You can use apps to order food, watch sports, keep up with friends, 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 studying from a book.
Even though apps are not enough to prepare you for the test on their own, they can be a 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
A number of ACT prep apps have been created to help students prepare for the ACT while on the go. Those who have created them are trying to capitalize on the convenience 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 are, whether that's at home, at school, or on a plane. For some students, studying with an app is more enjoyable and interactive than using an ACT prep book.
Note that while most ACT prep apps are free, there are some that do cost money.
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. They're helpful, yes, but it takes more than just a piece of technology to get a killer score on the ACT! Check out our articles on how to get a perfect score on the ACT and the best ways to study for the ACT to learn the best tips and tricks.
So why exactly aren't ACT apps enough? Let's go over the reasons.
For one, most ACT prep apps don't have sufficient practice questions. There are either too few of them or they're not representative of the questions you'll see on the actual ACT. As a result, you will likely need more real ACT questions or more realistic practice questions to test your knowledge and improve your content weaknesses.
Furthermore, the majority of ACT prep apps aren’t customized to your skill level. To improve your ACT score, you need to focus your time on improving your weaknesses. For example, perhaps you need to get better with your time management on the Science section, or maybe you need some extra help with trigonometry.
Most ACT apps aren’t effective at determining where you’re weak, and they’re not designed to help you hone in on the areas in which your skills need to improve the most.
But that doesn't mean you can't use these apps to help you prep for the ACT! Just be aware of their limitations, and make sure you're using other SAT study resources to make sure you're preparing as thoroughly as possible.
Identify your weaknesses.
What Makes a Good ACT App?
Here are the specific qualities you should look for in an ACT app.
#1: Tons of Realistic Practice Questions
The best ACT apps will offer hundreds of practice questions for you to sharpen 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 official ACT practice tests. Every question should also provide a thorough explanation so you’re able to understand how to correctly answer it.
#2: Good User Experience
The app should be easy to navigate and use. On some ACT prep apps, the text can be hard to read or the setup can make it hard to identify and navigate the various functions available.
#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 should have no 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 a topic, but, after using the app, you should be able to understand it well enough to correctly answer related ACT questions.
A bad ACT app will provide minimal instruction and leave you uncomfortable with a content area you're unsure about. If you have unanswered questions about the topic, you'll need more content instruction.
#4: Questions and Lessons Divided by Specific Topics
A good ACT app will divide up practice questions and content instruction into more specific topics than just Reading, English, Science, and Math. If you know which topics you need extra help on, you should know exactly where to go. For instance, if you need help with pronoun agreement, you should be able to easily find instruction or practice questions on the app to help you learn this content area.
These apps get our top award!
The 4 Best ACT Apps
If you want to use ACT apps in your studying, here are four apps that can provide some benefit to you. All are free of charge except for the official ACT app.
Many of the other ACT apps I’m not mentioning here offer an unhelpful basic version and then make you pay to upgrade to a premium version, which has more practice questions and content instruction. Since free is better (and when it comes to ACT apps, better quality), I'm leaving them off the list.
#1: ACT Online Prep
- Diagnostic tests to identify strengths and weaknesses
- Personalized learning path
- Full-length ACT practice tests
- Multiple lessons and practice questions
- ACT study schedule to keep your prep on track
- Dashboards that track your progress
This is the ACT’s official prep app, and it advertises itself as the only prep app that can help you accurately predict your ACT score. It’s definitely helpful, but it comes as part of the purchase of the ACT Online Prep program—a program purchased by your school. So, while this is technically good news (because your school would cover the cost, which is anywhere from $17-33), you’ll technically only have access to this app if your school purchases the program for you.
The app is customized to your skill level, has practice questions and a test with real ACT questions, and offers comprehensive content review. Also, there are gaming features that allow you to test your knowledge and compete with your friends. That's not to mention the fact that this ACT app is official, so you know you're getting the best information and practice possible.
On the negative side, some users have noted that the app can get a bit buggy every now and then. But by far the biggest drawback to this app is only being able to use it if your school purchases the ACT Online Prep program. While there's lots to love about the full program, if you're just looking for a study app...well, there are more affordable options out there!
#2: ACT: Practice, Prep, Flashcards
- Full-length practice exams (and shorter, subject-specific exams)
- 100s of practice questions
- Ability to "learn by concept," which focuses on specific exam content areas
- "Question a Day" feature to help you study daily
This ACT app, which was designed by the tutoring company Varsity Tutors, has a ton of features, from practice tests and single-section diagnostic tests to 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 of course pay for the tutor, though, and the prices for one-on-one tutoring aren't clearly listed.)
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 or any content instruction other than explanations of the practice questions.
Additionally, note that this ACT app is now only available on Google Play. Though it was originally available on the App Store as well, Varsity Tutors has gone in a different direction with it and is currently advertising a more general study app (that still includes all the ACT features listed above) called Practice, Test Prep, & Quizzes.
#3: ACT Prep Coach & Practice Test
- 700+ practice questions
- 250+ video explanations
- Progress tracker so you can see how your studying progresses
- 100s of flashcards
- Unique, "spaced repetition" algorithm to help you memorize concepts
On the upside, this test prep app by Magoosh (which updates pretty regularly) gives users a lot to love: it offers ACT study tips, helpful articles, and practice questions, and even a practice test. The free tier is pretty robust in that you can access all the most recent ACT articles, along with dozens of video lessons and practice questions. I think the free trial gives you enough good resources to get started.
The premium version of this ACT app boasts a ton more content, including nearly 700 practice questions and more than double the amount of video content. But the pricing model for premium isn't clear. Is it a one-time purchase or a subscription? How much does premium cost?
All of this information—which is pretty important—seems to be hidden from users, so it's hard to know whether a premium subscription is really worth it.
#4: Vocabulary Builder
- 1200+ vocabulary words selected by expert tutors
- Definitions and example sentences for every word
- Levels separated into common, basic, and advanced vocabulary words
- Beat levels to unlock new word lists
- Track your progress as you study new vocabulary and remember previously learned words
Another test prep app by Magoosh, this vocabulary app lets users practice and build essential vocabulary for the ACT (alongside other popular tests, like the SAT, the GRE, and TOEFL).
The app is separated into three vocabulary levels to challenge users: common words, basic words, and advanced words. Each of the three levels is further divided into 3 to 5 lessons, so users can work in segments as they grow their vocabulary knowledge. Users must beat each lesson to move onto the next, so this app really challenges users to retain learned information in order to advance to the very end.
A unique and fun feature of this app is that it boasts an interactive game setting with other players. Users can challenge one another to turn-by-turn games where you’re given a word and must select the correct definition from a list of answers. If you miss a word, your turn is over, and your opponent has the opportunity to try and get as many words correct as they can. The first person to get 20 words correct is the winner!
Overall, the Vocabulary Builder app by Magoosh is a great and completely free option for students looking to build their vocabulary for the Reading and Writing & Language sections of the ACT.
How to Use ACT Apps in Your Studying: 3 Essential Tips
As I mentioned, ACT apps can be a good resource, but you shouldn’t rely solely on them in your prep. Here are a few tips on how to use ACT prep apps effectively, rather than as a way to avoid more productive study methods.
#1: For Additional Practice Questions
When it comes to ACT practice questions, you should start by using official released ACT practice tests. These questions will most closely resemble the questions you’ll find on the actual ACT. You can also buy The Official ACT Prep Guide, which includes five official tests with answer explanations.
The ACT prep apps are a good supplement to these official 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 you struggle with, you can use ACT apps to drill more questions related to those topics and get more content instruction.
It's best to use the apps that divide up questions by specific topics; you should also focus on the topics with which you need the most help. For example, don’t just practice geometry questions if you’re already getting all those questions right!
#3: To Change Up Your Study Routine
If you’re always using the same prep book or ACT website to study, then you can use an ACT app to alter your normal routine. Oftentimes, changing your regular routine can energize you and give you additional motivation to study.
Final Recommendations for Using ACT Apps
ACT prep apps can help you significantly in your test preparation if, and only if, you use them in conjunction with other resources. The apps work best once you already have a solid foundation and are familiar with all the exam content and aware of your current weaknesses.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to learn test-taking strategies elsewhere. If you want a free resource to learn ACT content and strategies, I recommend checking out the articles on this blog!
What score should you be aiming for on the ACT? We've got an article that covers what exactly a good score looks like, along with tips on how to get there.
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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.