You can use apps to order food, watch sports, make yourself look like an octogenarian, and even study for the ACT. ACT apps are a somewhat recent phenomenon, but they're pretty appealing. After all, studying on your phone sounds like way more fun than doing it in a book.
Unfortunately, apps aren't enough to prepare you for the test on their own, but they can be helpful resource. In this article, I'll explain what ACT prep apps are, list the best ACT apps (most of which are free!), and offer tips on how to use them effectively.
ACT Apps: An Overview
As mobile apps have become more popular, a number of ACT prep apps have been created to help students prepare for the ACT. Those who have created the apps are trying to capitalize on the popularity of mobile apps, and they want to make ACT prep material more accessible for students.
If you have an ACT prep app on your phone or tablet, you'll be able to study for the ACT wherever you’re at, whether you’re at home, school, or on a plane. Also, studying on an app is more enjoyable and interactive for some students than using an ACT prep book.
Most ACT prep apps are free, but there are some that cost money to purchase.
Why ACT Apps Are Not Enough
ACT apps can be a good study tool, but you probably won’t be able to solely rely on them to reach your target score. You should check out our articles on how to get a perfect score on the ACT and the best ways to study for the ACT.
Most of the apps don't have sufficient practice questions. There are either too few of them, or they're not representative of the questions you'll get on the ACT. You may need more real ACT questions or realistic practice questions to test your knowledge and improve your content weaknesses.
Furthermore, the majority of the apps aren’t customized to your skill level. To improve your ACT score, you need to focus your time on improving your weaknesses. You may need to get better with your time management on the Science section. Or you may need help with trigonometry.
Most of these apps aren’t effective at determining where you’re weak, and they’re not designed to help you focus on the areas in which your skills need to improve.
Identify your weaknesses
What Makes a Good ACT App?
There are specific qualities you should look for in an SAT app.
#1: Tons of Realistic Practice Questions
The best ACT apps will offer hundreds of practice questions for you to hone your skills. The questions should be presented in the same format as the questions that appear on the ACT, and they should be roughly as difficult as the questions on the official ACT practice tests. Each question should provide a thorough explanation, so you’re able to understand how to correctly answer all of the practice questions.
#2: Good User Experience
The app should be easy to navigate and use. On some of the apps, the text is hard to read, or the setup of the app makes it difficult to identify the functions and navigate between them.
#3: Thorough Content Instruction
A good ACT prep app should clearly teach you the content you need to know to excel on the ACT. After reading a lesson or answer explanation, you shouldn’t have any lingering confusion about the topic.
A quality app will break down the topic and thoroughly explain it. You should be able to start with limited knowledge of the topic, but then understand it well enough to correctly answer related ACT questions after using the app.
A bad app will provide more brief instruction and leave you uncomfortable with a content area you were unsure about. If you have unanswered questions about the topic, you'll need more content instruction.
#4: Questions and Lessons Are Divided by Specific Topics
A good app will divide practice questions and content instruction by more specific topics than just Reading, English, Science, and Math. If you know the topics on which you need extra help, you should know exactly where to go. If you need more help with pronoun agreement, you should be able to easily find instruction or practice questions to help you with your knowledge of pronoun agreement.
The Four Best ACT Apps
If you want to use ACT apps in your studying, here are four that can provide some benefit to you. All are free of charge, except the official ACT app.
Many of the other ACT apps that I’m not mentioning offer an unhelpful basic version, and then you have to pay to upgrade to the “premium” version for more practice questions and content instruction.
ACT Online Prep
This is the ACT’s official prep app. It’s a helpful app, but it costs $39.95. This is the app that comes with the purchase of the ACT's online prep program.
It’s customized to your skill level, it has practice questions and a test with real ACT questions, and it offers thorough content review. Also, there are gaming features that allow you to test your knowledge and compete with your friends. The major drawback with this app is the price.
This app offers 60 lessons, 1,000 virtual flashcards that provide explanations to example questions, and 1,000 practice questions. Initially, you can take a diagnostic test of 8 questions, and the app will customize a course of instruction for you. Because there aren’t many questions on the diagnostic, the app may not accurately determine your current skill level.
This app is definitely one of the best ACT prep apps. It offers content instruction, you can take a mock ACT with up to 100 questions, it offers many good realistic practice questions, and the explanations to the questions are complete.
It’s still not perfect, though. The content instruction it provides is pretty brief, so it may not be enough if you’re struggling with a topic.
Also, the user experience isn't ideal. For the reading and English questions, the passages and questions are on different screens, and it was a little difficult for me to find the underlined portion of the passage for the English questions.
ACT: Practice, Prep, Flashcards
This app, which was designed by the tutoring company Varsity Tutors, has a ton of features. It includes practice tests, single-section diagnostic tests, questions of the day, and flashcards with practice questions and explanations. You can also make your own flashcards and find a tutor via the app. You’ll have to pay for the tutor, though.
The app's major benefit is its wealth of practice questions, and since they're divided by topic, you can drill your specific weaknesses. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of test-taking strategies nor any content instruction other than explanations of the practice questions.
ACT UP- #1 Test Prep Solution
This app starts with a diagnostic test, and you can enter your target score and test date. It’s one of the few prep apps that customizes a program based on your responses.
The primary benefits of this app are the customized program, its practice questions, and the fact that it includes a full-length test. You can also test your knowledge on specific topics in each of the sections, which is helpful for targeting your weaknessed.
Unfortunately, there are some significant drawbacks with this app. For one, you have to go through all the diagnostic tests before you can do the content instruction, which can be frustrating if you already know what you want to work on.
Also, the practice questions don’t really have any explanations. Instead, the app advertises tutoring for $50/hr.
If you’re just looking to do some more practice questions and test your skill level, though, this app is a helpful extra resource.
How to Use ACT Apps in Your Studying
As I previously mentioned, ACT apps can be a good resource, but you shouldn’t rely solely on them in your ACT prep. Here’s are a few tips on how to use apps effectively, rather than as a way to avoid more productive study methods.
#1: For Additional Practice Questions
For ACT practice questions, focus on the official released ACTs. These questions will most closely resemble the questions you’ll find on your ACT. Also, you can get the Official ACT Prep Guide, which has 3 official tests with answer explanations.
The ACT prep apps are a good supplement to these resources, and they provide a ton of questions for you to continue to drill and test your knowledge.
#2: To Improve Your Weaknesses
If you know the types of questions on which you struggle, you can use apps to do more questions related to those topics or get more content instruction.
Use the apps that divide questions by specific topics, and you should focus on the topics with which you need the most help.Don’t just do geometry questions if you’re already getting all of those questions right.
#3: To Change Up Your Study Routine
If you’re always using the same book or website to study, then you may be able to use an ACT app to alter your normal routine. Sometimes, changing your regular routine can energize you and give you additional motivation to study.
ACT apps can help you in your ACT preparation, if you use them in conjunction with other resources. The apps work best once you already have a solid foundation, namely if your familiar with all the content on the ACT and aware of your current weaknesses.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to learn test-taking strategies elsewhere. If you want need a free resource to learn ACT content and strategies, I'd recommend checking out the articles on this blog!
Is your ACT coming up very soon and you haven't adequately prepared? Read our guide to cramming for the ACT.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.