Review – The Official SAT Study Guide

It did not occur to me to write a review of The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd ed. until I received a few requests for one. After all, the “Blue Book” is indispensable for anyone studying for the SAT. Since it is the only book than contains actual College Board questions, you’ll want a copy even if you plan to use other books to improve your skills.

If you’re preparing for the SAT and are only trying to decide whether or not to buy this book, look no further than the word “indispensible” in the previous paragraph and go get it. If you’re not sure how to best use the book (perhaps in concert with another book or two), read on.

Note that you’ll want the second edition; the older volume has eight tests instead of ten, and only the newer volume contains actual disclosure tests (three are included).

There is also a newer version that includes a DVD. I did not have a copy on hand to review, but a review on Amazon suggests that the disk includes an extra practice test and some other new material, much of which is also available on The College Board’s website.

Organization

Introduction – what’s on the test, how to prepare, about the PSAT

Review of core material for the Reading, Writing (including essay), and Mathematics sections.

Ten complete practice tests – the first 3 are disclosure tests (actually administered), and the remaining 7 were cobbled together prior to the administration of the newest version of the SAT.

Pros

That’s easy – as stated above, this is the only book that contains questions written by the actual test developers. Developing the SAT is a very involved process that takes several steps, and requires a huge number of man-hours (person-hours?). There is simply no way an author or two can hope to come close to duplicating that process, and even the best “facsimile practice tests” are noticeably different than the genuine article. There is simply no argument for not using these tests.

There is some other useful information in the book. There are some sample essays that received different scores; these are worth a look. You can also see the rubric that the essay scorers use.

There is an overview of all of the math concepts that are found on the exam. Wondering if you need to know trigonometry? – you can look here (no, you don’t need trig).

Of course, most of that information can also be found at www.collegeboard.org, and elsewhere on the Web.

Cons

As mentioned above, only 3 of the tests are actually genuine. The other 7 tests are still much more realistic than any other available ones (except for the few on the College Board website). However, it would be nice if The College Board came out with a new edition with all genuine tests. After all, the first SAT in the current format was administered in March 2005; there are dozens of tests available now.

The strategies in the chapters that precede the tests are virtually worthless. Whether or not you want to call using alternative techniques “beating” the SAT, the fact is that they are effective, and they’re not found in this book. The College Board’s strategies are the same “tried-and-true” ones taught in most schools, blended with some common sense. I’m not saying that every technique in this book is useless, but I am saying that the worst SAT study guide on the market is better than this one.

The correct answers are given for the test questions, but there are no explanations. However, you can find these elsewhere. I know that there is a companion guide available at Amazon, but I haven’t read it. You can find worthwhile solutions and explanations for many of the Math questions at PWN The SAT’s blog, and probably on other blogs as well. Once you own the book, you can also find explanations from The College Board here, but they tend to be stodgy; look elsewhere for more helpful ones.

Overview

Despite its title, you should certainly not use the Blue Book as a study guide. However, you should absolutely buy it for the practice tests.

I can’t believe how many parents and students ask me “which is better, the Blue Book or Barron’s,” or “are you saying the PWN The SAT Math Guide is better than the Blue Book?” They shouldn’t be compared, since you shouldn’t think of the Blue Book as a study guide. If you want to study with books, you should buy the Blue Book plus at least one study guide.

The Blue Book is available here.

New version with DVD

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