The 10 Best SAT Prep Books
This wiki has been updated 22 times since it was first published in January of 2017. If you want to achieve a high score on the SAT, you should begin preparing well in advance, and make sure you have one or more informative prep books at your disposal. We've put together a list of the best print and interactive materials for understanding the test, making the most of its format, increasing your confidence, maximizing study time, and boosting your performance. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 06, 2020:
Today's update saw us bring these editions to their most current versions, which included every title on this list excluding Crash Course for the SAT and 10 Practice Tests for the SAT, two new selections. Both of these volumes are from the Princeton Review. Because the old "6 Tests" option we had was from 2017, we decided to completely remove it and supplant it with the company's more recent 10 test offering. We added crash course at the expense of McGraw-Hill's SAT Elite 2020, which doesn't seem to jibe with many students and doesn't have much content that makes it stand out from the crowd.
Most of the options here will briefly go over what you can expect on test day and cover some pointers for the best way to tackle it, like getting enough sleep, not cramming the night before, bringing a protein bar or snack to keep your energy levels up, and more. But if you're really concerned with the ins and outs of the exam just as much as the studying of the material, The College Board Official SAT Study Guide should be your go-to for everything you need to know.
Students interested in robust online tools should look at SAT Prep Plus 2021 by Kaplan. It's also worth mentioning that Barron's SAT comes with access to an extensive vocabulary list that is in flashcard form online, adding another helpful dimension to your practice. Another thing all of these books outline is smart test-taking strategies, but SAT Prep Black Book takes that to an entirely new level. It's an ideal selection if you are a notoriously bad exam taker, which can be the case with even the most advanced students.
July 24, 2019:
Our latest update required an extensive overhaul of this list, with several volumes falling out of date and two new items added to our selection to round it out to an even ten. Books that have been updated to newer or reevaluated editions are the College Board's Official Study Guide, Premier Practice Manual by Kaplan, Barron's Study Guide, McGraw-Hill's Standardized Test Manual, and Strategic Testing Black Book. A few titles have been changed to fall in line with the new versions. We also supplemented the list with The Critical Reader and The College Panda SAT Math for students who struggle in those specific arenas.
Just as with our ACT test prep guides, we prioritized books that are comprehensive, written by authorities in the field, full of study strategies, and designed to help you not only become comfortable with the material as it is presented on the exam specifically, but also capable of helping you boost your score.
We kept The College Board Official SAT Study Guide (the newest edition) at the number one spot because we feel there is no better resource to use to prepare for an exam than one written by the actual authors themselves. And while the College Board's website has the same practice tests, this manual is the only place readers can find them in print format, along with 250 pages of additional instruction, guidance, and test information.
Magoosh Prep Those who need extra help can look to Magoosh, an education company that offers test prep services for busy students. They provide personalized schedules that allow you to study as little as twenty minutes a day if necessary, using media that's accessible via a computer or the company's app. There are over 1,750 questions, explanation videos that cover vital concepts and common pitfalls, video lessons, tutors for any questions you have, and a clean, user-friendly interface. magoosh.com
The College Board The College Board is the organization that sets the exam, so students looking for official information and assistance can access it from their website. You'll find registration deadlines, study group information, practice tests, and sample questions. It will also brief you on test guidelines and rules, what to bring on the big day, ID requirements, policies about security and phone use, and more. collegeboard.org
A Brief History of the SAT
Since Harvard was a prominent member of the College Board, Conant's decision carried a lot of weight with the other universities in the organization.
At some point in the early 20th century C.E., some monster decided teenagers didn't have enough to worry about, and thus the Scholastic Aptitude Test was born.
That's the short version, anyway. The longer version starts with the U.S. military's desire to incorporate IQ testing into the enlistment process. The Army wanted to be sure that they had the right recruits assigned to the proper tasks, and they assigned a man named Robert Yerkes to create an effective exam to determine their aptitude.
Yerkes made a test called the Army Alpha, which was designed to test verbal and numerical ability, general knowledge, and ability to follow instructions.
Meanwhile, several northeast universities formed an organization called the College Board with the aim of creating a standardized college entrance exam. Inspired by the Army Alpha test, the College Board eventually developed the SAT.
The test was designed to identify superior intellect rather than academic accomplishments, and as such, it was intended to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal opportunity to go to college.
In 1933, the president of Harvard, James Bryant Conant, wanted to create a scholarship program for students who didn't come from prestigious boarding schools. Naturally, he thought of the SAT as a simple way to determine suitable candidates.
Since Harvard was a prominent member of the College Board, Conant's decision carried a lot of weight with the other universities in the organization. By the time WWII rolled around, all of the member schools had agreed to use the SAT as an entrance exam.
Interestingly enough, WWII had a huge impact on standardized testing. The G.I. Bill opened up college as a possibility for millions of veterans, and machines were created that were capable of grading multiple-choice quizzes much faster than a human could.
The Educational Testing Service was established in 1948, and it was commissioned with administering the SAT to high school students. While recognizing the results of the test has never been mandatory for educational institutions, most American universities now use the SAT as a prime determining factor in the decision to admit or reject an applicant.
The good news is, if you perform well enough on this test, it allows you the opportunity to pay a whole lot of money to take even more tests!
Preparing for the Test
Unless you like to live on the wild side, preparing for the SAT starts months before the actual exam.
Buying a test prep book is a good start. Picking the right one will depend on your own specific strengths and weaknesses, but you should look for one that has plenty of practice quizzes. Some even include past editions of the test, so you can know exactly what to expect.
Many books also help with strategies for taking the test in addition to preparing you for the actual information to be tested.
Many books also help with strategies for taking the test in addition to preparing you for the actual information to be tested. This can help reduce anxiety, as well as giving you a sound game plan for tackling the exam.
Your school might offer practice SATs before the actual exam. If it does, be sure to take advantage of it, as recreating the actual environment can pay huge dividends on test day. After you've done a couple of practice runs, check your results and determine your strengths and weaknesses.
Try to create set blocks of time that you'll consistently devote to test prep, rather than just trying to grab time whenever it comes available. Consider getting a study partner to hold you accountable to your prep work, and stick to that schedule right up until test day. You might want to ramp up your studying in the days before the exam, but don't overdo it. The last thing you want is to go into the real thing with a fried brain.
Also, keep in mind that you can always take the test again if things don't go well the first time. If you're not satisfied with your score, use the information you gleaned from your initial go-round to prepare you for subsequent tests.
Then again, you could always concoct a harebrained scheme to break into SAT headquarters and change your score in a late-night heist. That will probably work.
What to Do on the Big Day
You've been preparing for this day for months — but during all that preparation for the test, did you ever think about what to do to prepare for the lead-up to the test?
Getting a good night's sleep the evening before is paramount. Adequate rest can improve performance on exams, so take your pre-test slumber seriously. However, give yourself plenty of time to wake up before the exam, as the last thing you want is to be groggy during the first hour or two.
Make sure you have all the gear you need before you leave the house.
Eat a healthy breakfast while you're at it. Don't overload on carbs, though, as they can cause your energy to crash. Instead, opt for something with a lot of protein in it, as that will ensure that your energy stays consistent the entire morning. It's a good idea to stash a snack in your bag as well.
Make sure you have all the gear you need before you leave the house. Carry a couple of pencils, just in case one breaks, and make sure you have your calculator with you. Wear a watch if you have one, so that you can monitor how much time you have remaining on each section.
You'll need a photo ID and your admission ticket as well. It would be a disaster to do all that prep work, put yourself under a ton of stress, and then not even be able to take the test because you forgot the necessary paperwork. It's smart to gather all of your supplies together the night before, so that you're not scrambling the morning of. This can reduce your stress levels, while also giving you plenty of time to find everything.
Finally, don't panic. All your preparation is about to pay off in a big way, so just relax, take your time, and try your best.
If that fails, remember that faking a heart attack always works.