ACT, BenchPrep Join to Offer Online Test Preparation

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ACT has unveiled a new, redesigned test preparation program that offers participants a more interactive experience that helps students determine the areas they most need to focus on in order to increase their score.

The lower-cost ACT Online Prep program is easier for students to maneuver through and offers a more personalized experience than previous versions, according to Paul Weeks, ACT senior vice president of client relations.  The program begins with a shortened version of the ACT that acts as a “pulse check” for students before delving into their studies.  Based on their answers, they will be guided toward content reviews on math, English, science, and writing.

Students can access the program through their mobile devices, which offers additional interactive activities such as games.  In addition, teachers can track student progress and have the ability to set up individual study paces for students depending on when they plan to take the ACT.

Although the program was officially launched in December, its partnership with BenchPrep.com was not announced until late last week.  A digital learning company, BenchPrep designed the platform used for the program.

A similar collaboration exists between the College Board, who administers the SAT, and online education company Khan Academy.  The pair released a free online SAT preparation program last year, writes Kaitlin Mulhere for Time.

The ACT program, complete with a full year of access, comes at a cost of $39.95, which is an increase from the previous versions which cost $25.  Meanwhile, online preparatory programs offered through companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review come at a much higher average cost of $300 per course.

As one of the initiatives ACT has taken on in order to provide aid to low-income and underserved students, those who qualify for a fee waiver for the exam can use the program for free. Last year 700,000 students benefited from such waivers, which are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

However, some say that colleges place too much emphasis on tests like the SAT or ACT, arguing that the scores obtained are correlated too closely with family wealth, because families with higher incomes can afford to pay for their children to take the exam multiple times, invest in practice tests and online programs, or even pay for small group or one-on-one tutors.

Ashish Rangnekar, CEO and co-founder of BenchPrep, maintains that the fee waiver will help to combat the effect that income has over test scores.  Because the learning tools offered through the program are located on the ACT website, a seamless path to sign up for the exam also exists.

Other critics argue that test preparation programs teach strategies for taking exams rather than actual content.  However, both the SAT and ACT programs maintain that the emphasis is placed on content lessons and review.  Weeks adds that studying for the ACT is one of the best ways a student can prepare for it, adding that enrolling in high level high school courses offers students the best way to build the skills necessary to do well on the exam.

“No program will ever take the place of skill development through rigorous courses,” Weeks said.