5 study units.
The activities within each of the 5 study units are video lessons, practice problems, and occasionally, short PDF readings. The video lessons form the basis of your instructional work. Kaplan keeps the video lectures brief and each one is only 7 to 12 minutes in length. I think this is a fantastic call on Kaplan’s part. They recognize that high schoolers don’t always have the longest attention span, so a 2-hour prerecorded lecture won’t do it.
Instead, Kaplan produces these bite-sized, engaging videos that cover both content review and provide test strategies. Each video takes the form of your instructor sitting behind a desk on camera, and as they speak, digital effects, key points and graphics appear around them. Often, the video will cut from your teacher to a digital whiteboard, where they will explain a critical concept or work a practice problem. In addition, the videos frequently pause to have you work a practice question that you then immediately review.
This varied approach to teaching is deeply engaging, and my attention never wavered during these quick hit videos. I love how the lecture is constantly cutting from one element to the next. One minute you’re getting a verbal lesson, then working a practice problem, then getting an in-depth review. They do all of this quickly and efficiently, but without being jumpy. It is a really nice balance.
Not to mention, the production value of these videos is off the charts. The digital effects are incredibly well-done and the audiovisuals are super high-quality. I honestly could not find one thing to knock with respect to the videos. They are an all-round home run by Kaplan.
After each video lesson, you are directed to work on some guided practice, then independent practice. The guided practice is usually just 3 or 4 quick problems that cover the exact material you just learned. These guided practice questions have a more in-depth solution and explanation. So after you’re done with these problems (usually less than 10 minutes), you watch a video explanation of each. Your instructor walks you step-by-step through how you should have attacked the question. These video reviews have a ton of value and are almost more valuable than the practice itself.
You then move into the independent practice section and work a number of other questions on the same topic. These questions are generally from the same grouping, but don’t have a video solution to each – just a text explanation. You work these 10 to 15 problems, review the answers for each, and move on.
And that is about it for each study unit. You move from one sequence of video lesson + practice questions to the next until you’ve completed the unit. Alternatively, Kaplan also allows you to tackle activities one at a time through the activities library (essentially an archive of all the different activities in one place), but I wouldn’t recommend this. The Learning Path is quite simple and straightforward, and you can finish a unit in 2.5 to 4 hours. Once you get rolling, it all goes pretty fast. As such, I often found myself looking for additional practice material.
To scratch that practice itch, Kaplan offers a question bank with over 2,000 practice problems. Again, these problems (as well as the problems referenced above in the study units) are official, previously used ACT questions. The value of this cannot be overstated. You can’t come any closer to realistic practice than real questions.
You access these practice questions from Kaplan’s Question Bank function. This tool is very useful and allows you to create customized practice session sets. You can use advanced filters to create a practice set by topic, question type, timing, and more. This allows you to narrowly target your weaknesses and hammer problems from those categories. At the end of the day, that is the only real way to improve and make significant gains, so this feature comes in handy.
However, it is with these practice questions in the Question Bank that I may have my one major gripe with the Kaplan course. None of these practice questions have a written solution or problem explanation. They will tell you which answer choice is correct, but that is it. There is no detailed reasoning or thoughtful analysis provided. And this is a real disappointment given that the guided and independent practice questions in the study units offer this. Often there is no better way to learn than from your mistakes, so this was a bit of letdown.
All things considered, I was thoroughly impressed with the Kaplan course curriculum and study materials. The quality of the practice work is beyond reproach and the video lessons are just as good. The videos are masterfully produced from a delivery perspective and contain just the right content. Apart from the complaint about text explanations of some of the practice problems, this is a 5-star course plan.
The Live Classes
For many students, the Live Online class may be a powerful prep option. This is particularly true for students who need commitment and to be held accountable. With on demand, self-paced studying it is easy to procrastinate and slack off, but you can’t do that with live courses. The reason for this is you meet at regularly scheduled times with an instructor and you need to keep up with the work.
Kaplan’s Live Online course offers just this. This is the course format that I took and found it to be very valuable. Over a month or so, you meet for 16 hours of live class time. At a certain time each week you log in to a virtual classroom and engage in a lesson.
Generally, I prefer in-person classes and am not crazy about virtual learning sessions or Zoom-style meetings, but I really liked this Kaplan Live Online class. The main reason for this is that while one instructor teaches the course, another instructor works the chat line and answers questions. This results in zero interruption of the lesson, which is greatly appreciated by the students who aren’t asking the questions.
The Kaplan Live Online class sessions generally cover the same material that is contained in the on demand videos in the Self-Paced program. Thus, if you miss a session, you can always watch a prerecorded lesson to catch up. That said, the two are not exactly aligned. There is obviously way more content included in the live classes, and while there is lots of overlap, the in-class sessions are definitely freer flowing and have a less structured approach.
I really like this about the live classes compared to video lessons. The videos are great for efficient, quick hit studying, but the live classes offer deeper understanding and more material. In addition, the Kaplan instructor teaching my Live Online class was fantastic. She was very smart and a great communicator. She was really good at taking a boring topic and making it (at least somewhat) interesting.
Kaplan ACT Practice Tests
Similar to their practice questions, Kaplan offers practice exams built on official ACT materials. In total, you get access to 5 full-length practice tests. Again, there is no better means of studying than under exam-like conditions. And it doesn’t get any more exam-like than real, past exams. As such, these are about the best practice tests around in ACT prep.
But it is not just the quality of the practice tests that is noteworthy. Another huge benefit of the Kaplan course is that these practice tests are delivered through a testing interface that mirrors the real ACT. This should prevent any surprises on test day and adds on another layer of practicing under real test-like conditions.
Kaplan ACT Prep Books
Whether you get a prep book, and if so in what format, depends on your course selection. If you opt for Kaplan’s basic Self-Paced course, you will not get a prep book with your course. This is unfortunate as Kaplan’s standalone ACT prep book is quite good, though it’s understandable at this price point.
However, if you ante up for the Live Online course, you will get access to Kaplan’s book in digital form. This e-book has incredible value as it covers test strategies, content review and practice problems. The one downside, however, is that if you don’t like reading books on your computer (like myself), you still may be stuck buying the book in paperback form separately as a supplement.
Finally, you do get a hard copy version of the book when you pay up for the Online Tutoring package. While this may be something to celebrate, when you consider the price tag of this package, it shouldn’t even be a question that the book is included.
Interface and User Experience
The Kaplan user interface is absolutely first-rate. The digital platform is sleek, modern and very easy to navigate. There are just three tabs containing your study resources, making things very simple. And even within the largest section – the Learning Path – you can easily find your tasks by drilling down. So the usability of this portal is fantastic.
The look and feel are also top notch. As expected with test prep behemoth Kaplan, everything is smooth and sleek. The platform is very visually appealing and there was zero issue with load speeds or lag times.
No Real Supplemental Resources
Another minor weakness of this course is that there are no real supplemental resources. While other courses provide some cool study aids and side tools, like flashcards and mobile apps, Kaplan just doesn’t offer anything of real value here. You do get an e-book with the Live Online course, but other than that, there’s just not much. I suppose I would like to see Kaplan offer some extra resources here, like flashcards or true/false drills perhaps.
Kaplan ACT Tutoring
While I didn’t personally utilize any private tutoring from Kaplan, the option is definitely available. As referenced above, you can purchase private tutoring packages in blocks of 10, 20, 30 or 40 hours. That said, these packages are not cheap. Starting at roughly $2,000, the tutoring packages are for the most serious students that need an elite score. On the point of pricing though, I would just note that no ACT tutoring is going to be cheap. Most every tutor worth their salt (and who is intimately knowledgeable about your prep course resources) is going to charge an arm and a leg. Just make sure you do all the math before getting scared off by the Kaplan price tag (and factor in that the Kaplan price includes access to the prep course).
All of that said, I would expect the Kaplan tutors to be superb. If they are anything like the instructor I had for my Live Online class, they will almost assuredly be ACT masters and very approachable. My instructor was smart, open and very adept at explaining concepts. Again though, this is just my estimation based on my interaction with my instructor through the class. If you want a surefire 1:1 tutoring experience, I can personally recommend Testive, whose tutoring services I have used and found to be phenomenal.
Content Access Periods
No matter which Kaplan course option you choose, you will get 6 months of access to your materials. For most students, this should be plenty of time, even if you plan to take the exam 2-3 times. 6 months may not sound like much, but even with just 30 minutes of studying per day, you’ll easily get through all of the material.
Does Kaplan Have a Mobile App?
Unfortunately, Kaplan doesn’t offer a mobile app, despite that many other prep companies do. This is a little disappointing too, because when you search for Kaplan in the app store, they have apps for tons of other courses like the MCAT and bar exam. I am not sure why they don’t also offer an ACT app, but this is a little disappointing.
Does Kaplan Have a Higher Score Guarantee?
Similar to the mobile app issue, Kaplan does not offer a higher score guarantee, despite that competitors like Magoosh and Princeton Review offer one with their courses. Not only that, Kaplan offers a higher score guarantee with a number of their other courses, so not sure why they don’t offer one here.
Kaplan Refund Policy
Although they do not have a higher score guarantee, Kaplan does have a nice refund policy if you change your mind within a couple days after purchasing their course. If circumstances change and you need to cancel your prep course, you can do so within 3 days of signing up for a 100% refund.
Verdict: Kaplan ACT Prep Course Review
The Kaplan ACT prep course is about as close to perfect as it comes with ACT prep. The course is highlighted by Kaplan’s direct partnership with ACT, the makers of the exam. This exclusive benefit gives Kaplan students access to real, previously used ACT questions and full-length practice tests. This is where a significant portion of Kaplan’s ACT value is derived. But it doesn’t end with best-in-class practice material.
Kaplan also offers some superb bite-sized video lessons, covering testing strategies and content review. These video lectures are short, engaging and incredibly informative. My one major complaint about the Kaplan course is the lack of solutions/problem explanations around their practice questions in the question bank. This somewhat hinders the review process after working practice sets. But apart from this one flaw, it was very difficult to find much to complain about with this course. All in all, Kaplan hits an absolute home run with their ACT prep package and we rate this course very high.
How much does the Kaplan ACT prep course cost?
The Kaplan ACT prep packages range widely in price, from just under $100 for their DIY, self-paced course, up to $2,000+ for private tutoring packages.
Does Kaplan have live classes?
Yes. Kaplan’s mainstay course, the Live Online package, offers 16 hours of live instruction with a Kaplan expert through a virtual classroom.
Is Kaplan ACT prep worth it?
100% yes. If access to official, previously used ACT questions was not enough on its own, you also get some of the best instruction in ACT prep (live and on demand).