Good online ACT preperation?
March 12, 2008 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Which is better for ACT (or SAT) preparation: (a) Princeton Review online (b) Kaplan online (c) none of the above?

My understanding was that Kaplan focused on the contents of the test while Princeton focused on test-taking strategies. However, that was from 20 years ago. Is it still the case today?

Also, I live in Wisconsin and it appears that Princeton has no presence there. Could anyone share their opinion of either company's online course?
posted by rtimmel to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I used both for LSAT prep and found them to be essentially the same. I made pretty substantial improvements to my scores and ended up doing quite well on the actual test.
The key for me was to get as many past and simulated tests and take them, over and over and over (one a day for weeks). By doing this, I familiarized myself with the subtle style to their exam questions and became pretty good at recognizing all their standardized tricks, the qualities to their "seductively wrong answers" etc.
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2008

A, because the contents of the test are something you can learn to deal with through sheer repetition. Toss in some test-taking strategies and you're all set.

The high school I went to offered a PSAT/SAT prep course and this is how we did it:

1. Take an old SAT to establish a baseline
2. Talk about test-taking strategies
3. Take another old SAT to get another data point
4. Repeat 2 and 3 over and over and over again
5. Do better on the tests

It works. #2 is a little overrated because this ain't rocket science. It was things like learning to skip questions and coming back, how to narrow down multiple choice questions and then make educated guesses, bring a jacket to wear in the cold testing center, that sort of thing. This was for the old test (I took it in 1994), but I bet you could find the modern equivalents online. Then all you needs is books of old tests, a quiet room, and an alarm clock.

Incidentally, that's what I did when I took the LSAT, I just bought books of old tests and then did those under realistic time constraints until I couldn't stand it anymore. No problem.
posted by pandanom at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2008

Familiarity with the test will take you further than any particular structure of review. You don't even necessarily need to know "how to take the test" so much as you need to do it a few times to be able to adapt the test-taking strategies offered by the different review courses to the methods that work for you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2008

I used Princeton's book for the GRE (and the SAT/ACT before that) and thought it was excellent. The actual intellectual content of the test is quite simple, but the key is really recognizing how the questions are structured and how to think about them correctly. One the things the book stressed is that the GRE/ACT/SAT does not test your intelligence or even your understanding of the material, it just examines your ability to take the GRE/ACT/SAT. Knowing how the test is really works and what to expect helps tremendously.

The only thing that I'd supplement a Princeton book (or online course, assuming they're basically the same) is a set of vocab flashcards. Unless you're an absolutely voracious reader, you'll need to brush up on your standard test vocabulary.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2008

I've taught SAT prep for Princeton review for over 6 years now. I'm not familiar with our online course, but overall yes, PR focuses more on strategy than content. I don't know what Kaplan's course is currently like, but based on interviews published a couple of years ago (with the rollout of the "new" SAT) the Kaplan executives indicated that they were still focused mostly on cramming content into students' heads.

Since the rollout of the new SAT, PR has continued to revise our course content significantly. Even we fell into the trap of becoming too "content-heavy" at first, since there's so much new math (quadratics, etc) that's in play on the new test.

Here's what the PR curriculum focuses on:

-- Answering the right number of questions. Most students hurt their score by answering too many questions (sounds counter-intuitive, but that's why we're experts and we've got the numbers to prove it). By devoting more time to getting a smaller number of questions right, and not losing points on wrong answers, students can improve significantly.

-- Familiarity with the test and the testing experience. The new SAT is a grueling, 4+ hour time suck. Anyone who works with high school kids knows that their energy and attention spans will be maxed out by the end. The chance to take the test a few times and get used to the marathon pace helps most students a lot. Note: this is not an exeperience you can duplicate by reading a book. There's just no substitute for trying to find the root of a quadratic equation after you've been testing for 3.5 hours and you're wondering if your girlfriend is trying to text you.

-- Familiarity with their own abilities. It's easy to tell a student to prioritize questions and work on the easy ones, but a lot of students don't know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Test-prep gives them a chance to review lots of different question types and know for sure what questions they're good at and what's just going to waste their time.

Finally, I will note that our curriculum is amazing at boosting Math scores (I see increases of 100 points routinely), and so-so for boosting Reading scores. There are no easy tricks or shortcuts that will turn a mediocre reader into a great reader overnight. Reading scores will only go up if the student is willing to put a lot of time into learning vocabulary words and practice, practice, practice. If your kid wants to practice for the SAT 2-3 hours a week for 5 weeks before the test, his/her Reading score won't change much (maybe +40 points) no matter which company you choose.
posted by junkbox at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2008

If you're looking for an online course, and are willing and able to spend the money, as opposed to just self-direction with materials, PrepMe's worth a shot. Disclaimer: the guy who runs it is an acquaintance of mine, but if the entire state of Maine bought it, it can't be useless.
posted by sachinag at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2008

Get the books with the "real" tests - not sure if there's an ACT one (though there probably is) but I did most of the prep for the SAT with the '10 Real SATs' book. Do it repeatedly. Granted, I took these tests back when the max SAT score was a 1600, no writing.

If you're looking to increase a math score, you're in luck. It's hard as hell to increase verbal - I'd add a pack of flash cards to your prep supply checklist.

Basically, it all comes down to knowing HOW to take the test, and not the content. IE Learn when to omit, and when to guess (for the SATs). Never omit on the ACTs.

Unless you can find a class that will grade your writing samples (and do it multiple times), I'd say just get a good prep book and save the cash.
posted by sary at 11:30 AM on March 12, 2008

I've been an SAT tutor with a couple of "upscale" tutoring firms in the bay area (that charge more than PR or Kaplan, supposedly deliver better results). As a seasoned math and verbal tutor, I can say that probably 80% of a student's gains come from repetition and a developed familiarity with the structure/material of the tests. The way you get that is from practice with *real* old tests. I agree with sary, the Official SAT Study Guide with real SAT's is a great place to start.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 12:24 PM on March 12, 2008

(c) - skip the paid tutoring stuff and just do practice test after practice test. The primary benefit to any tutoring program is becoming comfortable and familiar with the test. If the practice tests show that you are weak in certain areas, then study these areas and then do another practice test.

If you can't understand the material, *then* hire a tutor.

It ain't rocket science.
posted by zippy at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2008

I work for Kaplan.

The big perk there is that if you aren't happy, you can get your money back as long as you did all of the assigned homework.

And we do give it back, without many questions (well, we flip through your homework book.)
posted by k8t at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2008

The feeling I get from both Kaplan and PR is that while they're pretty good at getting you from a bad test score to a decent test score, they're not so good at getting you from a good score to a great score.
posted by gyc at 5:08 PM on March 12, 2008

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