The Best ACT / SAT Prep Courses

By Tech Powered Dad | May 14, 2018

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The Best ACT / SAT Prep Courses for 2020

ACT Prep Practice

Every year a combined 3 million students take the ACT and SAT tests. These tests have been with us for quite some time, with the SAT launching in 1926 and the ACT joining the party in 1959. Over the years, these tests have been criticized, they have seen their popularity wax and wane, but but they have remained stubbornly important. One thing is clear, as long as students continue to strive to impress college admissions officers, they will continue to use these tests as a way to set themselves a part, and will continue to look for an edge on these tests.

The idea of prepping students for these tests has been around almost as long as the tests themselves. One of the oldest services, Kaplan, was created in 1938, before the ACT even existed. And while all of the tests that these companies prep for are high stakes (the also do graduate tests like the GRE, LSAT, and many more), for most students, the ACT and SAT tests are the first time that they’ll have encountered the pressures associated with one of these high stakes test, making the idea of some extra support particularly appealing.

Why Use an ACT / SAT Prep Course?

It’s a valid question. There are those that say students might as well just buy a book or find a practice test online assess their weaknesses, and build their practice from there. It’s reasonable to believe that students with elite study skills will be able to analyze their weakness in this way and improve with their own self-study regimen. In reality, though, most 17 and 18 year olds are still developing those study habits and lack some of the most important self-assessment skills to implement such a strategy.

It’s also worth you and your child taking some time to assess where they stand in the admission process. Do you have flexibility on schools or is there a particular dream school? Have you reviewed the 25th-75th percentile of ACT scores at that school? Common advice is to aim for the 75th percentile. If your dream school has a 26-30 for the 25th-75th percentile ACT and your child’s PreACT revealed a predicted composite of 23-27, you may not be feeling very comfortable heading into the ACT. You may want to get ready for some additional prep, and for taking the test more than once.

Score Improvement Guarantees

Will you be working with a test prep service that offers a guarantee that your child will improve their score? If so, keep the following in mind:

  • Your child can’t qualify for the improvement guarantee if they are taking the test for the first time.
  • Read the fine print. The guarantees come in different flavors. Some guarantee significant improvement, of say 4 points on the ACT, while others just guarantee any improvement at all. Additionally, if your child doesn’t improve, some companies will apply the fee you paid towards repeating the course, additional tutoring, or taking the test again rather than a straight up refund.

Evaluate Your Child’s Learning Style

Kids learn in different ways. Some are best as independent studiers, working on a computer or phone. Others would find that distracting and would benefit from classroom instruction. Many can see gains from a 1-1 tutoring relationship. In most cases, years of observing their child learn up close means no one knows a child’s learning style better than their parents. ACT and SAT prep instruction can play out in all of these learning styles and more. You’ll want to consider all of this as you decide what prep format is right for your family.

With all that said, whether you’re looking for the best ACT prep or the best SAT prep option, let’s take a look at the different choices that have made my list. I’m breaking them into 3 categories, traditional, low-cost alternative, and online tutoring.

Traditional ACT / SAT Test Prep Courses

The traditional test prep courses have been around for decades. They are tried and true and are the premium brands on this list. I am talking about Kaplan Test Prep and Princeton Review. Many years ago they originated as pure classroom test prep, but in recent years, they have greatly diversified their options. Do you want a traditional classroom experience? They can still give you that. Would you prefer that your child work solely online, using instructional videos, practice questions, and tests on their website, customized based on your child’s assessment? That’s an option. What about adding tutoring to the mix, either a video tutor online or in person? Yes, they have that too. Each of these options comes at different price points, so they have options to hit many different budgets.

Best ACT/SAT Classroom Prep

Some parents are looking for a traditional classroom prep experience: a teacher up in front of a small class of students that will teach the class and answer questions as they come up. For that, I’d direct you to Princeton Review. In pretty much any metro area in the country, they can connect your child with an instructor that’s gone through a rigorous screening and training process to become an ACT or SAT prep instructor. It only takes a few minutes on their YouTube channel before you realize how on fire these guys are for teaching students for the test.

Best Total ACT/SAT Prep Package

My favorite offering from this group comes from Kaplan Test Prep, their all-inclusive offering. For one reasonable price, parents can sign their child up for an “all you can eat” test prep solution package that includes PSAT, SAT, and ACT prep that runs all the way through December of their senior year of high school (NOTE: This does NOT include AP test prep). While these premium brands do come at a price, they come with a lot of individual attention and highly developed curriculum.

Best ACT/SAT Prep on a Budget

If you’re on a budget, an exciting new alternative has emerged on the scene the last few years, Magoosh. A Bay Area startup, Magoosh manages to keep costs down by keeping their product very scalable by offering it exclusively online. All of their videos, practices tests, and questions are exclusively available through their website and mobile apps. They also offer email support for student questions. While that’s not the same as a video tutor, it is helpful when your child is stuck on a question and you don’t know how to help them.

Like the premium brands, Magoosh also offers a score improvement guarantee. In the case of the ACT, it is 4 points. If you sign up for Magoosh, you’ll want to plan ahead and take advantage of the 3-month plan. It isn’t substantially more expensive than the 1-month plan.

Best ACT/SAT Tutoring Service

Not every parent is looking for a test prep course. Some are really just looking for an ACT tutor. This might be particularly true if your child is a math wiz but needs a lift on the English subject test, or vice versa. You may end up looking for a tutor that specializes in that subject area, or is an expert in ACT / SAT test prep. I should mention that the big brands like Kaplan and Princeton Review do offer ACT and SAT tutoring, but they tend to be tutoring packages, in blocks of dozens of hours. What if you want to create your own tutoring package by just having your child brush up on a specific topic for a few hours? What if you want to hire a specific tutor that is know to be the best at test prep, but on the other side of the country?

In this case, I’d recommend the tutoring marketplace Wyzant. Wyzant will match you with expert tutors on your schedule, either in person or online. Their approach is particularly appealing, since much like many popular freelancing sites nowadays, their site functions like a marketplace. This means that you can browse through different tutor profiles to see who is the highest rated, has the skills you are looking for, and of course, a price that you are comfortable with. You can look for someone on a budget, or decide that you are willing to pay for the most elite ACT on their marketplace, who will have a great history of results, but will come at at a significant price.

Online ACT / SAT Review Courses Compared

When reviewing this chart, remember that a course being marked yes just means that a feature is an available option. It doesn’t mean that every package with that company includes that feature. Some packages with Kaplan include a tutor, some don’t. These offers are also subject to change at any time. Please consult the respective websites to confirm the latest information on product availability and details.

Available Options Kaplan Princeton Review Magoosh Varsity Tutors Wyzant
ACT Review yes yes yes yes yes
SAT Review yes yes yes yes yes
Improvement Guarantee yes yes yes no no
Practice Tests yes yes yes no no
Customized Practice yes yes yes yes yes
Online Tutor Video Video Email Video Video
In Person Tutor yes yes no yes yes
Self-Guided yes yes yes no no
In Person Group Classes yes yes no no no
Mobile App yes yes yes yes yes
“Unlimited” Option yes yes no no no
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