This review will actually cover two books: Barron’s SAT 25th ed., with and without CD-ROM.
First, some disclosure: I have been writing internal reviews for Barron’s Educational Series since 2003. In this blog, I have endeavored to be as scrupulously honest as I can be, and I will continue to do so.
As the simple title SAT implies, this is Barron’s flagship SAT prep guide. In recent years, Barron’s has expanded its SAT prep series, and I will review some of their other offerings in later posts.
If you have seen Barron’s books in a bookstore, this is the fat one – 920 pages, not counting the tear-out flashcards in the back. This is the “kitchen sink” of SAT guides, and many students use it alone for their preparation.
Introduction – content, format, and scoring
Diagnostic Test with answers explained
Detailed Review of each SAT section (includes vocabulary)
Five Model Tests
Removable Vocabulary Flash Cards (I counted 216)
CD-ROM (optional, for MAC or PC) No installation is needed. Contains two additional practice tests. You can take them timed or untimed, and view answers and explanations. The disk also includes a searchable vocabulary guide.
The review section is very comprehensive. The authors have clearly spent a lot of time reviewing recent SATs, and offer strategies for solving myriad questions. For example, other prep books offer brief advice on how to solve pattern problems. The Barron’s book includes strategies for specific types (e.g. calendar questions).
The guide is very well organized. That’s very important, since it means that a student will have an easy time finding any topic to review.
The writing style is serious, concise, and easy to understand.
Practice tests are included. This is particularly important, since The College Board has so few tests in print. Although the tests are not perfect (see below), they are better representations of the real thing than are found in other books of this type.
The Amazon price (without the CD) is truly a bargain for a book this size.
The practice tests aren’t exactly like real SATs. Of course, no one writes the real thing except The College Board. It is impossible for an author or two to duplicate the incredibly involved process that goes into making the real thing. As such, the tests in the Barron’s book are fairly accurate.
Nevertheless, it is worth discussing the differences. Many students have reported that they find the Barron’s tests to be harder than the real ones. I believe that this is principally due to the smaller proportion of easy questions found in the Barron’s tests. You’ll have to decide if that is a good or a bad thing.
On the actual SAT, the questions are arranged in order of difficulty (except for those associated with passages), and that arrangement is reasonably rigid. On the Barron’s tests, the ordering is looser – e.g. a Sentence Completion that might appear in the middle of a block on a real SAT might be found at the beginning in this book. The ordering on math is tighter, but again, there is a shortage of very easy questions. The ordering of the Writing section is looser on the real SAT, so there is less of a difference in the Barron’s tests.
The “feel” of some of the questions differs from that of real SAT questions. For example, The College Board tends to avoid any familiarity in their wording.
In recent years, Barron’s has made tremendous strides in offering useful shortcuts for solving questions (e.g. plugging in on algebra problems). However, as yet they have not included some useful techniques that are found in other guides.
You’ll also have to decide if the two extra tests found on the CD-ROM are worth the considerably higher price. Remember, the real SAT is not given on a computer.
There are four basic categories of SAT prep materials: 1) comprehensive, scholarly guides, 2) concise, strategy-oriented guides, 3) “tricky” guides (“beat the SAT”), and 4) accessory materials (e.g. flash cards, math apps). This is the best of the available books in the first category.
If you’re looking for a single book to prepare for the SAT, and you’re willing to put in a lot of hard work, this is the book for you.
If you want to prepare with several books, you’ll probably still want this to be one of them. Again, for the price, it’s worth getting this guide even if you’ll only use it for one of the sections.
Finally, you don’t just have to take my word for the quality of this volume. As I write this, there are 17 reviews on Amazon (14 w/o CD, 3 with CD), and all are four or five stars (except for one person who bought the CD version and didn’t get the CD).