Which SAT Book You Should Use, Based on Your Starting Score and Goal

In this post, I’m going to list out the best SAT Prep materials, and show you which ones you should use depending on where you start and what your goals are.

First off, why should you take my advice about this?

  • I was a National Merit Scholar in High School
  • I scored an 800 math, 720 verbal (this was in the days before the writing section.)
  • I’ve been teaching test prep successfully for 8 years

I know my site is supposed to be all about physics, but some of my students come to me after using books that don’t work at all, and I hate to see people waste that effort, so I’m writing a post about it.

SAT Materials

SAT Starting Score: <1500 Total, Goal: 1600-1800

I would recommend you get two books:

The Official SAT Study Guide (the blue book)

McGraw Hill’s SAT (the orange book)

And work off of this vocab list.

Start by working through the math, reading, essay, and grammar chapters in the McGraw Hill book. Then work through the practice tests in the back. Make sure that for every question you miss, you read the explanation and understand why you missed it.

Next, time yourself taking full-length practice tests from The Official SAT Study Guide. This is the only book with real actual old SAT’s, so it’s the most important. You can score these using their score tables. Keep taking full practice tests until you’re at your goal score. (Make sure you use the bubble sheet, take the test in a quiet place with no food, don’t talk aloud to yourself. ie treat it like the real thing.)

SAT Starting Score: <1600 Total, Goal: 2000+

Firstly, this is really, really, really hard. You’ll probably need at least 6 months of prep. You’ll need to be extremely diligent, paying attention to every question you miss, why you miss it, and learn from it. I’ve had several students succeed at this, but it takes a really long time. Also, I admire you for aiming high, but also know that you can get into lots of great schools with less than a 2000. Sometimes people think of the SAT as like a status symbol or a measure of intelligence, but it isn’t. It’s just a measure of how well you take a specific test.

Also, before you set out on such a long endeavor, try taking a practice ACT test to see if you like that one better. My best friend scored a lot higher on her ACT than her SAT without even studying.

That being said, if you came to me with these goals, here is what I would recommend.

McGraw Hill’s SAT

The Official SAT Study Guide

SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

SAT Grammar Workbook by Erica Meltzer

Barron’s SAT

Princeton Review’s 11 Practice Tests

PWN the SAT Math by Mike Mclenathan

Start by working through SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer, then work through her workbook. At the same time, work through PWN the SAT Math. Then, start with McGraw Hill’s SAT. Take two or three practice sections per day (like, do two grammar and a math, or a grammar and a math each day.) Then, work through the math, reading, and writing chapters in the McGraw Hill book.

Once you’ve done that, start taking a full-length practice test from the Official SAT Study Guide every week or two. Make sure you make this test as much like the real thing as possible (go to a quiet place, sit up straight, don’t eat or drink, time yourself, don’t talk aloud, use the bubble sheets.) Grade your practice test.

Keep taking a full practice test every weekend if you can. On the weekdays, keep doing practice sections out of the McGraw Hill Book. When you run out of tests from there, move on the the Princeton Review. Then move on to the Barron’s book.

A Note: Only the Official Guide has real tests in it. The other books are made by test prep companies, and sometimes their test questions are substantially different from the real SAT. The only reason I recommend them here is that the college board doesn’t release many official practice tests, so in order to have enough practice material you need to use some of the lower-quality ones. See the end of this post for more notes about each of the books I recommend.

While you’re doing the above, you also need to be studying vocab. I recommend this list.

Starting Score: Any, Goal: Raise your score about 100 points

Work out of this book:

The Official SAT Study Guide (the blue book)

Study this vocab list.

Time yourself taking full-length practice tests from The Official SAT Study Guide. This is the only book with real actual old SAT’s, so it’s the most important. You can score these using their score tables. Keep taking full practice tests until you’re at your goal score. (Make sure you use the bubble sheet, take the test in a quiet place with no food, don’t talk aloud to yourself. ie treat it like the real thing.) *For every question you miss, make sure you understand WHY*

Starting Score: 1600-1800, Goal: 2000+

I would recommend you get these books:

SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

SAT Grammar Workbook by Erika Meltzer

PWN the SAT Math by Mike Clenathan

The Official SAT Study Guide

McGraw Hill’s SAT

Start by working through SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer, then work through her workbook. At the same time, work through PWN the SAT Math. Then, start with McGraw Hill’s SAT. Take two or three practice sections per day (like, do two grammar and a math, or a grammar and a math each day.) Then, work through the math, reading, and writing chapters in the McGraw Hill book.

Once you’ve done that, start taking a full-length practice test from the Official SAT Study Guide every week or two. Make sure you make this test as much like the real thing as possible (go to a quiet place, sit up straight, don’t eat or drink, time yourself, don’t talk aloud, use the bubble sheets.) Grade your practice test.

Keep taking a full practice test every weekend if you can. On the weekdays, keep doing practice sections out of the McGraw Hill Book.

A Note: Only the Official Guide has real tests in it. The other books are made by test prep companies, and sometimes their test questions are substantially different from the real SAT. The only reason I recommend them here is that the college board doesn’t release many official practice tests, so in order to have enough practice material you need to use some of the lower-quality ones. See the end of this post for more notes about each of the books I recommend.

Starting Score: 1800+, Goal: 2100+

SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

SAT Grammar Workbook by Erika Meltzer

PWN the SAT Math by Mike Clenathan

The Official SAT Study Guide

McGraw Hill’s SAT

Princeton Review’s 11 Practice Tests

Barron’s SAT

Start by working through SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer, then work through her workbook. At the same time, work through PWN the SAT Math. Then, start with McGraw Hill’s SAT. Take two or three timed practice sections per day (like, do two grammar and a math, or a grammar and a math each day.) Then, work through the math, reading, and writing chapters in the McGraw Hill book.

Once you’ve done that, start taking a full-length practice test from the Official SAT Study Guide every week or two. Make sure you make this test as much like the real thing as possible (go to a quiet place, sit up straight, don’t eat or drink, time yourself, don’t talk aloud, use the bubble sheets.) Grade your practice test.

Keep taking a full practice test every weekend if you can. On the weekdays, keep doing practice sections out of the McGraw Hill Book. When you run out of tests from there, move on the the Princeton Review. Then move on the the Barron’s book.

A Note: Only the Official Guide has real tests in it. The other books are made by test prep companies, and sometimes their test questions are substantially different from the real SAT. The only reason I recommend them here is that the college board doesn’t release many official practice tests, so in order to have enough practice material you need to use some of the lower-quality ones. See the end of this post for more notes about each of the books I recommend.

While you’re doing the above, you also need to be studying vocab. I recommend this list.

Starting Score: 2000+, Goal: 2200+

SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

SAT Grammar Workbook by Erika Meltzer

PWN the SAT Math by Mike Clenathan

The Official SAT Study Guide

Princeton Review’s 11 Practice Tests

Vocab

Start by working through both the Meltzer books. Then work through PWN the SAT Math. Then, take full length practice tests from the official guide. Take one per week, make sure you treat it as much like the real test as possible, (go to a quiet place, sit up straight, don’t eat or drink, time yourself, don’t talk aloud, use the bubble sheets.) Grade your practice test. Go over every question you miss and write out an explanation of why you missed it.

During the week, do practice sections from the Princeton Review book.

Make sure you learn at least 400 new vocab words.

Book List and Some Notes

  • SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer:
    • This is the best SAT Grammar book I’ve ever come across. It explains all the rules clearly and has tons of great practice.
  • SAT Grammar Workbook by Erica Meltzer:
    • Has questions very similar to the real SAT. Great for practicing incorporating knowledge of the grammar rules into your test-taking.
  • PWN the SAT Math by Mike Clenathan
    • Great book. Goes through all the tricks and tactics.
  • McGraw Hill’s SAT
    • A good basic intro. A little easier than the real test. Has good math chapters and explanations. Also has good grammar chapters. An all around good place to start.
  • The Princeton Review’s 11 Practice Tests
    • Many of the questions in here are pretty different from the real SAT. However, I’ve noticed that when my students work out of this book they do better than when I’ve had them work out of other books. So, it does help, and it’s a good source for lots of practice questions.
  • Barron’s SAT
    • The questions in this book are quite a bit harder than what’s on the real SAT. I only use it later on for students to practice harder questions.
  • The Official SAT Study Guide
    • The best book. The only guide with actual old SAT tests. Only downside is they don’t have explanations for the questions.
  • Kaplan books:
    • Tend to be very different from the real SAT. I wouldn’t recommend.
  • The Perfect Score Project
    • A really interesting book for parents, written by a parent helping her son with his SAT Prep
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