For high school students planning to go to college, taking the ACT or SAT is almost a rite of passage. Students started taking the SAT back in the 1920s, and are still taking it today since it’s a heavily-weighed factor during the college admission process.
While there are some schools that have decided to become “test-optional,” most schools not only require a student to take the test but to get a certain score. Essentially, a student’s chance to go to their dream school could come down to a test score.
It explains why 2.2 million students took the exam in 2019, according to the College Board.
Given the importance of these standardized tests, a growing number of students opt to take a prep course to give them the tools and strategies needed to score well.
For those thinking about prep classes, we’ve created this guide that explores everything you should know about the process. We’ll cover:
- What’s on the SAT?
- What’s on the ACT?
- How are the SAT and ACT scored?
- ACT/SAT statistics
- Why do you need an ACT/SAT prep course?
- Who needs an ACT/SAT prep course?
- Things to consider before selecting an ACT/SAT prep course
- How to choose an ACT/SAT prep course
- Frequently Asked Questions About ACT/SAT
- The best ACT/SAT prep courses to consider
What’s on the SAT?
This college entrance exam has three main areas: Critical reading, math, and writing with an optional essay. The timed test is administered on a computer at a testing center and takes almost 4 hours to complete if the essay is completed.
What’s on the ACT?
The ACT has four subject sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. It’s also administered on a computer at a testing center. The test is timed and takes about 3 hours to complete.
How are the SAT and ACT scored?
The SAT is based on a 1600-point scale with math and reading adhering to this point system. The optional essay is graded separately.
The ACT is based on a 36-point scale.
As a primer to ACT/SAT prep courses, it’s important to understand a few things about the exams. Here’s a look at how many students take the exams, average scores, and how retaking the exam improves scores:
- Just over 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2019, an increase of 4% over the previous year, according to the College Board.
- The average SAT score is 1070 out of 1600, according to PrepScholar.
- The average ACT score is 20.8 out of 36, according to PrepScholar.
- When juniors retake the SAT as seniors, 35% see a marked increase in their score, according to CollegeRaptor.
- When juniors retake the ACT as seniors, 57% see a marked increase in their score, according to CollegeRaptor.
Why do you need an ACT/SAT prep course?
For students or parents considering an ACT/SAT prep course, there are several reasons to go through with one. Here’s a look at why people opt for a prep course:
One of the biggest reasons for taking a preparation course is to get a better score. Since these exams are looked at by most colleges, having a good score could be the difference between getting into a school or not.
Research shows students who enroll in a prep course score 56 points higher on the exams than those who don’t take a course, according to CollegeRaptor.
Many prep courses offer score guarantees as well.
The SAT and ACT tests are unlike any other test a student takes. A prep course gives students the chance to see what a test could look like, what sections it’s broken into, and how it feels to take one. Without the course, students taking the test have no idea what to expect.
Prep courses provide test-taking strategies to help students do well. It’s more than a study group, the courses give students study guides, strategies based on a student’s strengths and weaknesses, and even discusses how to make an educated guess when a student can’t figure out the answer to a particular question.
Take practice exams
Nothing prepares students for the real thing like taking a practice exam. During prep courses, students will take exams so they’re familiar with them.
Room to practice and ask questions
As a student works through the program, he or she has the ability to focus on problem areas, ask questions, and get advice. Practice tests will help identify areas to work on.
Today’s students use a complicated graphing calculator for the SAT/ACT tests and the prep courses can help students maximize their use.
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Who needs an ACT/SAT prep course?
For students wondering if a prep course is right them, here’s who typically takes the courses:
Students looking to score well
Whether your dream school requires a certain test score or you just want to do well to have as many options as possible, a prep course is for you.
Students who struggle with tests
There are some students who simply aren’t good test-takers. Rather than shy away from this test, students who get test-day jitters say preparing for the exam calms their anxiety and gives them a chance to focus on the task at hand.
Students who are willing to do the work
Prep courses require students to set aside time to study. Attending classes is part of the process, but working at home is part of the process too.
Things to consider before selecting an ACT/SAT prep course
When you’re ready to select an ACT/SAT prep course, here’s what to consider:
To get the most out of a prep course, students have to put in the work. Going to class or attending an online course is just the start, students will have homework and will need to study.
A prep course takes time, so students with busy schedules may need to make changes to accommodate prep courses. It might mean better time management skills or it might mean eliminating an extracurricular activity.
In-person or online courses
There’s a variety of ACT/SAT prep courses available. Some are scheduled, in-class courses with homework assignments that could last up to ten weeks, others are online and give students the chance to learn at their own pace. Students can also opt for private tutoring sessions as one of their prep options.
The cost of prep courses varies. There are some free online resources that students enjoy and there are professional companies that specialize in prep courses. Courses can be expensive, some up to $2000. However, the average cost is usually around $500.
How to choose an ACT/SAT prep course
There’s a lot of test prep resources out there, but for those who are ready to commit to a prep course, here’s what you should look for:
Small class sizes
Small class sizes give students the opportunity for more individualized attention and the ability to ask more questions. Look for courses that have class sizes of 12 or fewer.
The best teachers are those with extensive knowledge of the test. Ideally, the teacher has many, many prep courses under his or her belt already. Taking a course taught by the high school chemistry teacher or using an online resource where a teacher’s history is unknown, probably won’t provide the results students are looking for.
The test prep course should come with high-quality study materials. Everything from a textbook, practice questions, full-length practice tests, study guides, and vocabulary flashcards should be part of the course. Students should be able to access specific homework assignments based on their needs as well.
Prep courses should provide some sort of guaranteed results. Usually, there’s a score guarantee or a point improvement guarantee, like a guarantee that a student’s SAT score will improve by 50 points, for example.
If students go through the course and don’t achieve the guaranteed results, they’ll usually get their money back.
Positive reviews from students
While researching different options, be sure to read through the reviews. Every course has a negative review or two, but overall look for positive reviews from students, parents, and even teachers.
Frequently Asked Questions About ACT/SAT
For those new to the world of ACT tests and SAT tests, here are answers to a few frequently asked questions:
When do students take the PSAT?
The PSAT is a practice SAT and is usually taken during sophomore year.
When do students take the ACT/SAT?
Students in their freshman year can take the exam, but most students take it during the spring of their junior year. If a student isn’t happy with their test score, he or she has time to retake the exam in their senior year.
How many times are the tests offered?
Every year, the SAT and the ACT are offered seven times. The SAT is offered in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. The ACT is offered in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.
How many times can you take the exams?
Students can take the ACT up to 12 times, although most people take it 1-3 times. Students can take the SAT as many times as they want, but again, usually, students take it 1-3 times.
When should you schedule an exam after taking a prep course?
Ideally, a student will schedule the exam for the week following the prep course. Most courses are scheduled in advance of test dates so students can move from the class to the test without much delay.
The best ACT/SAT prep courses available
For students planning to take a GMAT prep course, there’s a lot of choices to sift through. To help narrow the search, here’s a list of the best GMAT prep courses to consider:
- Price: $499 in-person, $499 live online, $99 on-demand
- Format: In-person, on-demand, or online
Kaplan is a recognized name in the test-prep industry with highly regarded programs and teachers who all score in the 90th percentile of the SAT.
The course offers 18 hours of “classroom time” and an additional 30 hours of online classes that students can use at their leisure. The courses can be in-person, live-online, or on-demand.
The study resources range from eight different practice tests to online quizzes and additional instructions.
The company does claim to raise SAT scores but doesn’t offer a specific point guarantee. Class sizes can be big, up to 50 students.
2. The Princeton Review SAT Ultimate Classroom
- Price: $599
- Format: In-person, live online instruction
Another well-known name in the industry, The Princeton Review is known for its quality classes and high success rates. The course actually covers both ACT and SAT prep, which is an added value.
The classes provide 18-hours of instruction of in-person instruction or live online instruction.
The class has great study materials offered online with materials tailored to each student’s needs. The course also has three, proctored practice exams.
The company does not offer any kind of score guarantee.
3. PrepScholar Classes
- Price: $895
- Format: Online
PrepScholar classes are live, online classes with a virtual classroom setting. Classes for SAT and ACT are available. The classes look like a traditional classroom in the sense that students are all there together, they raise their hand to ask questions, and talk with a teacher just like they would in a formal classroom.
Class sizes are capped at nine students and taught by experienced teachers.
This course offers a 160+ point score increase. If that’s not achieved, students get their money back.
The classes last 2-5 weeks, includes study guides, and a diagnostics test that accesses a student’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Price: Starting at $799
- Format: Online instruction
PrepExpert is a fairly new course offered to students looking to improve their test scores, but their curriculum receives great reviews from students. The company also offers a 200-point increase in SAT scores and a 4-point increase in ACT scores, which is some of the highest score guarantees available in the industry.
The company mostly offers online class instruction, with a few in-person courses available in Las Vegas and Princeton.
The courses are either three weeks or six weeks long.
5. PowerScore Test Prep
- Price: $495
- Format: Online instruction
PowerScore Test Prep has only ACT prep classes available and they’re all online instruction. The course has 24 hours of instruction, which is higher than many others offer, and a test score point guarantee. Students using this course are guaranteed to raise their ACT scores by 4 points.
There is a small, more condensed version of this class available too for less money, about $350. This course is one of the cheapest options we found online.
The courses aren’t live, so there’s no face-to-face interaction with teachers or students and the study resources are a bit more limited compared to other programs listed.
6. ACT Online prep
- Price: $40
- Format: Online learning resources
For people looking for additional help studying, but not necessarily course, ACT Online Prep is a good choice. For $40 students get access to practice tests and study materials that they can use at their leisure.
7. ePrep SAT Courses
- Price: $129
- Format: Video instruction
Much like the ACT Online Prep mentioned above, ePrep SAT Courses offers video instructions that students can use to self-prepare for the exam. The video courses are broken into small, digestible pieces that encourage students to set a certain pace for completion. The two-month course is $129. Longer classes are more expensive.