The Best ACT/SAT Test Prep Courses

The SAT and ACT really only measure how well you can do on the test. Sure, you need to brush up on your subject matter knowledge, but you also need to acclimate yourself to the test itself. Luckily, science has shown that taking practice tests is the best way to do both. Our top picks have plenty of authentic practice tests and customized refresher modules to help you bump your score even higher.

The 4 Best ACT/SAT Test Prep Courses

Most Practice Tests
Kaplan SAT/ACT Prep
Kaplan
This well-known prep powerhouse has the most practice tests of any course we evaluated
Pros
Resources
Live and archived aid
Knowledgeable teachers
Supplemental materials
Cons
Pricey

Why we chose it

Resources

Kaplan's $299 course features video tutorials, more than 1,000 practice questions, and progress reports to help students track their performance. It also includes nine full practice tests for either the SAT or ACT—more than the Khan Academy which offers eight and ACT Online Prep’s offering of four.

Live and archived aid

Kaplan is a bit different from Khan Academy and ACT Online Prep. Kaplan emphasizes live and archived review sessions more than the others — upgrade to the $599 level or higher to participate in live review sessions and ask questions of the teachers in real time in a classroom format or via private Q&A.

Knowledgeable teachers

The teachers are knowledgeable; all Kaplan teachers must themselves score at 90 percent or above on the test they are teaching. They discuss strategy for individual topics, and there are supplementary dives into test-taking strategy with videos such as “Creating Your Perfect Study Plan” and “SAT Mindset Training.” These videos are archived on the site, so if a student isn’t available when it’s broadcast, they can watch it at their convenience.

Supplemental materials

When you purchase any Kaplan program, the company sends two books: Kaplan SAT Course Book (or ACT, if that’s the test you’re taking) and The Kaplan Big Book of SAT Practice Tests. Students reinforce their online work with the substantial, +700-page Course Book, and then read the practice tests in the book while filling in the answers online. The online courses integrate material from the books, and are designed to work together. There are additional assignments in the book that can be input online for instant feedback.

Kaplan Strategy - SAT/ACT

An example of Kaplan's instruction.

Points to consider

Pricey

Its options are on the pricier side: A basic, online self-paced program is $299; unlimited online and in-person classroom instruction through December of your senior year is $1,599. (It’s certainly possible to pay much more for SAT prep — the four-week residential summer intensive at Kent Prep is over $10,000, airport shuttle not included.)

Best One-on-One
The Princeton Review
Princeton Review
Five hours of on-demand instructor assistance, with the option to purchase more
Pros
Most practice tests
Potential reimbursement
Expert access
Cons
Sparse dashboard

Why we chose it

Most practice tests

The Princeton Review's basic program—dubbed the SAT & ACT FREEPASS—offers more practice tests than all the other contenders we reviewed. In all, there are 28 practice tests to choose from which are broken up based on whether they apply to the SAT, ACT, or even PSAT.

  • 15 (SAT)
  • 8 (ACT)
  • 5 (PSAT)

Potential reimbursement

The Princeton Review SAT & ACT FREEPASS has another potential perk for high achievers: The company offers a refund if your test scores help you get into one of the country's top schools. However, there are quite a few steps to secure the refund: First you have to finish the test prep program, take the test, and be accepted into one of the "top 100 most selective colleges" as defined by the Princeton Review. Then you have to submit your test scores and acceptance letter to Princeton Review within two years, along with a testimonial about "your experience with the SAT & ACT FREEPASS program or how The Princeton Review helped you get accepted into the school."

Expert access

We liked the access to experts — even the basic $199 course includes five hours of chat time. Click the ever-present blue chat with a teacher button in the upper-right-hand corner and assistance is yours. If you use your five hours, it’s easy to add five more ($200). For the student who has a decent understanding of most concepts, but occasionally wants a little live assistance, this is an easy way to get one-on-one help.

Points to consider

Sparse dashboard

We would have liked a more in-depth dashboard UX. As it stands, there’s no place where you can see, at a glance, how you did overall on the practice questions in each module. Compared to other dashboards with Khan and Kaplan, we were left wanting to see a little more information to help us gauge our progress both on a broader and smaller scope.

Best Free SAT Prep
Khan Academy
Khan Academy
The same in-depth test preparation, without the price. Only available for SAT.
Pros
It’s free
Engaging study plans
Review videos
Enhanced testing
Strategies for taking the test
Cons
Limited dashboard
No live chat with teachers

Why we chose it

It’s free

Yes, you heard us right. Khan Academy's review and practice materials are free; the interactive quizzes are free; and so are the video lessons, reference articles, and all seven full-length practice tests written by the College Board.

Engaging study plans

After a couple of short diagnostic quizzes, Khan builds a customized program with suggested areas to review. (You can even link your past PSAT and SAT scores to your Khan Academy account, and it’ll use those to help create a study plan.) One thing we liked about the diagnostic quizzes is that they start giving SAT test-taking tips from the outset:

“On this diagnostic, you should select ‘I would be guessing’ if you don’t know the answer. But on the real SAT, there’s no penalty for guessing and you should always choose an answer.” We felt more prepared for test day just two minutes into our first practice session.

Khan Collage - SAT/ACT

Khan's practice tests help you understand why your answers were right or wrong.

Review videos

The program offers videos of Sal Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, working through problems and showing his work (but never his face). He’s a lot like a gentle, jovial teacher. These videos are educationally sound — and super useful — but they’re not very fancy.

Enhanced testing

Students can test themselves with timed mini-tests, and, when they feel ready, a full SAT practice test — or seven. Those practice tests feel super real, too. Khan Academy recommended we block off four hours on a Saturday (ideally starting at 8:30 AM); print out an official practice SAT bubble sheet for our answers; and sit down with our scratch paper, no. 2 pencil, and an approved calculator.

We took the test, snapped a photo using the College Board’s app (Daily Practice for the New SAT), and our scores were uploaded to our Khan Academy dashboard, which recommended new areas to practice.

Strategies for taking the test

Khan Academy also offers strategies and tips for taking the SAT — discussing format, time management, and how to interpret the sometimes tricky questions. We can’t stress how important this is: Not only is test strategy a subject unto itself, but also taking a practice test is one of the most effective ways to learn new information.

Tests enhance later retention more than additional study of the material, even when tests are given without feedback. This surprising phenomenon is called the testing effect.

Henry L. Roediger, III, and Jeffrey D. KarpickeThe Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice, Perspectives on Psychological Science

Points to consider

Limited dashboard

Unlike some of our other top picks, Khan Academy doesn’t have a dashboard where a student or parent could get a full picture of the work done to date. The simpler profile page lists recent activity, a personalized study schedule based on your test date, and your current skill level.

No live chat with teachers

Another thing notably missing from Khan Academy was the ability to speak with educational staff or teachers. We found this feature helpful with Kaplan and Princeton and it provided some reassurance as the deadline to the big test drew near.

Most Engaging ACT Prep
ACT Online Prep
ACT Online Prep
Tons of games (and leaderboards) that actually make the studying fun
Pros
Edutainment
Helpful assessment
Plans
Cons
No private tutoring

Edutainment

We hit up the discussion area to connect with other students; played games in a game center; and practiced with the 450 e-flashcards to drill ourselves on vocabulary, science, and math concepts. ACT Online Prep was the only one of our finalists to offer extras like this, and we found them to be welcome — and useful — review tools.

The games were fairly simple, each of them a variation of matching a correct answer among a series of possible answers, but they were a nice change from the text-based drills. Knowing we had three full hearts of life and a leaderboard really did make it more fun to find the definition of a parallelogram.

Helpful assessment

The robust dashboard gives students an appealing at-a-glance sense of how they’re doing, assesses their strengths and weaknesses, and suggests what they should tackle next with progress bars that will fill up as they improve. It was a lot less stressful to see we were “beginners” in science and math once we saw ourselves progress into “basic” for both of them. Review lessons are text-based and comprehensive, with plenty of examples.

Plans

Another unique aspect of ACT Online Prep is the ability to choose your learning plan: Students select either a structured plan, which goes through all the material covered in the test in order, or an adaptive plan, which suggests lessons based on student performance in practice quizzes and their confidence level in the material. We tried out both options (it’s easy to switch back and forth) and were pleased to see that the adaptive plan took our abysmal math results to heart and served up a math-heavy schedule for us.

ACT Online Dashboard - SAT/ACT

More than any of our other finalists, this program gave us a feeling that we were making progress at a steady pace.

Points to consider

No private tutoring

If you’re someone who does better sitting face-to-face with a teacher or tutor, then ACT Online Prep might not be the best fit. As the name suggests, much of your study and preparation will be online and, at this time, they do not offer private tutoring.

How to Find the Right ACT/SAT Test Prep Course for You

Talk to your guidance counselor

Your school’s guidance counselor will have access to information and, possibly, resources that can help you prepare for the ACT or SAT. Spending some time with your counselor and telling them about your higher education aspirations will allow them to better assist you and point you in the right direction toward a test prep course that’s right for you.

Make time for test prep

We only considered programs with self-pacing options to accommodate for the often chaotic and busy schedules of high schoolers. If you’re going to shop around for ACT/SAT test prep courses, we recommend choosing a program with enough flexibility to work with your busy schedule.

Shop for a good price

The price of test prep for the ACT and SAT will vary depending on where you look. The top picks we outlined offer pretty decent prices with Khan offering SAT test prep for free. Another thing that might help you get your money’s worth is focusing on a prep course with practice tests and educational resources in the areas you need to focus on most. Some programs like Kaplan and Princeton let you customize your curriculum to match your needs.

ACT/SAT Test Prep Courses FAQ

What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

Both the SAT and ACT test math, reading, and writing (the SAT includes five reading passages, while the ACT includes four), and have an optional essay. Math sections for each test arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry. The SAT has an additional data-analysis portion and you can use a calculator on some, but not all, of its questions. The ACT includes science; the SAT doesn’t.

ACT SAT
Available Test Dates February, April, June, September, October, and December January, March or April, May, June, October, November, and December
Cost $42.50, or $58.50 with essay. There may be additional fees. $45, or $57 with essay. There may be additional fees.
Time Two hours and 55 minutes; add 45 minutes with essay. Three hours; add 50 minutes with essay.
Score Scale of 1-36 Scale of 400-1600

Do I have to take the SAT or ACT?

Not always. FairTest, a standardized test watchdog, has a listing of more than 925 colleges and universities that are test-optional.

Will taking any of these ACT or SAT prep courses guarantee a higher test score?

Many of the programs we reviewed, and even some of the top picks, offered guarantees in one form or another that you would see higher test results. However, they typically come with conditions like completing the entirety of the testing program, including all available practice tests.

The Best ACT/SAT Test Prep Courses: Summed Up

Kaplan SAT/ACT Prep
The Princeton Review
Khan Academy
ACT Online Prep
Most Practice Tests
Best One-on-One
Best Free SAT Prep
Most Engaging ACT Prep
Starting Price
$299
$199
Free
$39.95
Instruction Time
40-50 hours
34-80 hours
120 questions (3-hour sessions)
116 hours
Number of Practice Tests
9
28
8
4
Private Tutoring?