Review – PWN the SAT Math Guide

If you read my article entitled There are Nerds on the Web!, you already know that PWN the SAT (Mike McClenathan) writes a great blog. So it should come as no surprise to you that he has written

“The best SAT math guide for bight students available anywhere.”

I’ve read a lot of SAT books. I’ve written internal reviews for Barron’s Educational Series. And I don’t hand out praise lightly.

The writing is concise, yet the text is comprehensive. Mike’s style is casual and amusing (which is why I think he’d prefer “Mike” to “Mr. McClenathan” in this review), so students should enjoy reading his work.

The Math Guide is chock full of effective strategies and shortcuts. It is presented as follows:

After a brief introduction, some strategies (e.g. guessing, avoiding traps) and techniques (plugging in, backsolving) are explained. Then there is an overview of the math concepts that you need to know for the SAT (including sample questions). Several diagnostic drills are presented, followed by solutions to each problem. Finally, there is a guide to the Blue Book (The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd ed.) that shows which techniques are appropriate for each question in the book (that’s 10 tests).

One of the first things you’ll notice if you visit Mike’s blog (or the Amazon page for this book) is that he scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT. I can tell you from decades of experience that most people who have earned perfect SAT scores make lousy SAT teachers. But Mike’s mastery of the exam is only the beginning – he has the gift of being able to explain difficult concepts so that they sound easy. That gift is what makes this volume special.

As  I write this article, there are four reviews on Amazon – all 5 stars. One is from a student who credits Mike’s book for his math score increase from 640 to 730. There are five raves on the back of the book itself – two of which are from Stacey Howe-Lott and Debbie Stier – SAT experts in their own right.

Cover of

Do I have anything negative to say about this book? As I implied earlier, this book will be most useful for self-motivated students with strong math skills. As I read many of Mike’s explanations, I thought to myself “the techniques are good, but some of my students wouldn’t find them on their own.” But the guide will still be of some use to those who are shakier at math, and no book is particularly useful for an unmotivated student.

One little nitpick: Mike recommends the excellent technique of measuring geometry figures, but he describes how to make depressions in your pencil with your thumbnails and use it as a ruler. Facepalm! Just make pencil marks on the edge of your answer sheet (erase them afterwards).

Finally, I did not proofread every math problem carefully, so I can’t tell you if there are errors. I already do meticulous proofreading for Barron’s, so I didn’t have the gumption to do that here.

The guide is available at Amazon for $25.02 (free shipping), and is worth every penny. By the way, the list price of 31.42 is 10Π dollars.

Can a self-published guide by a no-name author outsell the brand name books? This one should, because it PWNs the competition.

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4 comments on “Review – PWN the SAT Math Guide

  1. Thanks for the extensive review, Jon! The book was a labor of love (as is the blog) and it’s gratifying to read that people (especially experts like you) are receiving it well.

    Point well taken on the pencil depression vs. marks on answer sheet debate. I’ve always preferred my method because it involves less conspicuous shuffling of papers on what are often small desks, but both are acceptable ways to skin the cat. Perhaps, in a future revision, I’ll add that.

  2. Jenny says:

    Does the second edition book different from what you have on the web? I’m a student with a 1750, pining to break 2000. I have a 660 in math, but it fluctuates anywhere from 550, to 580, to 610. I’m already in a kaplan class so I’m in no place to spit out any more money! Will the website do the trick? Or should I beg my mother?! :(

    For what you’ve written on the blog though, I’m completely sold. It took me from a 580 to 660. It’s great tricks and common sense, I as a student, just would never come to reason.

  3. Jenny says:

    PS for the math, my goal is to break 700.

  4. From the PWN The SAT website:

    What’s new
    The second edition, released about a year after the first edition, contains a bunch of incremental improvements informed by feedback from readers and my own experiences teaching from the book. Many chapters remain basically unchanged from the first edition. Others have received, as they say, a new coat of paint. Nothing has been drastically changed, but the following chapters have all been updated with additional example questions, explanations, and/or clarifications:

    How to use this book
    Guesstimate (this chapter has also been moved from the Geometry unit to the Techniques unit)
    Average, median, and mode

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