The ACT has just announced its first official partnership with a test prep company: Kaplan. This may be big news for students who are planning to take the ACT - in cooperation with Kaplan, ACT, Inc. will be providing a low-cost (or even free) test prep program called ACT® Kaplan Online Prep Live.
There isn’t a ton of information just yet about the quality of the new test prep platform - students won’t be able to access it for a while - but we do know what the program should include and what it should cost. Free streaming courses are airing live in advance of the program launch - you can read more about what these courses are like towards the end of the post.
Read more to find out what this new test prep partnership will mean for you!
The ACT/Kaplan Partnership
The ACT and the SAT are in perpetual competition for student test-takers. Last year, the College Board announced a partnership with Khan Academy to provide free test prep - it’s no surprise that ACT, Inc. has followed suit with a similar move: formally partnering up with Kaplan to offer an online prep program at no cost to low-income students and a “significantly lower cost” than other prep programs for all other students.
Although the partnership was just announced, the test prep program won’t be available until Fall 2016 (so it won’t be of much help to students who are taking the ACT this summer). The program is offering a few free classes before the official launch date, however - check out the ACT streaming events page, and keep reading for more info.
This test prep program will be free of charge for low-income students. To qualify, students need to register for the ACT with a fee waiver (read our complete guide to ACT fee waivers for more information).
Access to the platform should come to less than $200 for students who don’t qualify for the fee waiver.
What Will the Program Include?
The price for this test prep program seems pretty reasonable, but more important than the price is what you’ll get for your money.
First, the program includes access to live classes taught by Kaplan instructors. Students should be able to interact with these instructors through the course platform, although it’s unclear how much individual feedback each student will receive (it’s likely that many students will be watching each live class - there’s no way one instructor could respond, in real time, to questions from hundreds of students).
Students will also have access to recorded classes if they’re unable to watch live - this affords some flexibility. These courses will be available on computers, tablets, and phones, so you can watch them on the go.
The ACT/Kaplan haven’t publicized a list of class topics, but they currently have a few free courses on the calendar - I imagine that the new prep program’s courses will be similar in scope. Here’s the free course schedule:
- Understanding Your ACT Scores and What to Do Next (April 30, 2016 @2pm EDT)
- Introduction to Stem Concepts (May 11, 2016 @7pm EDT)
- Introduction to ELA Concepts (May 22, 2016 @2pm EDT)
The program will also include access to a social platform including teachers and peers. This social media platform is supposed to facilitate a community for discussion, encouragement, and support.
What the Program Will Not Include
Based on the program’s press release, there are a few key things not provided by this test prep program.
First, as an online version of an ACT prep course, this prep program does not provide personalized or customized instruction to students (aside from any feedback provided via live course instruction). Instead, I predict that it will serve as an introduction to core concept areas, test strategies, and logistical concerns.
Second, although instructors will use official ACT questions as examples when they teach the live courses, it doesn’t seem that students will have access to any additional official practice materials. The ACT does release some official practice materials for free - these are available to everyone - but other official prep materials must be purchased.
The Bottom Line
What’s included with this program is definitely subject to change, but for now (at least based on the official press release), here’s what students seem to get for their money:
- Access to live (or on-demand, if you can’t watch live) courses on ACT content and logistics topics.
- Opportunities for interactions with teachers during live classes.
- Access to a social media platform with peers and instructors.
- No extra practice materials or personalized instruction.
However, keep in mind that we have only very preliminary information right now. A lot of details could change before the program's official release this fall.
Online Prep Live: Free Streaming Events
To get a taste for what the paid Online Prep program will be like, I watched the program's first free streaming class: Understanding Your ACT Scores and What to Do Next. It aired on Saturday, April 30.
This live, online course (presumably similar to what the actual Online Prep Live classes will be like) was easily accessible via this announcement page. This course addressed:
- What the info on your ACT score report means and how you can use it
- ACT College and Career Readiness Standards (both what they are and why they matter)
- ACT next steps, including deciding whether or not to retake the test and improving your scores
- Exploring future college and career options
I was impressed with how easy it was to access this course, as well as how clearly the information was communicated. The instructor (Boris) was engaging and knowledgeable, which is a big plus.
Although students weren't able to chat directly with the instructor, he noted at the beginning of the course that a "team of ACT experts" were online to answer student questions throughout the live session. Boris noted particular student comments or questions throughout the live event, so he seemed generally plugged in to student concerns.
In addressing student questions, the instructor referred to real-life data which helped back up his claims. He wanted to answer, for example, whether retaking the ACT would make students look bad to admissions officers. In responding, he pointed out that many students retake the test, and the majority of them (57%) end up with a higher score the second time around.
First, this hour-long prep course was nowhere near an hour long. If you reference the event recording, you'll notice that the first and last sections are ads for the paid ACT Online Prep Live program, NOT course instruction footage. This meant that Boris was actually teaching for about 36 minutes in total.
Second, the course didn't always provide helpful, concrete instructions or resources when addressing student concerns. In discussing some free tools that are available to help students raise scores, for example, Boris notes that you should take a list of your weak test skills to a guidance counselor for more help. Although it's great to know where you should work to improve, students may have benefited from references to helpful test prep materials.
Next, the instructor spent some time encouraging viewers to participate in the chat platform with prompts like "tell me if you empathize with these struggles!" Some viewers may really appreciate how this approach fosters a sense of community among viewers, but I felt it wasted time that could have been spent reviewing other material.
These free streaming courses won't be helpful for everyone (especially students who already know the ins and outs of the test), but I encourage you to check out the transcript or recording before deciding whether they're right for you.
How the ACT/Kaplan Partnership Will Affect Student Test Prep
Since this is the first time the ACT has officially partnered with any test prep company, the new online prep program is bound to make waves. It hasn’t officially launched, so no one can be completely sure of the program’s strengths and weaknesses. Based on what the program offers (and what it doesn’t), however, I can speculate as to the program’s benefits and drawbacks.
The important stuff: what does this program have to do with how you study for the ACT?
Here’s how I think students may benefit (or not) from this new partnership:
The ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live program is a step in the right direction when it comes to providing reasonably-priced and flexible prep to busy students. Here are the program's biggest perks:
Official ACT Material
Whenever you're studying for any sort of standardized test, it's best to get your hands on official test prep material. ACT questions are written in a very specific style and format (something that's difficult for unofficial test prep sources to emulate). In order to do well on the test, it's important to familiarize yourself with its unique style.
Test-makers are usually pretty careful with how much official material they release for practice. Since this Live Prep Program is endorsed by the ACT, you can be sure that instructors will only refer to official sample questions as they teach.
Ease of Access
When you sign up for your standard ACT course, it means committing to attending classes at certain times and dates. If you're dealing with a packed schedule and/or limited transportation options, an in-person ACT course may not work for you.
The ACT Live Prep program makes it easy to watch classes at times that are convenient for you - all you need is internet access. You can choose to watch classes live or on-demand, which is helpful if you're working around other commitments. Even the best ACT course won't help you if you can't find the time to attend - an online program should make things a lot easier for the average student.
One of the major barriers to accessing quality ACT prep is the cost. Kaplan is one of the biggest names in test prep - before this partnership announcement, the company's least expensive ACT course was priced at $299, whereas its more intensive courses start at $749. This is simply out of reach for many students and their families.
This Live Prep program is reasonably priced when compared to many other test prep programs (especially if students qualify for ACT fee waivers, in which case they can sign up for free). A lower price point means greater access to ACT prep, which is always a good thing.
Social Media Support
When they sign up for the Live Prep course, students also gain access to a social media platform with other peers and instructors. Some students may study just fine independently, but others may find it helpful to interact with peers in an effort to maintain good study practices.
Like I mentioned earlier, it's difficult to say for certain what we can expect from the ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live program. Based on the its description, however, there are some important weaknesses in the prep program's approach.
No Extra Practice Material
Like I noted earlier, there's no mention of extra material provided to students for independent study. If you want to practice any content or strategy that was discussed in a particular class, you'll likely have to find your own practice questions or tests.
This is a weakness that you'll find with any test prep course. Instructors are there to teach an entire class, not individual students - as such, you may find certain lessons less helpful than others (for example, a lesson that goes over content you're already very familiar with). Conversely, there won't be opportunities for you to get extra help with concepts you struggle with.
To study most effectively and most efficiently, you'll want to spend the most time on things that are difficult for you. Because every student is different, every student's ideal study plan will be different. This is something that the ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live program can't accommodate.
Most group classes take a "one size fits all" approach out of necessity.
Limited Interaction With Instructors
The program description states that students will be able to ask questions of instructors during live classes. Although this is an interesting idea, I don't see how it would work in practice - each live course will likely have hundreds of students (or even more) watching at one time. There's no way that an instructor could personally respond to questions from so many students.
I expect that select questions (e.g. questions that would apply to the greatest number of students) will be answered during live questions. Hearing teachers respond to others' inquiries may be helpful, but I wouldn't go into a class expecting to have my own personal questions answered.
Reliance on Social Media Support
You may be wondering why I have this in the "potential drawbacks" section. A big problem that I have with the social media support platform is that the prep program is preemptively directing students there for answers to test-related questions.
This is problematic because most of the people on this platform aren't going to be ACT instructors - they're going to be other students. Although it's possible to get reliable help from savvy students, it's also possible to get very misguided (and simply incorrect) advice. The social media platform is likely to be an awesome resources for those who are looking for a test prep community, but students who turn to it for test prep help should take advice with a grain of salt.
Overview Versus In-Depth Course Material
The Live Prep course has yet to release the full range of topics that they'll cover with their classes. They may very well introduce classes that address higher-level content and strategy concerns, but based on their list of free streaming classes, I doubt that will be the case. Students who are already familiar with ACT logistics, strategy, and content won't benefit from classes that primarily address the basics.
Should You Use the New Prep Plan?
Now that you have all the available information on the ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live program, you might be wondering if you should sign up. I can't tell you whether you should definitely buy the program, but I think some students would benefit from it more than others.
Consider Signing Up If ...
- You qualify for an ACT fee waiver. If you qualify for a waiver, the program is free. There's no harm in signing up, even if you don't end up finding it that helpful.
- You don't know much about the ACT and you would benefit from an overview course. Based on the free streaming events the program is offering in advance of its actual launch, it looks like the courses will address important introductory concepts (e.g. "Understanding Your ACT Scores and What to Do Next"). If the ACT basics are new to you, this program may be a good fit.
- It's difficult for you to commit to any in-person ACT prep programs. This ACT/Kaplan program makes it easy for students to watch courses anywhere, anytime. If you require more flexibility from an ACT prep program, you might want to check this one out.
Consider Passing on the Course If ...
- You're a relatively high-scorer and need in-depth ACT review. If this is the case, I doubt the course will teach you anything you don't already know. Spend your time more effectively by perfecting your scores.
- You're planning on taking the ACT this summer, fall, or early winter. The program doesn't launch until Fall 2016, so if you're taking the ACT before then (or soon thereafter), you won't have enough time to benefit from the online courses.
- You have the resources (and motivation) to participate in a program that provides customized feedback. You'll be able to prep more effectively if you can get real feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Courses like this one are a good place to start, but if you want more guidance and support, I'd encourage you to look into other options.
Want more information on other ACT prep options? Read about whether online prep (and online tutoring) is right for you, and learn more about the differences between in-person and online ACT courses.
Maybe you've considered getting an ACT tutor, but you also want the flexibility of online prep. Learn more about the difference between online and in-person tutoring.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.