Study Smart, Not Expensive: Budget-Friendly ACT and SAT Prep Tools

Study Smart, Not Expensive: Budget-Friendly ACT and SAT Prep Tools (Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

“Test-optional” schools are all the rage in college admissions these days. In other words, more and more schools are no longer requiring students to submit standardized test scores in their college application. But that doesn’t mean students are ditching the SAT or ACT altogether. In fact, for some applicants, submitting a test score may strengthen their application. And of course, there are still schools that require students to take a standardized test. The longstanding issue with the SAT or ACT is the cost. It can be expensive to take these exams, but even more costly to prepare for them.

Additionally, standardized test scores like the ACT and SAT are shown to correlate with household income. A study by Forbes contributor Mark Kantrowitz found that students with a family income of over $100,000 are more than twice as likely to have an SAT score between 1400 and 1600 than students with a family income of under $50,000.

But there are free or low-cost options to study for these tests. Here are 12 different resources that could help you raise your score or feel more prepared without spending a lot of money.

ACT Resources

Subject-Specific Questions From ACT

The ACT provides free subject-specific practice questions for English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing. Use these to get more familiar with the questions and content, and practice in the sections that are more difficult for you.

Free Study Guide From Union Test Prep

This study guide is broken down into five subject sections (including writing) and provides detailed information about each, such as writing conventions, math formulas, science passage information, as well as tips for time management and approaches to questions.

Full-Length Practice Test From The ACT

If you are looking for a longer form practice test that reflects the formatting, structure and pacing of the entire ACT, use this free full-length practice test published by The ACT. A name and valid email address is needed to download. The PDF also includes resources such as an overview of the test, what to expect on test day, general test-taking strategies and ways to approach each section of the ACT.

Prep Guide Books

For more comprehensive preparation, the official prep guide costs around $32 and can be as low as $28 used. The book also gives you access to digital flashcards and an online course, so it can be a good investment for the cost. So if you want a comprehensive guide, this book is over 1,000 pages. Subject-specific prep books are also available.

SAT Resources

Full-Length Practice Tests From the College Board

For practice with the entire SAT test, the College Board offers eight full-length practice tests on their website, along with a scoring guide and answer explanations. 

Full Official SAT Practice Course From Khan Academy

Khan Academy provides a free practice course for SAT preparation in collaboration with the College Board. This course includes tailored practice based on either your past performance on the PSAT, SAT or a diagnostic SAT test. One significant advantage of this resource is that there are subject-specific practice questions, videos and lessons — and you can keep track of your progress.

Prep Guide Books

For those who prefer books and practice questions on paper, the prep guides for the SAT generally cost between $14 and $27, depending on the author. There is no official preparation guide from the College Board, but there are many reliable options for general review. And like with the ACT, subject-specific review books are available as well. The most popular comprehensive review books include Princeton Review (6 practice tests, $14-20), Princeton Review Premium (9 practice tests, $22-27), and Kaplan (5 practice tests, $25), all of which provide a content review for all subjects and access to additional resources. Cheaper alternatives can be found when buying used, which is an option on Amazon.

Free Study Guide From Union Test Prep

This study guide is broken down into seven parts: reading, writing and language, essay and four math sections — and provides detailed information about each. This includes information about test content, structure, time management tips and approaches to questions. 


Videos can be a great way for some people to get introductions to content, review specific information that is confusing, or do final comprehension checks depending on learning style. There are a lot of free videos available on Youtube, and there are a few popular channels that cover all ACT and SAT subjects.

Supertutor TV

The Youtube channel Supertutor TV posts content about college admissions and essays, general study tips, and has a playlist dedicated to ACT preparation and a playlist for SAT preparation.

Star Tutors

The Youtube channel Star Tutors has mostly content about SAT and ACT preparation and review, including live review sessions for both tests. There are many short videos reviewing specific practice questions, their answers, and explanations, as well as information such as general tips, calculator policies, and more.

Flashcards From Varsity Tutors

The website Varsity Tutors provides paid resources such as 1-on-1 tutoring, but it also has some free resources — including subject-specific flashcards for both the ACT and SAT. There are thousands of flashcards for every subject on both tests, but they are divided into different skill areas, so these are best to use when you know which areas you need to focus on.

Subject-Specific Diagnostic and Practice From Varsity Tutors

Varsity Tutors also offers free diagnostic tests for different subject areas for both the SAT and ACT. The tests are helpful when you aren’t sure what you need practice with or if you want to track your progress — since they include test difficulty ratings.


Many public or school libraries have preparation guides for the SAT and ACT that you can borrow and read for free. Some review books and workbooks are available for free as e-books on websites like Overdrive, which allow you to create an account and check out an e-book when you enter the information on a public library card.

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