The Official SAT Study Guide (The College Board, 2015)
- 784 Pages
- Reading 71
- Writing & Language 46
- Math 103
- Essay 52
- # of Tests in Book 4
- # of Tests online 2
- Paper Quality Good
- Overlap with other books NO
- Quality of answer explanations Great
To buy or not to buy. That is the question. If you are here, you must be aware that the SAT changed radically on March of 2016 and along with those changes came a slew of New SAT prep books. Did you go to a bookstore and stare blankly at the shelf jammed with thick tomes? Or did you just grab the blue one because you used its materials for the AP U.S. History exam? Or did you flip randomly through a bunch looking for something, anything to catch your eye and help you decide? I don’t blame you one bit.
It’s my job to teach the SAT, and I, like you, hoped to be able to use the best materials, but was often disappointed when I bought one. Usually the size of the Reading section was minuscule compared to the Math section. Over the past year the test prep industry has pumped out dozens of books in an attempt to prepare students for this newest version of the SAT. Some do a better job than others, but how do you know which is best? On this site, I am going to examine test prep books and make some comparisons. Some of it will be pure opinion on my part, based on 15 years of teaching the SAT, but a great deal will be based on fact. Such as how many practice questions are there and how many tests are really in the book and how many do you have to do online?
We are going to start with the College Board’s Official Study Guide. A little over 300 of the pages are the study guide and the remaining 400ish are 4 complete practice tests. The study guide is just an overview of the test, there are some practice questions, but unless you are already able to score in the 700/800 range, these won’t be enough to really prepare you for the test. So here’s the rub. The previous SAT had about a dozen practice tests available to students between the old blue book and released tests on its website. But now, now we have 4 in the book and 2 more online that were released at the end of August 2016. A common mistake I see is students come to me and they ripped through those 6 tests in one month and now they don’t know what to do because their score isn’t where they want it to be, and they plan to prep for another 6 months, but they don’t know what to do next because many people on the internet say to only use “official” materials. Yes, in an ideal world we all would only use SAT materials produced by the College Board, but honestly there just isn’t enough for the type of preparation that most students do today.
The 4 Tests in this book (and the other 2) are available on the College board’s website free to download and prints and you can take the tests at Khan Academy. These are great options if you want to save a bit of money on test prep books.
Whether the rest of the book is worth the cost depends on you. Are you someone who loves to analyze the details? Then you might enjoy dissecting the explanations of the types of questions. However, if you look at pages of text and just zone out, then you are not likely to get much out of the book.
I’m a reading/writing teacher who only really does the math when I have to explain to a student (and occasionally a math teacher) what the phrasing the question means. So, I am always critical about how little guidance study books provide related to doing the reading section. Frequently it is merely a breakdown of the passages and question types, a list of vocabulary words and a few lackluster practice questions. Otherwise you are on your own, and weak readers are really not going to become better readers by doing a few questions. The College Board’s book is a little more balanced with almost equal attention to the Reading/Writing sections as the Math ones. However, there is no real guidance about approaching the questions or how to be an effective reader.
The College Board’s SAT Study Guide is valuable mostly for the tests, but these tests are available elsewhere (including the College Board’s website) for free. Those same tests can be taken online at Khan Academy as well for free.