You’re standing at the base of Mount SAT, getting ready for the long, challenging climb.
To reach your peak scores, you know you’re going to need the best equipment available. But there’s a whole world of test-prep books out there. How do you know which ones will get you where you want to go? (Especially if you’re trying to get into one of the Ivies.)
The Best SAT Prep Books
I’ve experimented with most of the SAT prep books out there over many years as an SAT tutor. Here are my top-choice books for overall SAT preparation (Math, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and the essay).
(Note also that this article reviews books that treat the general SAT test – we have a separate review of the Best SAT Subject Test Books.)
The College Board
If you’re only going to use one test-prep resource, it should be the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide.
Most SAT books use fake practice questions written by authors trying to imitate the College Board’s style. In contrast, the Official SAT Guide uses only authentic material. It’s the gold standard for SAT prep.
The book includes eight genuine SAT practice tests: the only ones available anywhere. Use them judiciously at intervals throughout your prep process to get the best possible assessment of your current skills.
But wait: there’s more!
All of the material in this book is available for free through the College Board site. Download and print the paper tests with keys. You can score your work the old fashioned way, or get scores by uploading a photo of your answer sheet.
If you prefer to take practice tests online, head over to the Khan Academy site. They’ve partnered with the College Board to make all eight tests available free. They also offer downloadable PDFs and a slew of helpful videos.
The Official SAT Study Guide is a must for everyone.
- Eight complete practice tests plus answer keys and explanations.
- All authentic College Board practice materials.
- Extensive background information on the SAT (scoring, structure, test-taking tips, and more).
Use This Book If…
- You’re preparing for the SAT, you should use The Official SAT Study Guide.
All About Strategy
SAT Prep Black Book is the creation of veteran test-prep tutor Mike Barrett. While most prep books touch on test structure, this one really zooms in on the anatomy of the SAT with the goal of helping you take it apart and learn what makes it tick. (An example: the authors show you specific tactics that test-writers use to present familiar concepts in weird and intimidating ways).
Black Book includes step-by-step guides to answering every question on the first four College Board practice tests. (The actual tests aren’t included, though, so you’ll need to either access them online or buy The Official SAT Study Guide: see above).
- Detailed analysis of every question on College Board practice tests 1-4.
- A variety of test-taking strategies that you can experiment with.
- A friendly, conversational style.
Use This Book If…
- You’re already scoring high and looking to fine-tune your test-taking skills.
- You prefer a guide that allows you some freedom to choose what works for you.
- You don’t feel intimidated by a book that’s over 600 pages long.
Best Third-Party Book
Practicing with authentic SAT questions is always ideal. But the College Board has only released a limited number of those, which means that at some point you’ll probably need to look elsewhere for supplementary material. The Ivy Global New SAT Guide is a great resource.
The book includes over 500 practice questions with exhaustive answer explanations spanning the four multiple-choice parts of the SAT plus the essay. There are three full-length practice tests. You’ll also find clear, detailed guidance on strategy.
Though Ivy Global writes their own questions, they do work hard to match the style and content of actual College Board materials. They also do an exceptional job at showing you how to deconstruct your scores and pinpoint your weak spots.
Be aware that the keys to the practice tests aren’t included in the book. You’ll need to access them (for free) on the Ivy Global site. There’s also a fourth test available as a free PDF. (Ivy Global also provides links to the official College Board tests, so you can grab those too while you’re there).
- Practice materials designed to match the structure, content, and style of the real SAT.
- Three full-length practice tests. (Plus a fourth one available online).
- Exceptionally clear and detailed answer explanations.
Use This Book If…
- You’ve worked through the Official SAT Study Guide and you need more practice material.
- You’re looking for help figuring out what your weak spots are.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This book is exactly what it sounds like: more than 1,500 SAT practice questions divided into beautifully organized subject categories.
There’s a bit of extra info to get you oriented–stuff about test structure, time management, scoring, and so on–but it’s kept to a minimum. (The authors tell you where to find more if you need it). You’ll get a brief but eloquent introduction to each area of the test, followed by lots and lots of practice questions organized by difficulty.
The New SAT actively focuses on helping you do your most important job as a student: identifying your weak spots and drilling them.
This book is a good source of extra material once you’ve worked your way through everything available from the College Board. It’s also the best place I know of to find practice questions organized by topic, so you can concentrate your study with laser-like focus. It gives you tips specific to each subject area (like Subject-Verb Agreement or Function Notation) to help you build fundamental skills where you need them.
The sections called Guided Practice contain questions related to a single topic (for example, Ratios and Proportions). When you’re ready, you can move on to the Mixed Practice/Passage-Based Practice sections, where you’ll find a variety of questions jumbled together they way they are on the actual SAT.
- Over 1,500 practice questions covering every topic on the SAT, presented in order of increasing difficulty.
- Detailed answer explanations.
- One full-length practice test with answer explanations.
Use This Book If…
- You’ve been prepping for a while and have some idea of the areas where you need to improve.
- You want concentrated practice on specific topics.
- You don’t need much general information about SAT structure, content, or scoring.
- You’re a self-motivated student with a solid study technique.
Some Final Thoughts
Studying for the SAT on your own takes discipline. You’ll need to be responsible for zeroing in on what you don’t yet know, then taking those topics apart and drilling them until you’ve achieved mastery. You’ll need to resist the temptation to toss your errors aside and dive straight into more practice questions. Doing all that without the help of a teacher or tutor requires serious determination.
If you’re using books to prep independently, you’ll want to create a written study plan for yourself. Decide on a clear, repeatable process to follow as you work–something like this:
- Take a practice test under simulated test conditions.
- Score yourself and identify your weak spots.
- Make notes on your mistakes. (You should have a dedicated notebook with a section for each part of the SAT).
- For each trouble spot, read everything you can about the topic. Deconstruct practice questions using the answer explanations in the book until you understand every step of the solution process.
- Do some more practice questions.
- Take another practice test and compare your results to last time.
- Rinse and repeat.
Finally, don’t forget that you don’t have to rely solely on books. There are lots of great prep courses for the SAT, which offer interactive lessons, expert guidance, and lesson plans that you can customize based on your own needs and schedule.