With the structure of a study plan in hand (see "Getting Ready to Study for the ACT," posted 5/1/10), it is time to choose the best program for the individual student. There are many formats from which to select, each with unique benefits for specific students.
An independent program of study requires the student to set pacing goals or completion dates and stick to them. One missed practice session is expected; two in a row should be an indication that a different plan is needed. If the student loses motivation or begins to question his or her ability to accomplish the desired goal, the independent study plan should be modified.
PUBLISHED STUDY GUIDES: For the self-motivated student who can learn independently, one or more of the published study guides could be the least expensive alternative. Ranging from $20 to $40, many published workbooks are available for purchase on the internet or from a bookstore. Avoid the temptation to buy a book which has already been marked up by a previous student. Independent learners will have their own style of note taking and practice that will be most effective if using a pristine book.
I recommend the Barrons text because of the easily-understood explanations of answers and because I find them to be the most accurate in terms of "ACT-like" questions. THE REAL ACT is also a good choice, mostly because it is published by the creators of the ACT and is therefore consists of the most authentic questions and scoring instructions.
ONLINE RESOURCES: A self-motivated, independent learner may also explore using online resources for acquiring sample tests and solution keys. Some programs are free; others are available for a fee. The student's ability to continue progressing toward the desired goal will determine whether any costs are worthwhile. ACT's web page has a free option to send a "Daily Question" directly to your email.
For students who do well in the regular classroom and have the scheduled time available, this type of program is worth considering. The environment is most effective for the student who is capable of focusing on the curriculum which has direct benefit for him or her, who is not distracted by a room full of peers, and who would benefit from directed assignments and the availability of a teacher to provide instructional lectures, demonstrations, and answers to specific questions.
The student should have the benefit of an entry assessment and should be encouraged to deisgn an individual plan which includes special areas for concentration. Periodic evaluation in the form of sample tests or graded homework will help to motivate the student toward success and provide input for measuring progress toward benchmark goals.
The number of students in a class and flexibility in scheduling make-up classes are important criteria to compare with the student's study structure designed earlier.
IN-SCHOOL CLASSES: Many high schools offer classroom programs for students preparing for the ACT. The costs are generally comparatively low. In addition, if the teacher is someone the student already knows through previous classes, familiarity with the student's style can be a valuable asset.
OUTSIDE CLASSES: Group programs offered by companies or individuals will usually follow a prescribed syllabus with varying degrees of modification based on the student population. The benefit of prior experience with successful course design can make this type of study program very efficient. Study materials are included in the fees which can range from competitive to costly.
ONE-TO-ONE PRIVATE STUDY
This type of program focuses on the student who has limited time available or fluctuating schedule restrictions, needs personal attention in specific areas either because of high ability or special needs, benefits from supervision of effort or accomplishment, requires extrinsic motivation, or who is shy about asking questions in front of peers. Fees may be structured in blocks or charged for individual sessions and range from competitive to costly.
One-to-one study should include predetermined benchmark goals and frequent evaluation of student progress.