What the Announcement of ACT Academy Means for Test Prep Tutors

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The ACT has just announced the launch of their ACT Academy. According to their press release, the ACT Academy will be an online study resource for ACT takers to "help students improve their college and career readiness by providing them with video lessons, interactive practice questions, full-length practice tests, educational games and other materials targeted to their academic needs.”

What's Happening with ACT Academy?

Just as Khan Academy’s partnership with College Board has made free SAT practice resources available to students for years, the ACT Academy will be leaning on partnerships with Khan Academy along with other high-profile organizations like PBS and NASA to both create and deliver free ACT test prep content online.

Whenever the ACT or College Board announce any new initiative, it is bound to send tremors through the test prep community. When that announcement is about a new, free test prep resource, the tremors can quickly become earth shattering.

One thing is for certain. This spring, preparation for the most popular college admission test could look very different. For some test prep businesses, this could spell disaster; for others, it will be a boon.  So who does this help and who does this hurt?

Who Will ACT Academy Help?

ACT – First and foremost, this is a good move for the folks at ACT. Now they can roll out more practice tests to tutors, resupplying their evangelist sales force. With any luck, ACT will be able to stop hemorrhaging market-share to College Board and the SAT. The other major benefit of ACT Academy is that it enables the test-maker to get students into their pipeline earlier and provide a more seamless experience from initial practice test to offical test day. As you can imagine, ACT's win will come at the cost of many private tutors. More on that later. Also, ACT no longer has to answer for its murky partnership with Kaplan, a for-profit company (GASP!).         

Students – This one should be obvious. Whenever there are more officially endorsed practice questions and prompts available to test takers, students’ test prep efforts stand to benefit. When these resources are free, it helps promote a level of openness and equity so that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic standing or access to high quality test prep, can walk into test day at least knowing what to expect. Students with the discipline to log in and complete the work, day in and day out, will benefit from the access to additional resources for free ACT test prep.

Top-of-the-Market Test Prep Tutors – It may seem paradoxical, but free test prep resources can actually be a boon for the most comprehensive and student-focused test prep businesses. Just as controlled fires purge the forest floor of overgrowth and underbrush, announcements like the ACT Academy can lead to a culling of the low-end test prep market. After the launch of the ACT Academy, it will be increasingly difficult for independent tutors to sell parents on meeting with them to read aloud from a test prep book they bought on Amazon. Their departure from the market will reduce the "noise" in your local market. Schools will be approached by fewer unsolicited offers from under-resourced test prep gurus, and administrators may become more receptive to partnerships with test prep professionals who can demonstrate that their services outperform ACT Academy.  
Who Will ACT Academy Hurt?

Bottom-of-the-test prep market – The  most obvious casualties of a free, online ACT test prep resource are test prep businesses offering a paid service that is comparable or inferior to what ACT Academy is rolling out. After all, what parent or student is going to pay for what they can get for free? This trend confirms many of the predictions I made in last year's popular e-book for tutors: Seven Marketing Mistakes Tutoring Companies Make – and How to Avoid Them.

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Students – ACT Academy will likely stall-out the progress of a lot of the same students who have answered a few dozen questions on Khan Academy and then closed the browser window, never to reopen it. Too many school administrators and parents have seen their students dabble in test prep without diligence and without result.  These students will be harmed by ACT Academy's promise because undisciplined students will not be held accountable for their test prep. It's not good to show up unprepared on test day. It's even worse to show up wrongly convinced that you're prepared to take the test. Some percentage of students will find themselves in this unfortunate position.    

Kaplan? – From the ACT's press release: "ACT Academy will provide students with engaging content and materials developed by ACT, the Khan Academy, NASA, PBS and other learning organizations in one convenient place." Notice anyone missing?

College Board and the SAT – It will be important to watch for some decline in SAT registrations as a result of this new ACT Academy initiative. One of the advantages the SAT has held over its chief competitor is its Khan Academy partnership providing free SAT prep tools. Now that the ACT is rolling out its own Academy, additional high-profile partnerships, and a proven, reliable OpenEd platform, the SAT no longer has an exclusive choke-hold on the free test prep market.

Critics of the SAT & ACT – Those who still claim the SAT & ACT are costly and inherently biased measures of college readiness will have to repackage their message... again.  Rest assured, there will be plenty of research-free articles relying solely on decades-old recycled talking points from anti-test crusaders. Free ACT prep, like free SAT prep, will further undermine one of these critics' favorite claims: test prep favors wealthy students.

How Will ACT Academy Impact Your Tutoring Business?

In short, the answer to this question depends greatly on the nature of your test prep business and how you're positioned in your market.

The best test prep experiences, like those offered by the 100% custom-branded Clear Choice Prep curriculum and software, are about more than just a database of problems and solutions. A well-designed test prep curriculum goes further by including both tools and trained experts to help actively promote accountability and transparency. Test prep is about more than completing a never-ending string of practice tests; it is a growth process requiring scaffolding and support to be most effective.

High quality test prep is an highly specialized service, not a commodity. When the local test prep market is over-saturated with inexpensive programs that do little more than peddle SAT and ACT worksheets or over-the-counter textbooks, higher-end test prep programs must differentiate and justify their market position with obvious features and benefits. Outlandish claims and meaningless guarantees are the hallmarks of sales-first tutoring.  Features and benefits, freely demonstrated and easily experienced, are the hallmarks of client-first tutoring.

When the low-end competitors are forced out of the market (as they will be following ACT's announcement to shadow SAT's Khan Academy partnership), the resulting disruption will make it easier for tutoring professionals to reach customers with a clear value proposition and command a higher price.

Not sure if your test prep business is prepared to weather the ACT Academy storm? Schedule a free tour of our comprehensive, white-label SAT and ACT prep programs to make sure your company is prepared thrive in the era of test prep disruption!

Matt McCorkle