How Tutors Can Compete with FREE Test Prep

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The recent announcement of the new, free ACT Academy coming online this spring has a lot of test prep tutors and companies on their heels.

While the SAT has offered fairly robust, free test prep materials for several years, the ACT (read: currently the most popular college entrance exam) has kept much of its materials safely locked behind a paywall. With both tests now committed to supplying test-takers with databases-worth of free practice material, how then can the test prep industry compete?

Just like when the SAT partnered with Khan Academy in 2014, the test prep market will survive. That said, it will be the test prep companies prepared to offer more than the free competition that will thrive.

Offer comprehensive test prep

Quality test prep is more than practice problems. Test prep businesses and tutors that don’t understand this principle are the ones left scrambling for clients whenever new, free alternatives to their services arise. In contrast, higher-end test prep programs should hardly ever feel any impact from the release of these types of free options.

The reason for this discrepancy is that companies that produce the most positive student growth are the ones that utilize customizable and differentiated test prep curriculum and, at the same time, offer tools and services to promote accountability and engagement. Programs that simply pump out worksheet after worksheet without checks on student progress or commitment don’t.

The 100% custom-branded test prep program offered by Clear Choice Prep is a way to ensure your business is one of the former rather than the latter. No amount of free or off-the-shelf content can compete with the level of service a highly-qualified tutor can provide when equipped with a comprehensive, customizable, and accessible test prep toolset.


If a student isn’t engaging with the material and/or lacks the proper guidance to help understand and prioritizehis or her efforts, it wouldn’t matter if the student was preparing with the actual test. Test prep tutors and companies that shepherd student growth will always outperform test prep approaches (free or otherwise) that leave students to figure it out on their own.

Don’t promote the competition

Now more than ever it is crucial for test prep companies to assert the value of their own content and programming. Much of the low-end market will see the ACT Academy as a resource to swipe and re-brand the free content as their own (just as generations of test-stealers and workbook-copiers have done for generations).

Avoid the temptation to see the ACT Academy (or any other free test prep option, for that matter) as a question bank or a student practice destination to promote. Just as you shouldn’t ask clients to purchase your competitor’s materials for use in your course, steering them to free online options as part of your own service could give them the idea that your services are moot.

Instead of asking students to complete practice emblazoned with your competitors’ logos or on your competitors’ websites, invest in your own, 100% custom-branded test prep curriculum. It builds brand value and awareness, puts powerful and proprietary software at your tutors’ fingertips, and makes it easier to keep all of the stakeholders on the same page. Having all the curricular materials, assessment data, and communication tools consolidated in one system ensures your program has what it takes to stand up against even the largest competitors in your local market and online.

Know your target audience

Odds are, many of the test-takers that will flock to the ACT Academy and College Board’s free offerings are those who, in test seasons past, would have opted for an off the shelf workbook or guide for self-guided test prep. These students were unlikely to be your clients in the first place. Trying to reposition your entire business model to draw in these potential clients could be a fool's errand. In the wake of the ACT Academy announcement, many will try - don't follow them.

As a test prep tutor or business, your job is not to get involved in a price-slashing war in a race to the bargain basement of the industry. This is even more true when the competition in question is free (Be real. Are you going to start paying clients to take your course?).

Instead, set a price that is reflective of your costs, your staff, and the quality of your programming. Draw clients in with substance, not unsustainable pricing.

For more on how to avoid pricing-related mistakes, download our totally free eBook, A Tutor's Guide to Handling Price Objections. Included are strategies geared towards crucial decisions like:

  • Avoiding price objections altogether
  • Framing expectations
  • Establishing the value of your test prep system
  • Understanding what's important to your clients
  • Identifying genuine price objections
  • Knowing when to offer discounted pricing is necessary or not
  • Increasing the value of your test prep system




With more test prep options seemingly appearing every day, it is important to find your lane as a test prep company and not overreact to the competition. Focus on providing the highest-quality programming to clients and the results and customer satisfaction will ensure your business is moving in the right direction.

What are your reactions to the new ACT Academy? How will you keep it from affecting your bottom line? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

Matt McCorkle