ACT Academy is LIVE… and I would give it 0 stars if I could

Some of you may have heard about ACT Academy, the new, free, targeted online preparation for the ACT. I got a very excited-sounding email from ACT, Inc. a few weeks ago announcing that this feature was available for use. Since students (and parents) frequently ask me where to find additional practice for the ACT, I decided to check the site out for myself.

Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with what I found. My biggest complaint is that the quiz questions all appear to come from a released practice test (the 2012 test, in case you were wondering). Granted, I’ve only completed about a fifth of the quizzes so far, but all of the questions that I saw were disturbingly familiar. The practice test that is offered on the site is also reused—it is the 2015 test, the most recent practice test available. Not only is this problematic in that some students will have seen the questions before, but it also means that there are two fewer full-length practice tests available to students who have used ACT Academy.

Another concern that I have is the small number of quizzes available—for about a quarter of the topics, there is only one quiz available, making it difficult to assess learning. For almost half of the topics, there are only two. When you miss a question on a quiz, by the way, the only explanation currently available is “Rationale: incorrect”. Not very helpful!

The content on the Resources page is inadequate, to say the least. Nearly all of the content on the Resources page is videos, despite advertising about games and rap songs. (Actually, the lack of rap songs might be a good thing.) More concerning, though, is the fact that the videos don’t seem to be ACT-specific. In fact, I found a video in the resources for the Reading Test that was designed for an AP English class. Additionally, the Science Test resources include a video entitled “AP Biology Practice 5”. In it, the narrator describes what “the College Board will ask.” The College Board, maker of the SAT, is ACT, Inc.’s biggest competitor!

Many of the resources seem designed to teach students the content that they should have learned in the classes that are supposed to prepare them for the ACT (their Algebra, Geometry, other math, and English classes, in particular), rather than teaching students about concepts that the ACT considers to be particularly important (and therefore is likely to ask questions about). For instance, I found videos about ellipses and parabolas, but none about circles—the one type of conic that is often included in the test. I also found videos about how to use a ruler, how to write a summary, and how to create a dot plot—none of which are relevant for the ACT. Additionally, while videos demonstrating a skill or explaining a concept can be helpful, they offer no way for students to practice the skill or test their understanding.

Interestingly, I have found no mention whatsoever of the Writing Test on this website. However, many of the resources for the English Test (which covers revising and editing) are more likely to be helpful for the Writing Test (the essay).

The Tips & Strategies page is helpful, but all of the information is included in the free “Preparing for the ACT” guide, which also includes the most recently released practice test.

One feature that could be useful, but that I am unable to test, is the option to enter results from an ACT or Pre-ACT (my scores are too old!). If this feature is actually used to guide a student’s practice, it has the potential to be useful. If it just means that the student doesn’t have to take the quizzes to have a starting point, it’s probably not going to be very helpful.

Overall, I would not recommend ACT Academy at this point. My recommendation (to get more benefit out of the same free materials) would be to come take a free, proctored practice ACT (or, if you’re not in the Austin area, download the test here [you’ll need pages 11-51, 57-60, and 64] and print it out—take it with a pencil, like you will the real test!). When you score your test, DON’T mark the correct answers! Just mark the questions you got wrong, and keep moving. Afterwards (and after you’ve taken a break), review the questions that you missed. Actually re-attempt each question, and see if you can figure out where you went wrong. For any concepts you’re really stumped on (maybe you don’t remember how to use a semicolon, or have forgotten the formula for area of a trapezoid), look them up online. Generally, you’ll be able to find an explanation from a quick Google (or YouTube) search. Once you’ve reviewed the concepts, take the second practice test by signing up for another free practice ACT, or downloading it here.

At this point, you will have used the same materials available on ACT Academy, but in a more focused and productive manner. And, as a bonus, you’ll have scores available from both of these practice tests, rather than just the first one (since you will have taken the 2012 test as a full-length test instead of as a series of untimed, unscored quizzes).

If you’re looking for even more preparation, you can explore our ACT class and private tutoring options, or call our office at (512) 453-7272 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation designed to help you plan your test preparation.

If the site improves (which I hope it will), I will post an updated review and suggestions for best use. But, for now, I would just avoid it.

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