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Princeton Review ACT Prep Review
Our comprehensive evaluation and rating of the Princeton Review ACT prep course & books
Princeton Review has been prepping students for the ACT for 35+ years with much success. In fact, many of each year’s class of students achieving a perfect ACT score of 36 use Princeton Review’s prep materials to get there. So it is no surprise that Princeton is often at the top of the list for high schoolers and their parents hunting down the best ACT prep course. But how does Princeton Review stack up against other prep providers? We analyze all of the strengths and weaknesses of the Princeton Review ACT prep course and books in this detailed review guide.
Princeton Review offers three different versions of their ACT prep course. Each package contains varying features and levels of content. These offerings include:
The Self-Paced course is Princeton Review’s entry level package and carries the very affordable price tag of just under $300. This package includes 135+ video lessons, 1,200 or so practice problems and 8 full-length tests, among other features. This option offers great value for the bargain-seeking prepper, but lacks the all-important live class element.
Princeton Review’s flagship package, the Essentials ACT course, is by far their most popular. Pricing out at around $950, this offering generally boasts the same materials and features as the value Self-Paced course, but adds in 18 hours of live classroom time, printed textbooks and a couple extra practice tests (including proctored exams). This package offers a wide-range of extremely valuable prep resources and it is no surprise that it is Princeton’s most popular choice.
At the high end, and with a price tag of around $1,750, Princeton Review offers its ACT 31+ course. This package is unique among ACT courses in that it guarantees students a score of 31 or better. For those trying to get into a top 25 university or earn an academic scholarship, this may be your best bet. Princeton Review fulfills this guarantee through 36 total hours of live instruction, additional practice tests and private tutoring. This is the deluxe package for students wanting to crush the ACT.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Evaluation of the Princeton Review ACT Prep Materials
Princeton Review offers one of the most robust course plans in ACT prep. From the moment you log in to your online account, which will act as your home base for your studies, you are greeted with a boatload of prep work to be completed. In total, you must finish roughly 40 study units to complete all course materials.
These study units are smartly divided up into logical groupings by ACT topic, such as “meaning in context” and “right triangles.” This creates a very methodical and linear approach to your studies, so you never feel like you are jumping around or overwhelmed with too much at once.
Within each study unit, there is a learning component and a practice component. You always start with the learning component and dive right into the material. These lessons tackle both content review and strategies through a series of slides, short videos and drills. Essentially, each learning component is a module of tasks that you must complete one at a time. They typically start with a short intro slide or two, before diving into the video lesson.
The Princeton Review video lessons are fantastic, and one of my personal favorites among ACT prep courses. Princeton recognizes that teenagers can’t watch a boring 90-minute prerecorded lecture, so they keep their videos short and engaging. They typically range in length from 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the topic.
Your instructor appears on screen and delivers the lesson before a digital whiteboard. As they speak, notes and practice problems appear in front of them. It is a nifty visual effect that allows the teacher to use a marker to draw right on the screen. So the instructor’s back is never to you as they deliver the lesson – the text material is actually superimposed in front of them on this digital background, allowing them to look right at the camera as they mark up the screen.
This really helps to hold your attention and keep you engaged. This is one of the coolest video deliveries I have seen across online ACT prep courses and one of my favorite aspects of this course. When you combine the short length of the videos with the bubbly personality of the Princeton instructors and the cool digital effects of the whiteboard, you get a killer video lesson that seriously improves comprehension.
After each video lesson, you are directed within the module to a series of short drills. These drills can be fill in the blank, true/false questions, moving blocks of text into the right column, etc. Honestly, there is such a wide variety of drill types that I can’t list them all here. But the end result is that you get a varied approach to testing the material you just learned, which is a huge benefit. The final element of each learning module is a quiz. This requires you to work a few practice problems and review the answers. In total, the entire learning component of the unit takes about 15-25 minutes to complete.
You then move into the other component of each study unit – the practice session. In each practice session you are directed to complete roughly 15-20 questions, though sometimes more or less depending on the subject. In any event, you complete the problems like you would any other quiz and at the end there is a review session. This is where the real learning comes in. You review each answer, both correct and incorrect, and read why the correct answer is correct and the other answer choices are incorrect.
On the whole, I would say the Princeton Review problem explanations are OK. They are not the best we have seen (see Magoosh’s video and text explanations for that), but they definitely hold their own.
As for the practice question quality, it is superb. These practice problems are written by Princeton Review’s in-house team of ACT experts, and they do a fine job. The questions closely mirror the real ACT questions and I honestly could not distinguish between the two (and I have seen a lot of ACT questions). As far as non-official questions go, these are about as good as they come.
The one thing I will point out here on the topic of question quality is that Kaplan actually uses real, officially licensed ACT questions. This is a benefit unique to Kaplan students, and if realistic practice material is the absolute most important thing to you, I’d give our Kaplan review a read.
My final comment on Princeton Review’s practice work is that their testing software, like the questions themselves, is excellent. The testing interface you see onscreen with Princeton nearly mirrors the real ACT. This is a real advantage, as you won’t be hit with any surprises on game day. We always look for this feature in our reviews, as it is crucial to practice under the closest exam-like conditions you can get.
The practice component of the study unit will take you somewhere between 30 and 50 minutes to finish depending on how many questions there are and how long you take to review. Thus, each study unit takes roughly an hour or so on average to complete. You can do the math, but across 40+ study units, that is some significant prep time.
All in all, I could not have been more impressed with the Princeton Review curriculum and study materials. Their study plan is extensive and very detailed, and I love how it is structured. The methodical organization of the study units, and the 1-2 punch of lessons plus practice is a powerful combo. If I had to nitpick one thing, it would be the problem explanations. They are not the best I have seen, but not bad either. In any event, that is just one flaw in a fantastic all-around package that rates out right near the top of our best ACT prep courses list.
Princeton Review ACT Live Classes
For those students that take Princeton Review’s Essentials or ACT 31+ course, you will have access to their live class sessions on top of the video lessons. For the Essentials course, this means 18 hours of live instruction, and for the ACT 31+, this means 36 total hours of class time. These classes can be taken online through a virtual classroom or in-person.
I personally took the live online class through the Essentials course and greatly enjoyed the experience. Across 18 hours, my instructor covered review of substantive content and provided targeted strategies for quick point boosts on the exam. I feel like the in-class lesson plan generally covered the same material that is in the video lessons, but definitely went deeper. The structure of the class also had a less restrictive feel, so we could ask questions, stop for clarifications and get some good side tips.
Our instructor was also very good. She was incredibly knowledgeable and approachable (at least virtually). She was always open to questions and encouraged students to ask for clarification where necessary. This did slow the pace of the class down a little at times, but the classes were otherwise efficiently designed.
The live classes generally align with and track the workbook you get from Princeton when you sign up. I cover the books in greater detail below, but it was nice to have the combo of verbal and written material. Overall, I really liked the class experience and think it added some serious value with material you don’t get with the video lessons alone.
Princeton Review ACT Practice Tests
Similar to the practice questions in the drills throughout the lessons, the Princeton practice tests are very high-quality. The questions are well-written and thoughtfully-crafted by their experts. These problems closely align with what you will see on exam day, preventing any real surprises. It should just seem like another practice test when you sit for the real thing based on the questions I saw through Princeton.
In addition, as mentioned above, Princeton boasts some great testing software. Their testing interface nearly mirrors the real ACT interface and the differences are negligible. This provides a great opportunity to practice under exam-like conditions.
In total, you get 8 full-length practice tests with the Self-Paced course, 10 with the Essentials course and 14 with the ACT 31+. However, one major benefit to Essentials and ACT 31+ students, which Self-Paced students just don’t get, is the proctored exams. With these two higher-end course types, in the midst of your live class schedule, Princeton will allocate time for proctored practice exams. To be precise, Essentials students get 3 of these proctored exams, and ACT 31+ students get 4. I personally found these proctored tests to be super helpful. While a little stressful, they are most realistic test environment. The stress sucks, but it is absolutely the best thing for you to get fully prepped.
Princeton Review ACT Books
Like the proctored exams, the Princeton Review coursebooks are one benefit that Essentials and ACT 31+ students get, but not Self-Paced students. This is an important point that Self-Paced students need to be mindful of when considering the course – there are no Princeton Review books with the purchase of this course. So if you’re the type of learner that likes thumbing through the pages of a paperback, this may be an important decision point.
However, for students of the two upper tier course types, this is not an issue. You will receive two books when you sign up with Princeton Review – a course workbook and a book of practice questions. The titles of these books are fairly self-explanatory. The course workbook tracks with your coursework and the practice question book contains around 1,500 practice problems.
More specifically, the course workbook is used to follow along with your live classes and contains some great tips, tricks and strategies, as well as content review. I personally really like this book. The insights are helpful, and I really appreciated the use of example problems to demonstrate points. This is a fantastic resource for book learners. As for the practice problems book, there isn’t really much to say. It contains a bunch of the same practice problems you get online, but in paperback form. That’s all.
Interface and User Experience
The Princeton Review digital platform is a major strength of this course. The functionality absolutely stands out among prep companies’ portals. The learning modules described above are very easy to navigate and the layout is visually appealing. To be honest, you glide right through each study unit without thought. You never have to stop and pause and wonder where you’re at in the platform or how to get back. The navigation bar at the top clearly directs you to your study work, practice tests, and performance reports, among other features. It is really intuitive.
Additionally, the interface is sleek and visually appealing. The whole platform has a professional and modern appearance without feeling over-engineered. I really like this interface, especially as compared to other test prep companies’ offerings.
Supplemental Study Aids & Resources
The most noteworthy feature of the Princeton Review ACT course that is not a core component of the study plan is the set of performance and improvement trackers you get. These analytics provide some powerful insights into how you are progressing. The trackers take a deep dive into your performance on individual subtopics and present the data visually. You are shown through color-coded graphs the hot spots where you need work.
This is a fantastic resource that should absolutely be utilized. I looked at these graphs often throughout my studies to see where I needed to pick it up. To be specific about the types of metrics you get, you get score reports (which show your performance on individual practice tests), topic breakdowns (the color-coded graphs referenced above) and goal trackers. The goal tackers are a cool visual representation of how far you’ve come and where you are going. There isn’t a ton of data here – maybe a dozen or so points – but it a very nice feature.
In addition to these progress trackers, you also get some other minor resources including college rankings, PSAT prep materials, SAT prep materials and basic resource info. Unless you are also planning on taking the SAT or PSAT, you probably won’t use these that much.
Tutoring from Princeton Review
Princeton Review does offer tutoring if you want it, though I didn’t take it myself. In fact, they sell tutoring packages as add-ons to just about every form of prep course they offer. So I can’t speak to the quality of Princeton’s tutors from experience, but if they are anything like the instructor I had for my live online class session, you’d be in very good hands. As mentioned, she was super smart and very open to questions. Not only that, she was just plain nice and really broke down barriers with the students. So if you get a tutor like her, I’d have no problem supporting the Princeton tutoring.
If you’re looking for some guaranteed tutoring results though, I have used Testive ACT Prep’s tutors before and found them to fantastic. I would give them a look in addition to Princeton if tutoring is crucial to your study plan.
Content Access Periods
No matter which course type you purchase with Princeton Review (Self-Paced, Essentials or ACT 31+), you will get 1 year of access to their online materials. For 99% of students this will be more than enough time to sign up for the test, fully prep and take the exam – and even re-take if you need to (though hopefully that won’t be necessary). Moreover, the Essentials and ACT 31+ courses give you extra time before your live classes start, so you really get more than a year with these packages. Regardless of your situation, it doesn’t get much better than this level of access.
Does Princeton Review Have a Mobile App?
Princeton Review does have a mobile app for its students, but it is nothing to write home about. Unlike its digital desktop platform, which is sleek and user friendly, the app is anything but. It is clunky and slow and just not that useful. That said, it does give you access to your video lessons and practice problems if you’re on the go. The layout isn’t the best and the onscreen material is a little cramped, but if you’re in a pinch and need to get your daily studying in, you can use your smartphone. I just wouldn’t rely on the app for full time studying.
Princeton Review’s Higher Score Guarantee
Princeton Review has a very generous score increase guarantee. There are technical requirements that must be met (so read the legal jargon), but essentially if you set your baseline score with them, take the full course, and don’t get a better score on exam day, you can repeat the course for free or get your money back. This is very generous policy – particularly considering Kaplan doesn’t offer an analogous guarantee for ACT. Make sure you read the fine print, but this is a nice insurance policy.
And though I’ve already discussed above, the ACT 31+ provides the unique promise of guaranteeing a score of at least 31 on the ACT. Now there are some strict requirements around this – like needing to have a baseline score of at least 26 – but it is still a very cool feature that you can’t get elsewhere.
Princeton Review Refund Policy
If your circumstances change shortly after purchasing your Princeton Review prep course, or you simply change your mind, you can request a full refund of your tuition with 7 days generally. This is a nice cooldown period that offers students flexibility if something comes up.
The Princeton Review ACT prep course is about as good they come in the ACT prep space. Princeton offers one of the most extensive and detailed curriculums I have seen, and generally provides some of the best all-around practice work you can get your hands on. The live classes, which can be taken live online or in-person, are led by some top tier instructors and take a deep dive into the most critical ACT subjects and test taking techniques. And these classes are backed up by some superb online video lessons. Princeton has smartly chosen to design these lessons in short, engaging clips of 4 to 10 minutes, so your attention never really wavers. The video lessons are built right in to online learning modules that hit video lessons, drills, content slides and more, for maximum variation in content delivery.
To complement the online materials, Princeton also boasts some fantastic prep books, which are stuffed with content review, strategies, and example problems. This results in one of the best all-around courses we have reviewed in ACT prep. The couple of knocks that we have against Princeton surround their fairly average problem explanations and a lackluster mobile app; however, these two flaws are rather minor compared to the overall strengths of this prep package. In sum, we rate this Princeton Review ACT prep course and the accompanying books very highly, and believe this prep package should be more than sufficient to get students a score in the 30’s.
How much does the Princeton Review ACT prep course cost?
The Princeton Review ACT prep packages range widely in price from around $300 for the basic Self-Paced course, up to $1,750 for their top shelf ACT 31+ package.
Does Princeton Review have live classes?
Princeton Review’s top two ACT courses – the Essentials and ACT 31+ packages – each offer live class sessions, live online or in-person.
Will Princeton Review ACT prep raise my score?
Very likely yes. Princeton Review offers one of the most comprehensive and thorough prep packages around, which makes it almost certain your score will increase if you take the full course. And if it doesn’t, Princeton has a nice money back guarantee.