In this article I’ll discuss the prep game trend, explain why most prep games aren’t so great, present some criteria on what makes a good ACT prep game, offer some game recommendations, and lend advice on how to incorporate them into your studying.
ACT Prep Games: A New Trend
The term “gamification” describes attempts to make regular, tedious life tasks more fun and exciting by making them like games. There are apps that gamify exercise, productivity, chores, finance, and even household shopping.
Given the ever-increasing circle of things that have been gamified, it’s no surprise that so many companies have tried to gamify ACT prep. Both tiny app developers and test-prep giants like Kaplan and the Princeton Review have gotten on the ACT game train.
The general principle seems to be that if studying for the ACT is fun, you’ll want to do it. Hence, ACT practice games will get you to spend more time preparing. But is this true? And even if it is, is the preparation you get from playing games comparable to that from less fun and exciting modes of studying?
If cleaning my apartment was a game, I would probably do it more often.
Why Most ACT Prep Games Are Sub-Par
The sad fact is that there aren’t actually very many ACT practice games that will provide any kind of substantial help on ACT prep. In fact, some games may even be detrimental because you play them thinking you are getting in some valuable preparation when you really aren’t.
The problem with many ACT prep games is that they are often glorified multiple-choice quizzes. Creators try to dress them up with competitive elements, power-ups, and other game-like features, but the fact remains that most operate under a basic mechanic of answering multiple-choice questions. This would maybe be fine if the questions in the games were high quality. But unfortunately, in many games the questions don’t resemble actual ACT questions at all. Answers are sometimes truly ambiguous or unclear, and explanations are often lacking or nonexistent.
If a game’s primary conceit is presenting you with “ACT-style” multiple-choice questions, I advise you to stay away from it unless you can thoroughly vet that the questions actually resemble ACT questions. You are much better off using genuine ACT practice tests if you need more sample questions to prep for the ACT.
It might be marginally more fun to see yourself get points for correct questions and advance on leaderboards in an app or on a website, but you’ll be much happier in the long run if you spend that time answering well-written sample questions that actually help you.
Get real about the quality of your practice questions!
What Makes a Good ACT Prep Game
With all those warnings said, that doesn’t mean there are no games out there that might help you prep for the ACT. There are three main things that make a useful ACT prep game:
#1: It Targets a Specific ACT Skill or Content Area
A game doesn’t necessarily have to be specifically designed for the ACT to be helpful, but it does need to help you learn or review a specific concept or content area that’s tested on the ACT—trigonometry, the scientific method, punctuation, etc. Building skills or knowledge in a specific area you are struggling in will be much more useful to you for the ACT than a game that just offers half-baked multiple choice questions with poorly-worded answers.
#2: It's Engaging
A prep game doesn’t have to be the most exciting experience of your life, but if it’s really boring, you might as well just take practice tests instead. It needs to engage your brain so that it actually feels at least a little bit fun, or else what’s the point?
#3: The Content Is Accurate
It’s critical that any prep game (and any study materials you are using, period) present information and content that is accurate. There’s nothing worse than studying from an incorrect source, so be sure to vet any games before you use them! Additionally, in games with quiz-like interfaces, multiple-choice questions should actually resemble real ACT questions.
May your test prep content be as accurate as your watch.
5 Solid ACT Prep Game Sources
There are several sources where you might look for actually useful ACT games.
This site has a variety of simple, educational flash games for pre-K through 12th grade. The math page has games for probability, algebra, geometry, and several other topics that appear the ACT. There are also word games in the Language Arts section that test your skill with punctuation and parts of speech. This is a solid resource if you find yourself getting stuck on a particular concept in math or English and you just need to drill recall in a non-boring way.
FreeRice is an online game in which you answer questions to fill up your bowl of rice; every correct question answered actually provides rice to someone in need, which is cool. I advise using the English grammar mode to study for the English section of the ACT. It will help fine-tune your ability to identify grammar mistakes in sentences.
NYTimes Student Crosswords
This page has printable crosswords (and answer keys) in a variety of academic subjects, several of which could definitely function as a fun review of some key subject-matter concepts for the ACT. For example, check out grammar, geometry, and algebra.
With a free account on Quizlet, you can make your own set of custom flashcards with the concepts you really need to learn. Once you make a set, you can play two game modes with the terms. There’s a matching game and a game where you prevent asteroids from hitting the planet by typing the correct answer. You can also access thousands of flashcard sets that others have uploaded to the site, including a variety of ACT prep sets. However, you’ll want to check out a set before you use it to study to make sure it actually has useful (and correct) information.
ACT Math Jeopardy
You can play this ACT math jeopardy game by yourself or in teams. A fun way to practice your ACT-style math questions. There are also SAT question categories, but they aren’t substantively different from the ACT ones.
Find true test prep game love.
How To Use ACT Prep Games in Your Own Studying
ACT games won’t replace the bulk of your normal preparation activities. However, they can supplement your studying in a few key ways.
Use 1: To Target Specific Skills/Concepts
If you’re having trouble with a specific skill or concept, a game can be a great way to try to drill down on it. If commas or semicolons stump you, find a punctuation game! If triangles trouble you, play a trigonometry or geometry game.
Use 2: To Keep Material Fresh Between Study Sessions
A few rounds of an ACT prep game can be a solid way to keep material fresh in your mind during times when you aren’t engaging in dedicated prep for that subject. A couple ACT Jeopardy questions will help keep your math brain running smoothly when you spend a couple days studying English during your set-aside study sessions!
Use 3: For Warm-Ups, Breaks, and Rewards
Games are useful for warming up your brain at the beginning of a study session. They can also be used for breaks and rewards. This will help keep studying from getting too stressful while still keeping your brain working throughout a session!
Another kind of warm-up.
Is it possible to completely gamify your ACT studying and be successful? Probably not. Because most prep games are just poorly-written ACT quizzes, you are better off sticking with more traditional practice problems and tests.
However, there are some characteristics that make for a useful ACT prep game:
- It targets skills and content you need to know for the ACT
- It’s engaging
- It presents accurate information
There are several sources you might look for to find game-like resources for SAT prep:
- Sheppards Software - Simple flash games for math and English concepts.
- FreeRice - Has an English grammar mode that’s useful for the English test.
- NYTimes Student Crosswords - For reviewing fundamental concepts in a subject.
- Quizlet - Make your own flashcards and then play games with them!
- ACT Math Jeopardy - Practice questions in a fun Jeopardy-style interface.
While they won’t replace most of your studying, there are some targeted ways you might deploy SAT prep games as part of your preparation plan:
To target specific skills/concept areas you are weak in
- Keeping material fresh between study sessions
- Warm-ups, breaks, and rewards during studying
- These tips will help you get the most out of your ACT prep games!
Looking for more ACT resources? See our master list of ACT study guides. Or see our list of the best 2016 ACT prep books.
Stumped on a particular question type? Check out our guide to every ACT question type.
Taking the SAT as well? See our ultimate SAT study guide! If you need a score boost, we have 15 tips to improve your SAT score.
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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.