The ACT is probably the most important test that you will take as get ready to apply to college, so it is important to go in prepared. Picking the right ACT Prep makes a HUGE difference for students' scores, but with so many different companies offering the "right" test prep it can be difficult to know what you should really do.
This article highlights the 4 common ways that students prepare for the ACT, and includes my best recommendation on how to prepare for the ACT based on my extensive experience as a test prep tutor. There is no one right way to prepare for everyone, so I will tailor my recommendations to a few different types of students.
For more information on ACT Prep, you can check out some of our other articles:
1. Self Study - Use Prep Books or Sign Up For Online Prep
The first option for students is to self-study by buying an ACT Prep Notebook or signing up for an online ACT courses. This is the simplest and cheapest option. The notebook or online prep courses will introduce the content on the ACT and will include practice problems and practice tests. However, students will never get any instruction from a professional ACT tutor and will not have any resources when they have questions. Many students will just end up working through these practice books at their leisure but never take the time to find their real weaknesses and study to improve.
This method is the best choice for students who are on a budget and cannot afford the more expensive group classes or private tutoring. It can also work well for students who are very disciplined at studying on their own. However, the majority of high school students using self-studying will not put in the necessary time to fully understand the test, discover their own weaknesses, and see significant score improvements.
We recommend this notebook for self-study.
Who It's Great For: Strong self-studiers who can put together an ACT study plan and stick to it. Students and families who do not have the budget for group classes or individual tutoring.
Who It's Bad For: Pretty much everyone else...these are high school students we are talking about. Without the structure of private tutoring sessions or group classes, most students will not put in the necessary time to see improvements and will score nowhere near their full potential.
2. Group Classes - Sign up for a group ACT Prep Class
Many students will sign up and complete an ACT Prep course either in-person or in a virtual classroom. These prep courses do vary depending on which company you choose, but all of them include a mix of classroom instruction and proctored practice tests.
The courses will introduce students to all four sections of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science), cover the most important content featured on the test, and will usually include test-taking strategies as well. The courses generally cost between $800 - $1,000 and last somewhere from 4-6 weeks.
Before enrolling in an ACT Prep class, it is important to ask the right questions. First of all, always ask the qualifications of the instructor(s). Some companies have true expert tutors teaching the group classes, but others may use newer, less experienced tutors who know the content of the test but may not be great teachers. Second, think about YOUR student. These classes will have anywhere from 10-20 students. For kids who do not thrive in a classroom setting and are prone to zoning out or slacking off, these classes will not be a good fit.
In addition, the classes are filled with students of all abilities, so students who stray too from the average often do not have a good experience. The best students often spend most of their time in the class bored, as the most difficult topics featured on the ACT are too complex to teach to everyone in the class. On the other hand, weaker students often get left behind and do not get the individual attention that they need. With that being said, classes can still benefit students of all levels as long as the students put in the time and effort necessary to improve.
Before signing up for an ACT prep class, make sure an ACT class will be a good fit for you!
These classes can be great for the right students, but we have worked with so many students who took an ACT Prep Class and had a bad experience. Make sure an ACT Prep Class will be a good fit for your student before just signing up because it is the most popular option!
Who It's Great For: Students who thrive in a classroom setting and complete all of the assignments. Students who are not shy about raising their hand and asking for further explanation on topics they do not understand.
Who It's Bad For: Top students who are aiming for very high ACT scores. Students who have trouble paying attention in a classroom setting (ADD, ADHD, etc.). Students who will not complete homework assignments or put in time to study the materials in between classes.
Learn How We Do ACT Classes Differently
At ScoreBuilder Test Prep, our 30+ ACT Class selectively enrolls top students aiming for scores of 30 and above on the ACT. This is the first ACT Class designed specifically for top students. By carefully filling our 30+ ACT Class with students of similar abilities, we have solved many of the problems outlined above that are associated with normal ACT Prep Classes.
3. Small Group Tutoring
If you would like a combination of the group setting with some more individualized ACT Test Prep, small group tutoring could be perfect for you. Small groups of 3-5 students can work with an expert tutor while paying much less per students than in private tutoring sessions. In the small groups, the tutor can get to know each student on a personal level, so students get individualized attention and personalized testing strategies that will work best for them. Tutors in small group setting can also do a much better job of monitoring each student's progress and can ensure students are putting in the necessary time to improve.
Small groups can be a great way to get ready for the ACT.
At ScoreBuilder Test Prep, we work with small groups of students all the time. The groups are usually put together by parents or friends, so the students already know each other. It is important to make sure that students working together in a small group are of similar abilities. If students are of differing abilities (for example, let's say two students are aiming to get a score of 33 while the other two would be happy with a 26), the small group tutoring will not be a great fit. The students with a goal of 33 will need to learn much more difficult topics and will move through materials at a much faster rate than the students with a goal of 26. We always have students complete a practice ACT before starting small group tutoring to confirm that the group setting will be a good fit for all of the students involved.
Many companies do not offer small group tutoring as a standard option, so the parents will have to call and ask if the tutors offer small group tutoring. I would suggest finding a highly regarded private tutor and asking if he or she offers small groups, as many of them will be happy to help out.
Who It's Great For: Small groups of friends who are all of similar abilities. Working in a small group helps motivate them to all want to improve their ACT scores together.
Who It's Bad For: Students who need individual attention. Groups of friends who have vastly different abilities but would find it "fun" to do their ACT Prep together.
4. Private Tutoring - One-on-One
Private tutoring is the best option to get your highest possible score on the ACT. A private tutor will be able to personalize the ACT Prep process to your individual strengths and weaknesses. Private tutors really get to know each student and can quickly identify a student's areas of weakness, teach the content necessary for success on the ACT at a pace that each student understands, and provide personalized strategies to maximize scores on test day. Private tutors can also work around your schedule and put together an individualized test prep plan to get you ready for the ACT. In addition, a private tutor will hold students accountable for homework assignments, so students will have to put in the work each week.
Just like anything else, selecting the right private tutor is important. There are a lot of private ACT tutors out there, and some are much better than others. When looking for a private tutor, ask them how they plan to help your student improve. Many tutors will simply give students a practice ACT each week and then review it in a session. If that is all the tutor does, I would suggest that you look elsewhere. While this will give students experience taking ACTs, the students often never really learn the skills they need to excel. For example, if a student struggles in geometry, covering 3 or 4 problems that he missed on one ACT is not going to fix that problem. This same student will likely miss 3 or 4 geometry problems on the next ACT as well. A better tutor will review all the geometry rules and formulas, assign students a problem set on geometry for homework, and then review it to make sure the student fully understand geometry before moving on to a new topic. This is topic-by-topic learning is how we operate at ScoreBuilder Test Prep, and the result speak for themselves: our ACT students improve their ACT scores by an average of 4-5 points.
Make sure that you find the right private tutor for you.
Selecting the right tutor goes beyond just selecting someone who can do really well on the ACT. A great tutor also needs to be able to connect with the students on a personal level. As you are selecting a private tutor, think about if he or she will get along with your student. The right personality fit can make the entire process much more enjoyable for students and usually will lead to better results.
In private tutoring, the phrase "you get what you pay for" really applies. There is a significant difference between expert ACT tutors (usually tutors who work as full-time test prep professionals) and regular ACT tutors. Expert ACT Tutors will usually charge $100-250 per hour, while the other ACT tutors will charge anywhere from $40-90. Generally speaking, the more expensive tutors are much more experienced, highly-trained, and simply better than the cheaper tutors. We have worked with some many parents and students who initially hired the less expensive tutors, and the response has always been, "you guys are so much better than the first tutor we hired." With the importance of test scores in relation to admission to college and to many scholarships (Check Out Our Article on ACT Scores and College Scholarships), it is worth hiring the best tutor you can find to help your student get the highest ACT Scores possible.
Who It's Great For: Any student whose family has the budget for private tutoring. Students who need an increase in ACT score to get an academic scholarship. Students who have learning disabilities and need individual attention. Top students who just need pointers in two or three sections to increase their scores.
Who It's Bad For: Students whose families do not have the budget for private tutoring.
After reading this article, you know the main options for how to get ready for the ACT. The other most important question to answer is When To Take the ACT.
You can learn more about how we prepare students for the ACT with 1:1 ACT tutoring and in our 30+ ACT Prep Class.
For other questions you have about the ACT, check out our post About the ACT.
*This article reflects my advice and opinions based on my experience as an ACT Tutor. Over the past 6 years, I have helped hundreds of students prepare for the ACT in private tutoring, small group tutoring, and while teaching the 30+ ACT Class.
Have friends studying for the ACT? Share this article!