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Play2Prep: a fun app for SAT and ACT test prep

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High school student's mother: Johnny, time for your SAT prep!
Student: Ok, Mom! I'm just contacting my friends on Facebook to play now.
Mom, smiling to herself: What a good boy! Always so studious.

Does that dialogue sound like irony? Actually, it's from the alternate universe of Play2Prep – which has just entered our own dimension. Play2Prep is "the first and only SAT and ACT game played against friends" according to its devlelopers. It officially launched on May 1, but already looks like a hit. Play2Prep is a free app available for iPhone, iPad and Android, and everyone studying for the ACT or the SAT who has access to one of those devices should go download it right now.

The app features an appealing, colorful, clean user interface with two options for both SAT and ACT study: self-study or games with friends. You get started simply by registering an account via email or Facebook. Registering by Facebook enables you to take full advantage of the app, playing games against friends. The app sends notices to those Facebook friends (or any other Play2Prep players) you choose to invite, who if they accept, will appear on your Players list. Send a question to your opponent and he or she answers, then sends a question back to you. You earn points for your own correct answers – as well as your opponent's incorrect answers, which keeps the action unpredictable – and after three rounds the highest score wins. Points are displayed clearly, with a cute slot machine-style roll of numbers. You can give your opponent extra time or choose to play for double points. The rounds are quick-paced and everyone picks up some test prep pointers, even if they don't get the winning game points. Neither player sees the other's questions; the questions are dynamically chosen by the system for each player based on his or her current achievement. So students of all levels can play each other on even ground, learning as they play.

The app also offers five questions each for the SAT and ACT for daily practice. The clock is always counting down, and as it goes below 30 seconds, the numbers turn red: pressure! It's terrific training for the brutal time crunches of the real test. For extra time – a great option for all, especially those who take the tests with accomodations – just hit the clock button for time and a half. After you've completed the day's questions, a confidential skill dashboard summarizes performance by test section and question type (for example, in Math, "Equation of a Circle" or in Critical Reading, "Understanding Inferences"). These categories can be very helpful in guiding review and further test prep.

The app is not perfect. Math symbols are a little fuzzier than regular text, and sometimes the answer explanations obscure the original diagrams, equations, or context, making it difficult to fully benefit from them. ACT Science questions often require seeing the big picture – all charts and graphs on the page – which the app can't offer in the small real estate of an iphone window. Time allotment for questions is sometimes lopsided. I'm a whizz at Critical Reading, so four minutes for a Critical Reading passage is vastly more time than I need. The typical 60-90 seconds for a Math problem, however, is far, far too little time, I find, and results in me guessing in a wild panic! If the clock runs out, the answer is simply marked wrong, so the game encourages you to guess – a good reflex for the ACT (where there is no error penalty), but not so good for the SAT (which penalizes you one point for every four errors).

The app is not a substitute for traditional test prep. For that, textbook study complemented by real timed practice tests and focused review of performance is still the gold standard. But Play2Prep is a great addition to any ACT or SAT prep plan and it's fun. When it comes to learning, fun is good because it powers up the learning process. And when it comes to college test prep, a social and enjoyable way to study is a very novel, welcome tool.

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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.

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