Barron’s ACT Test Prep is one of the largest and most well-known test-prep companies, similar to the Kaplan and Princeton Review. Like them, Barron’s made its name through decades of successful in-person classes and tutoring. Nowadays, it also offers online prep for a long list of academic tests including the ACT.
The Barron’s ACT course is entirely online and on-demand. Unlike some of their peers, Barron’s doesn’t offer an option for adding video coaching to your program. Students take a diagnostic test to measure their current expertise on each subsection of the ACT, then use the responsive software to build their skills.
You’ll start by taking Barron’s diagnostic test. The software uses your results to guide you toward the lessons that are likely to make the greatest difference to your ultimate score (but you’re always free to choose your own from the complete list).
The dashboard shows the results of your diagnostic broken down into individual skills (like Vocabulary in Context and Geometry). From this point on, you’ll use the online tools to work on those skills and watch your stats improve. Barron offers both video and text-based lessons, plus there are videos explaining the answers to practice questions and demonstrating the steps for solving each one.
As you move forward, your dashboard reflects your progress. It also shows you your projected scores. That is, it shows what your scores would probably be if you took the ACT Test today.
When you feel ready, you’ll take a full-length practice ACT. Barron’s writes their own tests, rather than offering authentic tests written by the ACT company. Unfortunately, they require you to take these practice ACTs online as well.
Because the actual ACT is a paper-and-pencil test, online practice tests offer limited benefit. If you’re working with Barron’s, I recommend getting a copy of The Official ACT Prep Guide 2020, the test book released by ACT Inc. It contains four genuine tests retired from previous years. Take them under realistic test conditions (first thing in the morning, under time pressure, and using paper and pencil). The experience will give you a much better feeling for the questions you’ll encounter on the real test, plus it will help you build the stamina you need to take a full-length ACT in one sitting.
Students often notice a difference between Barron’s practice materials and the actual ACT. That’s because (as noted above) Barron’s creates all of their own course materials, including practice tests. Their writers often do a poor job of matching the style and content of the real ACT. Some students feel that Barron’s questions are harder than the real test. Others say the main problem is the stylistic difference that leaves them feeling unprepared.
I sampled Barron’s ACT curriculum by watching a couple of their video lessons on Reading. First, a friendly and encouraging tutor explained how to go about answering a challenging Vocabulary In Context question. In the process, he mispronounced the (very obscure) word “apoplectic.”
This would have been the perfect moment to tell viewers what to do when they encounter an unfamiliar word on ACT Reading (I’m guessing that only a tiny fraction of test-takers have ever seen “apoplectic” before). This tutor skipped right over that opportunity. He told us not to worry about unknown vocabulary, yet the steps he demonstrated for answering the question depended on the student knowing the meaning of all the answer choices.
If I were a student, I would have come away from that video feeling confused. Unlike many online test-prep companies, Barron’s doesn’t make it easy for you to contact instructors with questions.
The second video featured the same tutor recommending strategies that I strongly disagree with, such as reading passages twice (you won’t have time) and leaving tough questions blank. Because the ACT doesn’t penalize you for incorrect guesses, you should never leave anything blank on the ACT.
If you’re looking for an online prep program that uses real ACT questions, take a look at ACT Online Prep and ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live. Both programs are offered by ACT Inc. (the second one in partnership with Kaplan). Both use authentic practice materials. And like the Barron’s course, both are stylistically basic and exclusively on-demand.
If you want a program that teaches via reliable video lessons, you could also consider Magoosh. Their ACT prep course offers over 250 well-produced video lessons covering academic content and test-taking strategies. Magoosh instructors are friendly, clear, and well informed.
With all that said, are there any circumstances under which it would make sense to opt for Barron’s ACT Prep? Here are a few reasons why you might.