Have you heard about ACT Academy and are wondering if it's a good study resource? Although ACT Academy has some legitimate benefits, overall, there are many drawbacks to it, and we only recommend using it in addition to other study materials. Using ACT Academy as your main ACT prep resource can result in a lot of wasted time and a lower score than you wanted. In this in-depth guide, we explain everything you need to know about ACT Academy, including what it offers, why it was created, and how it differs from other resources. We then break down ACT Academy's pros and cons and explain how you should use ACT Academy as part of your test prep (and how you definitely shouldn't use it).
What Is ACT Academy?
ACT Academy is a free online resource designed to help students prepare for the ACT (and the PreACT). It also offers general education resources for K-12 students. It was developed by ACT, Inc., the organization that designs and administers the ACT. ACT Academy has "over 500,000 of the best educational videos, games, assessments, homework assignments, and lesson plans" that teachers and students can use. The material wasn't all created by ACT, Inc. but comes from various sources such as Khan Academy and PBS.
Most of the ACT Academy resources are designed to be used in conjunction with other learning materials. For example, there are videos and lesson plans on how to teach algebra, a topic tested on the ACT. There are also resources that teach students how to analyze graphs, another ACT skill. Teachers who want to prepare their students for the ACT can use lessons or resources from ACT Academy to supplement their own materials. The ACT Academy resources can be used to target skills in a specific area the ACT tests, and they can be personalized to individual classrooms or student abilities so each student is appropriately challenged. Students can only access these resources if their teachers give them a login code.
However, anyone can access the resources specifically for the ACT (such as ACT practice questions). Students can create an account and quickly access all the ACT prep resources.
How Is ACT Academy Different From Other ACT Prep Resources?
ACT Academy is different from other resources because of the amount of material it offers and the fact that it's all free. As stated on their website, ACT Academy contains over 500,000 individual resources, such as videos and quizzes, all designed to help students do better on the ACT. Additionally, there is no cost to access most of it (although students need a login code from their teacher to access the vast majority of the resources). Any teacher can decide to implement these resources as part of their curriculum to help students better understand the concepts the ACT tests.
Before ACT Academy, official ACT resources were pretty sparse online. ACT's website only offers some short quizzes and practice problems and one full-length online practice test. ACT Academy significantly expands these offerings for students. For teachers, it offers them a way to include ACT prep into their standard lesson plans, a resource which wasn't at all available before.
Why Was ACT Academy Created?
Why did ACT, Inc. create this resource? There are two main reasons. The first is that the ACT and SAT have long been accused of perpetuating inequality in college admissions. Students who come from richer families consistently score higher on the ACT and SAT, partly due to the fact that they can afford prep materials (although there are many other factors at play). Particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic, some colleges have begun to move away from requiring standardized test scores from applicants in an effort to make college admissions more equitable. By providing free resources, ACT hopes to show it's leveling the playing field and will remain a major part of college admissions.
Second, in 2017 the College Board (which designs the SAT) released free SAT prep materials through a partnership with Khan Academy. The SAT and ACT have competed for market share ever since the ACT was first launched in 1959. If one test offers something, it won't be long until the other comes up with something similar to stay competitive. As such, it's not surprising that ACT, Inc. has launched its own website full of free ACT prep resources. This way, the SAT won't be the only test able to state that it offers a wealth of free resources.
What Resources Does ACT Academy Offer?
The majority of ACT Academy's resources are for teachers, and students can't access them unless their teacher provides them with login information. However, we'll be focusing on resources specifically for the ACT, which anyone can access after creating an account. Here are the ACT-specific resources ACT Academy offers.
After you create your account, you'll be directed to take a quiz in one of the four subjects the ACT tests. Each of the four main subjects is further divided into more specific categories, each with multiple quizzes. These are all the quizzes ACT Academy offers:
- 8 Number and Quantity quizzes
- 10 Algebra quizzes
- 5 Functions quizzes
- 9 Geometry quizzes
- 3 Statistics and Probability quizzes
- 5 Integrating Essential Skills quizzes
- 3 Modeling quizzes
- 3 Interpretation of Data quizzes
- 2 Scientific Investigation quizzes
- 2 Evaluation of Models quizzes
- 9 Production of Writing quizzes
- 8 Knowledge of Language quizzes
- 14 Conventions of Standard English quizzes
- 15 Key Ideas and Details quizzes
- 10 Craft and Structure quizzes
- 9 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas quizzes
Each quiz has about 5-10 questions. The quizzes aren't timed, and after you finish, you can see which answers you got right and which you got wrong. You're then given a number of stars based on how well you did and encouraged to retake quizzes/take more quizzes in a subject until you reach "mastery" (three stars).
Full-Length Practice ACTs
There are two full-length practice ACTs available. However, calling them full-length isn't entirely accurate because they're broken into four sections, and you need to navigate from one section to the next individually. So it's more like taking four longer quizzes. The sections are untimed, and you'll receive your results immediately after you complete each section (again making it harder to seamlessly move from one section to the other the way you would with a real ACT).
ACT Academy also includes a 17-day study schedule. Each day focuses on a different topic, such as Reading: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas or Math: Modeling. Three to five quizzes and/or video lessons are then suggested that focus on that topic. The idea is that, after 17 days, you'll have covered all the main topics that the ACT tests. This is what the first day's schedule looks like:
Rapid Review (Extra Fee Required)
If you're willing to part with an extra $25+, you can purchase ACT Rapid Review. Produced in conjunction with Kaplan, ACT Rapid Review includes roughly 20 hours of online videos, as well as live instruction. There are different plans you can purchase, but as of right now it appears there are bugs to be worked out, as the sign-up link directs you to an error page.
Pros and Cons of ACT Academy
In this section we go over all the strengths and weaknesses of ACT Academy. It definitely has some strengths, but, overall, they're overshadowed by the program's shortcomings.
Benefits of ACT Academy
There are three main benefits to making use of ACT Academy test prep.
#1: It's an Official Resource
There are a lot of ACT prep resources available, and their quality can range from great to awful. Studying with low-quality ACT resources isn't just a waste of your time; it can actually hurt your score if you study for the wrong material instead of topics the ACT actually tests students on. This is something you don't need to worry about with ACT Academy. Because it's made by the same people who create official ACTs, you can be sure ACT Academy is a high-quality resource.
#2: There Are Lots of Practice Questions
ACT Academy offers several hundred practice questions. High-quality practice questions can be tough to come by, so these are a great resource. You can also retake quizzes as many times as you'd like to see if you improve over time.
#3: It's Free
It's always a benefit when you don't need to pay for an ACT resource, especially because ACT costs can add up. There's no worry about wasting your money on ACT Academy because it's (mainly) a free resource!
Drawbacks of ACT Academy
Despite its strengths, there are seven drawbacks you need to be aware of before you begin an ACT Academy test prep course.
#1: Actual ACT-Specific Resources Are Limited
ACT Academy has roughly half a million resources, which seems a bit overwhelming. However, only a small percentage of those are specifically for ACT prep, so that number is not quite as impressive as it initially appears.
The majority of resources are for teachers to integrate into their own lesson plans. If you're a student who wants to make use of ACT Academy, you'll only be able to access the resources specifically for ACT unless your teacher has given you a student code. The teacher resources can help students gain knowledge they need for the ACT, but in a less direct way than straight ACT prep. So if your main goal is to raise your ACT score, you'll find resources on ACT Academy limited.
#2: Clunky Interface
For a program that took quite a bit of time and resources to roll out, it's surprising how difficult it can be to navigate ACT Academy. Here are some issues we've come up against:
When you first create an account, you're immediately directed to take a quiz without being able to look at other resources that are offered and decide for yourself what you want to start with.
When you're taking the quiz, the "exit" button doesn't work, so you can't stop a quiz midway through (and as some longer quizzes are 60 questions, this may be something you want to do).
Questions with diagrams or reading passages don't have a split screen (as many other online tests do), so you're having to repeatedly scroll up and down between the question and the answer choices.
While looking over your results to see which questions you answered correctly/incorrectly, if you click anywhere outside the small results box, your results will disappear and you'll have to navigate back to the end of the section to look at them again.
As mentioned above, there are prominent broken links, such as for Rapid Review.
None of these on its own is a huge issue, but together they create a site that is more frustrating to navigate than it needs to be.
#3: No Answer Explanations
One of the biggest ways ACT Academy comes up short is their lack of answer explanations. When you get a question on a quiz wrong, there's no explanation to tell you how to find the correct answer. For some questions (mostly math), there are links to Khan Academy videos, but they're focused on broad topics, not the specific question. Watching a video on geometric properties may not help you understand why you got the answer wrong to a specific geometry question.
Learning from questions you answered incorrectly is one of the best ways to improve your ACT score because you'll avoid making the same mistakes over and over. However, without answer explanations, it can be much more difficult to understand what mistake you made. All other high-quality ACT prep resources have at least basic answer explanations, so it's surprising ACT Academy doesn't.
#4: Subject Sub-Categories Are Vague and Overly Broad
Being able to target the specific topics you need to improve in is one of the best ways to raise your ACT score fast and make your studying ultra-efficient. However, ACT Academy doesn't help with this. The sub-categories it divides subjects into are too broad and not very clear. For example, they have three sub-categories for Reading: Key Ideas & Details, Craft & Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. There's no explanation for what the different categories mean, and it's hard to discern their differences just from their names.
In our breakdown of ACT Reading question types, we separate them into five categories and explain each type (big picture, little detail, vocab, etc.) so that you can easily target which question types you need to practice more. ACT Academy doesn't do this, and trying to figure out on your own what's a "key ideas" question as opposed to an "integration of ideas" question can be difficult, so the sub-categories are of little value for students. They're better for Math, but all other subjects are lacking.
#5: Explanation Videos Are Poor ACT Prep Resources
ACT Academy offers many, many videos, but, unfortunately, they're not particularly helpful. In fact, for some videos it's completely unclear as to why they include them. For example, if you're following the daily schedule ACT Academy provides, Day 2 covers "Interpretation of Data." There's a quiz for this, and then a selection of videos, which honestly appear random (for example, this video on the Coriolis effect). These videos have nothing to do with the ACT, and, in fact, it's not even clear what they have to do with interpretation of data, since most contain little actual data.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the videos are like this. When learning about English, you're directed to a video that explains how you can create new words with hyphens, when learning about Science, you're directed to a video about how to make a hurricane on a bubble. None of these videos were made for ACT prep, and they are honestly a terrible way to improve your ACT score. What they really show is how ACT Academy is struggling to offer both standard curriculum resources and those specifically for ACT prep. It's trying to do both, and you end up with strange (and unhelpful) results.
#6: No Test StrategiesThis is to be expected, but it's still frustrating. At PrepScholar, we know that test-taking strategy is essential to scoring your highest score possible. Strategies like:
- Skipping the hardest questions to focus on the easier questions you're more likely to get right
- How to attack ACT Reading passages most effectively to save time
- Predicting how the ACT tries to trap you into wrong answer choices
- Alternative strategies to get the right answer for math questions, even if you don't know how to solve them the traditional way.
ACT Academy doesn't include any strategies like this because, if they did, they'd have to admit the ACT doesn't test pure academic skill. They want to maintain that the ACT is all about testing purely what you learned in school. As a result, their strategies are all focused on learning the material, and they miss a lot of extremely helpful tips you can use to answer questions correctly. Our guide has 18 very useful tips for the ACT, none of which are mentioned in ACT Academy because they involve strategies other than learning more content.
#7: It's Difficult to Take a Realistic Practice Test
One of the most important ways to prepare for the ACT is to take a full-length practice test. Doing so gives you an idea of how well you'd do on a multi-hour timed exam. When you take your ACT practice test, we highly recommend taking it timed, and all in one sitting. Doing otherwise can skew your score, especially if you struggle to answer questions quickly or get fatigued after several hours of testing (both very common problems for students).
However, ACT Academy makes it very hard to do this. First, their practice tests are on the computer, which is to be expected from an online resource, but you'll be taking the ACT with pen and paper, so that's already one way it's different from an actual ACT. Next, there is no timing on any of the ACT questions. Because so many students know how to solve questions but take a long time to do so, giving yourself unlimited time can hugely skew your predicted ACT scores. Finally, you receive your results after each section, so you're not taking the sections back-to-back like you will on the real ACT.
How Should ACT Academy Be Part of Your ACT Prep?
You can use ACT Academy as part of your ACT prep, but we don't recommend it be your only study resource, or even your main resource. The honest truth is that the only real value ACT Academy provides is through its practice questions. These are well-designed questions that can be a great resource to use as you work to build up skills. Unfortunately, they still come up short in other ways by not having answer explanations and by being poorly organized into sub-categories. Because of that, we recommend using them about midway into your studying, when you have a decent handle on how to solve different problems, and which topics you are strongest and weakest in.
We don't recommend using the videos ACT Academy offers or worrying too much about how they rank you in different areas. They just haven't done a good job in these areas, so they don't need to be part of your ACT prep.
To build up your skills in different topic areas, we recommend getting one or more ACT prep books. These prep books target your weak areas and give extremely useful strategies for answering questions faster and more accurately. You should also take full-length ACT practice tests, timed and in one sitting, to get a feel for what the actual test is like. We recommend taking at least three full-length tests: one right at the beginning of your ACT prep, one in the middle, and one close to the end to get an estimate of how well you're currently scoring. ACT Academy's full-length tests aren't great for that, so we recommend you use them as more quiz material.
If you want more intense prep, or if you're struggling to study on your own, we recommend either a tutor or an online ACT prep program. PrepScholar's program is customized to target your specific weak areas and raise your ACT score quickly and efficiently.
Summary: ACT Academy Test Prep
ACT, Inc. recently unveiled ACT Academy, a website full of free resources for students and teachers to use for ACT prep. The website was largely created in an attempt to both make ACT prep more equitable, and to compete with the SAT's similar program with Khan Academy. The ACT Academy's greatest strength is its numerous practice questions, which are high quality and can be an effective study resource.
However, the program comes up short by not offering answer explanations, organizing questions into vague and unhelpful sub-categories, and encouraging students to watch videos that are only tangentially related to the ACT, among other faults. As a result, we recommend using ACT Academy only as a source of practice questions and using other resources, such as ACT prep books, a tutor, and/or online prep courses to better understand the exam and get the ACT score they want.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.