These apps are bringing SAT prep to the smartphone generation

With new test prep apps, studying for the SATs has gone mobile. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
With new test prep apps, studying for the SATs has gone mobile.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Put away those flash cards– a new generation of mobile apps is putting a 21st century twist on studying for the SATs.

Until recently, the basics of standardized test preparation have been the same for generations- get a bunch of review books, maybe take a prep course, and then sharpen your pencils and dive into a pile of practice tests. But Mark Anestis is one of many educators and app developers who is working to change that. For the past 15 years, Anestis has been running The Learning Edge, a Connecticut-based tutoring company and has created two study apps to assist students with studying for the sometimes-daunting exams.

“My philosophy with test prep is that it’s important that the kids enjoy what they are doing while doing it,” explains Anestis. The longtime tutor describes the SAT and ACT as “game-like” tests and encourages his students to take a strategic approach to the exam. “It’s all about having a game plan,” Anestis says, which led him to actually create a game to help students study.

And so SATLadder was born. Anestis says he was inspired by games like Words With Friends, which allow players to compete against each other in a fun and approachable way and by the fact that many of his students were seemingly glued to their smartphones. “Back in 1999, when I got started, it was all out of a book,” he notes. “The reality is that these kids are mobile,” says Anestis. “They spend a lot of time in the car going to activities and are always on the move. Before, if you were sitting in the waiting office of a doctor’s office, that was wasted time. Now students can just prep on their phones.”

Here’s how the free game works: Students have the option of either playing head-to-head against one another or in solo mode.

A sample SATLadder question. Credit: Provided
A sample SATLadder question.
Credit: Provided

Each round consists of a different SAT question. The game not only judges whether or not players get the question right, but also how long it takes for them to solve the problem. The student who answers the fastest proceeds to the next round.

“The way you get better at this test is practice, practice, practice,” says Anestis. “It’s crucial because you learn from your mistakes.” Every question on the app comes with a detailed answer key so that students can review where they went wrong.

Anestis and The Learning Exchange have also developed an app that’s solely focused on the vocabulary section of the SAT. The Daily Word app is exactly what it’s title suggests- it will notify students each morning of the vocabulary word of the day. “The hardest part of studying for the SAT is learning all of the vocabulary,” Anestis observes.

High schoolers looking for other apps to study for the SATs and ACTs this summer have some other options as well. The company behind the ACT has developed the ACT Student app which provides practice questions as well as information about the test itself. (Additionally, the official ACT site has a Question of the Day section to help students prep.)

The College Board also has a free SAT Question of the Day app that students can try that uses real SAT questions and provides users with hints and explainers.

Anestis says that from observing all of the students he’s worked with over the years, he’s learned that there is a pretty even split between whether students need to strengthen their math or verbal skills.

“Every student has a different need,” he notes.


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