Kaplan is the oldest test-prep company in the US. Founded back in 1938, they’ve been helping students prepare for the ACT (and a long list of other exams) for over 80 years.
Like Barron’s and the Princeton Review, Kaplan built its reputation on decades of in-person classes and tutoring. Early in the 21st century, they started adding online options to their course catalogue. Today, you can choose from a range of ACT-prep programs, from old-style tutoring at one end to a completely automated on-demand curriculum at the other.
Here, I’ll be looking exclusively at Kaplan’s online ACT courses. If you’re wondering which one to pick, think about how much individualized guidance you want. Do you thrive on the structure and accountability of scheduled meetings? Or do you prefer the flexibility of automated materials that you can dip into at any time?
Here are Kaplan’s main options for online ACT prep:
Self-Paced and Live Online Essentials are Kaplan’s most software-driven ACT programs. Both give you six months of access to a full range of automated resources.
Live Online Essentials includes all of the above, plus:
Live Online and Live Online PLUS are Kaplan’s most popular online programs. Live Online gives you:
Live Online PLUS adds three hours of one-on-one coaching.
You’ll sign up ahead of time for a class schedule that’s convenient for you. If you need to miss a session, you can always make it up later by watching the recorded version.
Unlimited Prep is a lavish option that gives you access to all Kaplan classes and online tools for the PSAT, SAT, and the ACT. You’ll be free to take and retake any Live Online classes as often as you want through December of your senior year.
ACT Online Prep Live is a free (or low-cost test) prep program offered by ACT Inc. in partnership with Kaplan.There are six-week, three-month, and six-month versions available.
But what is one of the best things about Online Prep Live? All of their practice questions are authentic, written by the creators of the actual ACT. Kaplan’s other programs use materials written by their own in-house writers.
Here’s what’s included in Online Prep Live:
Because classes are so big, there isn’t a ton of individualized attention, which makes some students feel that the live classes are more like pre-recorded lessons. But it is possible to ask questions via the chat feature staffed by two teaching assistants.
This is a round-up of the comments I’ve heard most often from students who’ve worked with Kaplan. Keep in mind that all this is unscientific input and not necessarily representative of the majority of test-takers.
“My instructor was great.”
Most students like their Kaplan instructors. The company claims to hire less than 10% of teachers who apply. Everyone they hire has scored above the 90th percentile on whichever tests they teach, plus Kaplan screens applicants for personal warmth and dedication to the welfare of students.
“The strategies were helpful.”
Kaplan teachers are exceptionally good at helping students learn test-taking strategy along with academic content.
“The class schedule was flexible.”
Kaplan makes it easy for students to create a class schedule that fits into their busy lives. All Live Online classes are recorded, which lowers your stress level if you miss a meeting and need to make it up.
“The dashboard was really useful.”
Students like Kaplan’s informative and intuitive interface.
“The real SAT felt different.”
Students sometimes notice a confusing difference between the real ACT and the material they’ve been working with at Kaplan. This problem is endemic to most test-prep companies because very few of them use authentic College Board practice questions. (the exception being ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live–see above). I’ve heard from several students who found Kaplan’s in-house practice tests unrealistic and too easy.
“It was too much homework.”
People choose online test-prep because their schedules are already crowded, so it can be frustrating when you’re required to do extra work between classes. In addition to homework, Kaplan students must take quizzes and watch introductory videos on upcoming course topics. All that adds up to a significant chunk of time each week.
The reality is, homework is the price we pay for higher scores. If you truly have no time to prep in between class sessions, you’re better off choosing Self-Paced or Live Online Essentials.
“They never returned my email.”
I’ve heard from more than one frustrated family who found Kaplan’s attentiveness and communication style less than ideal. Books may arrive late, tech support may be lacking, or policies may seem unclear.
“I felt anonymous.”
Describing his experience with Live Online, one of my students recently used the word “overwhelmed.” Kaplan is a big organization, and some people feel daunted by its sheer size. This is really a matter of personality. You may thrive on being a small fish in a big pond, or you may prefer a more modest-sized company like Magoosh or Testive.
“We spent too much time on material that I already knew.”
This is a frequent complaint among students who are already scoring higher than average. Kaplan does make an effort to ensure that students in their Live Online classes get individualized attention, but classes are always geared to the needs of the group. If specialized coaching is a priority for you, consider signing up for one-on-one tutoring instead.
You may do well in a Kaplan online ACT program if: