First of all, this guide on the best SAT prep books is for students who take their prep seriously. In order to achieve a high score, you must be willing to work hard. It will take you dozens of hours to get through all of these books since so much material is covered by the SAT.
If you are only planning on studying 5 hours, it won’t make any difference which book you choose. Your time should be focused on just taking one sample practice test and then going over your answers. It isn’t going to help your score go up very much, and you can’t expect miracles from it.
The easiest and the first step in SAT preparation is to buy your books. In order to obtain those score improvements, you are going to have to put some serious work in. Below we will explain the best way of getting the most from these books.
- Practice Questions
- Full Practice Tests
- Essay Samples
- Progress Tracking
- Mobile App
- Video Instruction
- Official SAT Study Guide (2016 Edition)
- The College Board
- 4 Official Practice Tests
- SAT Prep Black Book
- SAT Tutoring
- Kindle / Paperback
- The Critical Reader, 2nd Edition
- New SAT Math Problems
- Ultimate Guide To SAT Grammar, 3rd Edition
SAT Test Prep Book Reviews
SAT Black Book
For Critical books, this is the only other one that we recommend. By itself, it isn’t sufficient, and you will still need additional supplemental help even with the free practice tests. But what it does offer is so good I think every study that plans to study just with books definitely should read this.
Warning – the books hasn’t been updated to cover the new SAT. For example, in the Math section, the skill emphasis is wrong. Also, the Writing section has completely changed its format, so now the strategies are not nearly as applicable as they are now.
However, the Black Book will provide you with a way of thinking about the SAT. Here are a couple of examples for you:
You’ll learn that the SAT has been designed to be a standardized and predictable test. Basic concepts need to be tested so it can be administrated on a nationwide basis to students everywhere. However, it needs to be difficult also. Therefore, the questions are distorted in a strange way.
Another thing you’ll learn is that each answer has to be unambiguously correct. Otherwise, students will complain that their incorrect answers are actually correct. That means you should employ a strategy of ruling out all of the answer choices that are incorrect. On SAT reading, this is especially important.
In this book, the concepts there things that I had an intuitive understanding of when I took my SAT test and was studying to achieve a perfect score. That has influenced how I want to teach our PrepScholar students. Out of all of the books that are available in the marketplace, this is the book that most closely aligns with the personal philosophy we hold about the SAT as well as how to be successful with it.
Since the books haven’t been updated to reflect the New SAT, it isn’t as useful to purchase it now. Fortunately, many of the strategy guides we provide overlap with what this book’s core messages are:
Provides very lucid insights on the SAT. The concepts contained in the book will change our views about the SAT and also hopefully make you feel motivated to work even harder, once you know that it is possible for any student to excel on their SAT test.
Offers more helpful practical strategies compared to a majority of other books that are available. Tricks are not relied upon as they are in other popular books.
Doesn’t make the assumption that every student is exactly the same. A couple of alternative strategies are offered, and then it is suggested that you try them out to determine which one works the best for you.
Hasn’t been updated to reflect the New Stat. I still believe the messages overall are great and are still applicable. However, large portions of the book aren’t applicable any longer.
Requires lots of insight and self-discipline for it to be effectively used. Since you learn from the mistakes you make and nobody is there to provide you with guidance, you must be self-driven and be willing to experiment with various strategies and discover which one will work the best for you. It can be less confusing for some students to following a strict set of guidelines.
There is a lack of fundamental content. For example, if algebra is something you are weak in, the book by itself won’t help you with mastering that particular subject area. In my opinion, it is more important to recognize what your weaknesses are, and then through focused preparation and specific practice questions so that you can master the skill. The book is more on teaching an approach for preparing for the SAT test.
SAT Reading Preparation Book
SAT Reading, in our past experience working with thousands of students, is the hardest section to make improvements on. Logical reasoning skills are utilized that aren’t mastered as easily as grammar rules or math concepts. Drilling down into the kinds of questions that are asked is very important, and learning how to systematically approach the questions.
Erica Meltzer’s The Critical Reader, 2nd Ed. is what we recommend as the best SAT Reading book. The SAT reading section is dissected in this book by skill and question type. She does an excellent job of teaching what the core thing the question is asking as well as how the passage should be worked to come to the right answer.
Erica Meltzer is the writer that most closely aligns with our personal philosophy when it comes to drilling questions on a skill-by-skill basis so that patterns to questions can be recognized.
Excellent breakdown on the reading section at the skill-by-skill level. Useful strategies for each kind of question. We use the exact same approach in our PrepScholar program.
Lots of realistic and high-quality questions and passages are included. The passages that she sues are similar to what is seen on the SAT test.
There is a help guide that lists the SAT questions by skill, providing you with the opportunity of having a practice that is even more focused.
Has been updated to reflect the New SAT. Reading is the section changing the least. However, there still are some changes, and it is important to prepare for the right test.
Expensive for a book only covering one section ($30 to $40)
The book’s writing style is clinical and dry, similar to an academic textbook’s approach. The writing is fairly formal, and there are no images. Personally, this is the type of style that I prefer – all of the fluff is cut out that way. However, a majority of students will find it pretty dense. The worse thing is you may not even read the book if you find it too boring.
With large blocks of text and lacking in creative page layouts, it can get tiresome to read, kind of like trying to get through the phone book or a dictionary.
SAT Math Preparation
When it comes to SAT math, my philosophy is that the best method for making significant improvements to your math score is learning the math content underlying the test. Learning some basic strategies such as “plugging in answer choices” and familiarizing yourself with the questions, can help you progress somewhat. However, you will bump into a ceiling quickly if there are any gaps in your fundamental math skills.
The best bet you have is locating books that can teach math content to you in an organized way and also provide you with practices that can help you with focusing on individual skills that you need to improve upon. It should be tailored to your specific skill level as well, since if the math questions are either too easy or hard, they will be wasting your time.
For all of those reasons, Steve Warner’s SAT Math book series is what I recommend. He offers multiple books for Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner students, in addition to a 240 SAT Math problem set that is organized by difficulty and topic.
Helpful and clear lessons that teach math concepts. There are suggestions for how questions should be solved and how to identify what questions are really asking you.
Realistic practice questions are provided along with good explanations.
It is very important to customize your practice according to your specific skill level. If your scores are under 600, there isn’t any reason for you to attempt to attack the test’s toughest questions. These books provide you with the appropriate practice for your level of skill.
The 4 major topics of the College Board are split up in the book – Problem Solving and Data, Passport to Advanced Math, Geometry, and Trig, and Heart of Algebra. That is much too broad. My preference is to split those larger topics into subjects that are even more specific. For instance, systems of equations, single variable equations, linear functions and more are taught by PrepScholar within Algebra. When each skill is focused on, you can pinpoint more accurately what your weaknesses are and then do drills on these.
If you plan to make significant improvements to your score, then you would need to purchase multiple separate books. These could end up costing you close to $100. That is fairly expense for what is basically practice question pages.
His questions have a tendency to get repetitive from one book to the next like he was using templates to generate his questions. Supplementing with real practice tests is definitely needed in order to receive broader exposure to how questions are phrased by the College Board.
The SAT does have some out-there, creative questions that I haven’t seen covered very well in Warner’s books.
If you are struggling a lot with basic level math (scoring 500 or less), then I recommend that your work is supplemented with the math modules from Khan Academy. This program is free and offers an engaging way of training the most basic of skills. In my opinion Khan Academy’s core program offers better instruction compared to what their SAT prep program does, although it doesn’t focus on the SAT.
Ultimate SAT Grammar
If you want to excel with SAT Writing, the best thing to do is make sure you understand that grammar rules in addition to how they show up in the SAT. After that, it will be necessary to do plenty of focused practice questions to ensure that learn the SAT’s patterns. Our PrepScholar online program was designed in this so that you can learn grammar.
I am coming back to Erica Meltzer once again for her books on SAT Grammar. Erica does a great job of distilling all grammar into exactly the things you really need to know for purposes of taking the SAT. You won’t waste time learning arcane, untested grammar concepts. For the rules that the SAT does test, they are presented clearly, and the foundation is covered in case you have gotten all of the grammar rules you learned in school.
Unlike the one book she has for reading, there are two books for Writing. All of the grammar rules that you really need to know are covered in her Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar. Her SAT Grammar Workbook provides hundreds of practice questions for your training material.
Neither of these books on their own is sufficient. That is a fairly significant drawback. In her book, there aren’t enough questions for really drilling into the grammar rules. Grammar rules are not taught in the second book, and the questions are not organized according to grammar rules. For the student, that really complicates studying. However, in my opinion, it is still the best Writing-focused book that is available.
Grammar rules are clearly articulated, and writing is easy to read and understand.
Only covers what you really need to know for the purposes of the SAT. Extraneous material is cut out. Many grammar books are suffering from there being too many esoteric rules included.
Realistic practice questions are provided.
No guidance is provided on study strategy. There is a nice breakdown provided on the SAT. However, no instructions are given on how the book should be used to maximize your score. The most effective way isn’t necessarily reading from one cover to the other. My Perfect SAT Writing Score guide will teach you more about how to focus on any writing weaknesses you have.
The price is fairly high, at $60 for the two books. They do contain good content, however, I think if she lowered her prices could get many more customers.
My preference would be to have a single book, with a skilled-based and unified approach. Practicing single grammar rules using practice questions, and then bringing them together with a full-length practice test. We here at PrepScholar believed in a seamless and unified experience that integrates feedback, customization, and test content into one package.
Additional Best Books For High SAT Scorers
Taking all of the above books into consideration, you have a lot of work in store for you already. With 5+ books and 4 full-length practice tests available to you, that’s over 50 hours worth of studying for you to do. If you really go through all of the practice employing our recommended guidelines, then you most likely will make great improvements.
I would recommend using the Barron SAT books if you still want some added practice, particularly if you are trying to get a nearly perfect score. Those are the books I used for my own prepping when I was in high school, and although the questions are interior to those asked on the real SAT practice tests, they still are a solid backup source if you complete everything else from the above list.
Lots of content. The lessons are very detailed containing many examples, and you are also provided with thousands of practice questions.
Very thorough – every nook and cranny is covered on everything you need to know. This allows you to be very confident that hardly anything is tested on that it isn’t contained in the books.
Huge problem: the book hasn’t been completely revamped all the way from the ground floor for the New SAT. For example, most math questions have been directly copied from the old book. That is a major problem since the New SAT has changed in major ways from the old SAT. Revamping material for the New SAT is very important. That is why PrepScholar has been completely redesigned for the New SAT.
Sometimes topics get too complicated for what you really need to know for taking the SAT exam. Some of the questions are too difficult in the wrong way. At times, they get too unrealistically tough in ways that you won’t ever see on the actual SAT exam. If you don’t happen to be an SAT expert at this point, you will be unable to detect when that occurs, and you will end up wasting time studying things that really don’t matter.
Clear direction is lacking on what is important and what isn’t. For instance, a grammar rule that appears only one time on the test is given the same amount of pages that a grammar rule appear 8 times on each test does. On the New SAT, Algebra is very important. However, given its importance, it doesn’t get very much treatment. That is basically the opposite of being thorough. If you just have limited amounts of time to study this definitely isn’t the best book to use.
Best All-In-One Book for Low Scorers And Those Less-Motivated
So far my recommendations have been for ambitious students who are really interested in improving their scores.
There are of course some students who really just would like to put in about 5 hours worth of study, get exposed to the test somewhat, and then take their SAT exam and forget about everything. For most students I believe that the best ways of improving your college admission chances is to improve your SAT score. So if these are feeling, in my opinion, you should really be questioning your attitude.
However, if this is the mindset that you are stuck in then, I would recommend the Kaplan SAT book to you. This all-in-one-book covers all three sections of the SAT and also contains practice tests and practice questions. It really doesn’t excel in anything. However, all of the important bases are covered. It also has a tendency to have content that is more reasonable compared to other all-in-one books such as the Princeton Review.
I am not in love with this book. In fact, I don’t really even like it. If you want to seriously improve your score and willing to put in the necessary study time, then I don’t recommend it all. However, if you would like to have a single source that does an okay job and is easy to digest, then this is the best that is available.
All three sections are covered, and practice tests are included.
For the breadth that is covered, it is affordable ($20).
Some basic strategies are contained that can provide you with a couple of easy points if standard testing is new to you and you don’t feel like you have any idea of what you should do.
There is a tendency for the practice questions to be unrealistic – frequently they don’t phrase questions in ways that are done on the SAT. Concepts are also not tested in the right way all the time. Also, the questions are not tricky in those same ways that they are on the SAT.
There are lots of errors in the materials and answers, which is indicative of poor quality control. Most likely you will notice a number of these on your own, however in the worst case scenario, you’ll end up learning the wrong facts because they weren’t picked up by the editors.
Once you most past the 600 score level for the section the strategies aren’t very helpful. In order to improve beyond that point, you really need to develop customized strategies that are based on what your individual weaknesses are and master the content well.