Kaplan writes them, The Princeton Review writes them, Barron’s writes them… lots of other companies and individuals write them too.
You have probably noticed that there are a huge number of SAT prep books out there – how do you decide which one (or ones) are the best? And how many do you need, anyway?
Although I haven’t used every single SAT book out there, I can certainly say that I have spent more than my fair share of time trying to answer this question.
Most books are full of tips, tricks, and various strategies to beat the SAT. In my experience, however, this kind of oblique approach isn’t very effective.
What is really effective – and fortunately also much simpler – is getting good at SAT-style questions. As you may have guessed, the best way to get good at SAT-style questions is to do lots and lots of SAT-style questions. And this is where most books fall short.
ETS to the Rescue
Although the ETS (Educational Testing Service) may be best known for making students’ lives miserable, it also sells the book that is most helpful to students who want to improve their SAT scores – The Office SAT Study Guide.
The book itself is huge: in the neighborhood of ~1000 pages, half of which are filled with a review of every single topic covered on the SAT. Truth be told, neither my students nor I have spent much time looking at this part of the book.
What really makes the book shine is that it includes 8 real SAT tests – 30+ hours’ worth of practice material – for around $17. There are close to 600 math questions alone, and there is no doubt that after taking 8 practice tests, you will do better (probably far better) on the 9th one than you will on the first.
One complaint about this book is that although it provides the answer key to each section of the practice tests, it provides no explanations for the correct answers. This is actually OK; the best way to learn something, especially math, is to figure it out for yourself. And if some particularly fiendish problem has you stumped, you can always ask a friend – or a tutor.
Whether you start with a 400, 500, or 600 on the math section, putting in the time and effort to complete, review, and work through these practice tests will almost certainly raise your score by 50, 100, or maybe even 150 points. For most students, this type of practice is all they need – buying more books and immersing yourself in innumerable “strategies, tips, and tricks” can actually be overwhelming and counterproductive.
I Want to Ace the Math Section!
The only students who need a different approach are those who already do extremely well on the SAT. If your first few scores were near the top of the curve (in the high 600s or low 700s) and you are shooting for an 800, the ETS book probably won’t help you improve to the level you want. Most of the questions will simply be too repetitive without providing the extra challenge you need.
If you are aiming for a perfect score on the math section, see my aptly named upcoming article for more information on how to prepare : Score 800 on the SAT Math!
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