There are countless SAT prep books on the market, and if you don’t know better, all of them look the same. The best SAT prep book for you will depend on your strengths and weaknesses. Usually, most testing experts recommend that you purchase "The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide," but for the most recent version, the College Board has made most of the material in it available online for free.
So, before you go out and purchase a study guide, use "The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide" as a lesson. Check online before you make a purchase. You might be surprised to find much of the material on which you were about to spend money available for free.
Take your time to compare these books before you decide on the one that’s right for you. Some of these books are more helpful with math, and others are heavier on writing and reading. Some offer a great deal of explanation for each answer, while others offer little explanation but make up for that lack by offering even more practice material.
The Best SAT Prep Book You Can Get for Free
"The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide" would be an excellent book if most of its material wasn’t already available for free online. This SAT book offers several practice tests as well as descriptions of the structure of the test, answer explanations and some test-taking strategies but nothing that rises above the basic level. It’s a good idea to use official practice materials since those will give an accurate representation of the real test, including its patterns and tricky wording.
However, this book’s material is limited, and you will have to supplement with additional practice tests and questions if you mean to do any rigorous studying. Purchase this book if you’re unable to print the online material or if you just prefer to use a bound paper copy.
The SAT Book Recommended by Experts
For realistic practice questions and detailed answer explanations, look to Kallis’s "SAT Pattern Strategy." It includes six practice tests that are the same length as the real thing. In fact, experts say that this practice book offers material that mimics the official SAT more closely than any other study guide, which will be vital for helping you prepare for test day.
However, the real reason you should buy this book is for its answer explanations, which include easy to understand, step by step guides to each question. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble figuring out why your answers are wrong, this is the book for you. It also gives an overview of concepts that you’ll see on the test, including strategies on question types usually found in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. Overall, this is the best SAT prep book if you’re looking for a comprehensive and detailed overview of the test and the strategies you’ll need to score well.
This book isn’t without its drawbacks. Experts say that the strategies in this book may not be enough to help you earn a perfect score. If you’re not the kind of person who is disciplined enough to chart your own course when it comes to studying, or if you feel like your test-taking strategies are lacking, you may want to seek additional material or find a tutor early on in your study schedule.
The Best SAT Strategy Book
If you’re looking for an SAT book that digs a little deeper into test-taking strategies, consider the "SAT Prep Black Book" (2nd edition). While in some ways this book doesn’t stand alone as an SAT prep book – meaning you’ll have to buy this and something else if you want to be thorough – you can still get a significant bang for your buck with this one. In the "SAT Prep Black Book," you’ll find insight about the structure of the test as well as tips and tricks that will give you an edge against your competition.
The advice in this book is applicable for all testing levels, from students who have just started studying to those who are already scoring at 1500 plus. You can even customize your experience of this book depending on the score you want to achieve. This book also pairs well with "The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide" because it offers answer explanations for four of the College Board’s official practice tests, an area where "The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide" is lacking.
However, "SAT Prep Black Book" does not offer a complete course in SAT preparation, namely because it doesn’t have any SAT practice tests and relies on outside sources for its questions. Since this is a strategy book, it makes sense that it doesn’t include much review material dedicated to the concepts on the SAT. In other words, if you’re not understanding the ideas in the questions, you’ll have to look elsewhere to learn that material.
Other Helpful SAT Prep Books
"McGraw-Hill Education's SAT 2019": This book is a fairly comprehensive choice for an SAT prep book. While it’s more helpful for students who are struggling in math than those who need help in reading and writing, at 750 pages long, "McGraw-Hill Education’s SAT 2019" offers more information than any other book on this list. The math sections of the book are truly exceptional, with pages of detailed explanations that will help you break down even the toughest math problems.
"Barron’s SAT," 29th Edition: This book contains four full-length practice tests and access to two more online. It also covers more topics than most of the books on this list, making it more suitable for students who are scoring on the higher end already, while that kind of breadth of information runs the risk of bogging down struggling test takers with esoteric details. However, some experts warn against using Barron’s SAT prep books because they tend to reuse material from their previous editions, and sometimes the questions don’t resemble those on the real test adequately enough to be helpful.
"The Princeton Review's Cracking the SAT," 2019 Edition: This book succumbs to many of the same drawbacks as "Barron’s SAT." The most significant of those drawbacks is the wording of the questions, which are sometimes overly complicated, while the concepts they represent can be too easy. Why try this book instead of the others? The explanations offer an alternative perspective on concepts you’ll see on the exam, making this the go-to book when other books aren’t helping you understand challenging concepts.
The Best SAT Math Prep Book
The best SAT math prep book for you will depend on how much math instruction you need. For the best SAT math prep book overall, look to "Dr. Steve Warner's 500 New SAT Math Problems," which covers most of the math topics you’ll see on the SAT, including algebra, logic, geometry, data analysis and advanced math. This book reviews those topics and then instructs students on how to tackle problems of those types as you’ll see them on the SAT.
The concepts in this book are organized according to their difficulty level. This kind of organizational strategy helps students of all levels. Students who are struggling can start at the beginning and progress to harder concepts as they feel more comfortable with the earlier ones. Students who are already scoring well may want to skip ahead to the higher levels instead of wasting time reviewing easy concepts.
The aspect of this book that makes it ideal for students who are struggling with math is how it explains more than one approach to solve each type of problem. If you’re struggling, you know that sometimes the most helpful instruction comes in the form of explaining the same concepts in a different way. In that case, "Dr. Steve Warner's 500 New SAT Math Problems" has you covered.
Other Helpful SAT Math Prep Books
"Dr. Jang's SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT," 2018 edition, is another comprehensive guide to the SAT Math section. It’s more than 400 pages long and includes over 1,500 practice problems. Choose this book if you need more material for practice, but look elsewhere if you’re still having trouble with concepts, as this book doesn’t offer much in terms of instruction or test-strategy review.
If you’re already scoring well on your practice tests, but you want a little more math practice, check out "PWN The SAT: Math Guide," 4th edition. This book is written in an engaging style and targets high achievers who want more math drills and insight about their scores. However, this book offers little to no foundational instruction, so if you need a refresher on the basics, look elsewhere.
The Best SAT Prep Books for Reading and Writing
Two of the best SAT reading and writing prep books on the market are both by the same person: Erica Meltzer. They are "The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading" and "The Critical Reader: The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar."
"The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading" combines a reading-skills refresher with strategies for reading problems that you can use to improve your score on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. "The Critical Reader: The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar" offers the same insight about the writing subsection of the larger Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. Together, these books can prepare you to earn a perfect score in reading and writing.
Of the two, "The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading" offers the most study tools, including sections on strategies that will boost your score, such as how to find the necessary information in passages without getting lost in the details. Both books analyze question types to help you understand the SAT’s patterns, specifically what each question requires. It also gives you a list of multiple-meaning words to study as well as practice questions that are worded similarly to those on the real SAT.
Which SAT Study Book Should You Choose?
The right SAT study book or books for you depends on what you need to prepare for the test. For most students, using a combination of the books above or a book and a tutor or study group is enough to boost scores significantly between practice tests and the real deal.
Start with the free materials before you purchase any books. Use the practice tests on the College Board’s website to diagnose your weaknesses and then go from there.
If you earned a high score in math, but you need a lot of help with reading, buy "The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading" and one of the more comprehensive whole-test study guides if you want more help. If you find that your math skills are lacking, "Dr. Steve Warner's 500 New SAT Math Problems" will have enough practice problems to help you study.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.