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Really Hard Math Problems With Friends: A New Way to Prep for the SAT and ACT

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The nerve-wracking college admissions process is finally over for many high school seniors. May 1st is the deadline for when they have to decide which offer to accept. But things are just heating up for juniors who are cramming for the SATs on May 3 and June 7 or the ACT on June 14. For the next 7 months, prospective college applicants will be touring schools, writing essays and fretting about their grades and test scores.

Despite their packed schedules, there’s one thing 11th graders are probably not giving up and that’s social media–that black hole of procrastination. But a free iOS and Android app called playp2prep launching today enables them to be on Facebook and prep. The new app is kind of like Words and Hard Math Problems with Friends. It challenges two people to compete with each other as they answer typical SAT and ACT questions and turns test prep into less of a lonely chore for this extremely social generation. The result is a lot like QuizUp, the popular and addictive social trivia app with more than 10 million users who play with friends or are pitted against random opponents worldwide. (You can try your luck with a few sample questions at the end of this article.)

In play2prep, the player who starts a game first selects what kind of question the app should generate for the opponent based on one of two categories. The verbal and quantitative subjects are boiled down to specific topics like subject-verb agreements and “operations with fractions” respectively, plus Science is an option in ACT mode. Play2prep’s algorithm selects the categories based on the subjects each player needs to study more.

Next, a time frame to answer the question is selected, which could be one minute or 50 seconds for a math problem or two-and-a-half minutes or three minutes if a reading comprehension passage is involved. The last step is choosing whether the question will be worth 1 or 2 points. If players answer correctly, they get the points, and if they answer incorrectly, their opponent gets the points.

But because game play is still practice ultimately, three bottom icons help players get the question right: the lightbulb gives a hint, the clock adds time to answer, and the multiple-choice one eliminates an answer that is definitely wrong. Players who are sure they will get a question right can tap the orange circle, which doubles the points at stake. Three rounds make up a game, and the highest scorer wins.

“When we initially started testing the app, it was an amazing thing to see four boys sitting around a conference table absolutely trash-talking each other and having a great time,” says Kenny Nova, playp2prep’s founder. “That’s when we knew we were on to something.”

But isn’t there enough trash-talking in the college admissions process? Students are already competing against one another to get into top colleges and universities — SAT prep shouldn’t become more of a rat race than it already is. Downloaded by those who attend hyper-competitive schools, this app could provide details about personal progress that could be fodder for gossip among classmates and their parents, thus only fueling the frenzy. And it is a frenzy. For example, in New York City, a student sent letters making false and damaging claims about a classmate to several colleges.

That said, play2prep is free, providing quality test prep material — some of which has been provided through a partnership with McGraw-Hill Education — to the majority of college-bound students who cannot afford to pay $275 an hour for private consultants and upwards of $4,000 for college prep boot camps this summer.

And one way to tamp down the hysteria would be to either use the multi-player mode with a sibling, family member, maybe a peer who is already in college, or just use the single-player feature. Every day, the “Home” screen features five new ACT questions and five new SAT questions for users to answer. Whether they’re playing in single-player mode or multi-player mode, users earn 10 “XP” points (an acronym for “experience”) for each question answered, points that are given just for using the app (as Woody Allen once said, “Showing up is 80% of life”). As play2prep founder Kenny Nova says, “It’s not just about getting it right, it’s about the effort of doing it.”

If you do want to see whether you’re smarter than an 11th grader, take a stab at these questions from the app:

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com