Review – Cracking the SAT from The Princeton Review

The first edition of The Princeton Review’s Cracking series, published in 1986, was the first guide ever to offer strategies that reflected a true understanding of the SAT. Many of those strategies were developed within the company (particularly by Adam Robinson).

At the time of its publication, Cracking the System: The SAT (as it was then titled) was hands down the best SAT prep guide on the market.

Can the same be said for the 2012 edition of Cracking the SAT? Is it worth spending the extra money for the version that comes with a DVD? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

Both editions are 768 pages, and include 4 practice tests. In addition, book owners can access additional practice tests at The Princeton Review Website (1 test if you have the plain edition; 4 tests if you have the DVD edition). The cover says “by Adam Robinson and John Katzman,” but “the Staff of The Princeton Review” are added on the title page.

Organization

Introduction – basic principles

Strategies, background material, and sample questions arranged by section

Taking the SAT – more tips

Answer Key to Drills (with explanations)

4 complete practice tests with answers and explanations

I did not have the DVD, but reviews on Amazon suggest that it merely rehashes material that’s already in the book. You can buy it if you like studying with a computer, and you’ll also have access to 3 extra tests on The Princeton Review website.

Pros

The review section is very thorough, and the emphasis is on techniques. The explanations for many math concepts are simpler than those found in other books. There is also plenty of advice about when and how to use your calculator.

Strategies for Sentence Completions and Critical Reading aren’t as “one size fits all” as those found in other popular guides. When appropriate, different strategies are offered for different types of questions (e.g. inference questions).

The language is straightforward and easy to understand. It is not irreverent, but it is incisive and very appropriate for teenagers.

Practice tests are included, and they are reasonably close to actual SATs. They even include 10 full sections, whereas many other practice tests omit a section in lieu of the Experimental Section.

The Amazon price for the edition without the DVD is $13.39, which is a bargain for a book this size.

Cons

Where’s the beef? In 26 years, there have been very few new techniques added, and most of them were necessitated by changes in the SAT (e.g. calculator hints or grid-in tips).

There is a lot of emphasis on the Joe Bloggs technique here (if you’re unfamiliar with Joe Bloggs, see here). That’s not surprising, given that this is the technique for which P.R. is best known, but it is not nearly as effective as it used to be.

The practice tests differ from the real SAT in several ways. As I’ve written before, this is true of practice tests in all of the commercial prep books; an author or two can’t hope to duplicate the complex process that is used to develop the actual SAT.

The reliance on the Joe Bloggs concept spills over into the practice tests; there is too high a proportion of trap answers here. Once students have learned to avoid traps, they will tend to find parts of these exams too easy.

Errors, errors! I didn’t read every question carefully, yet I still noticed a lot of mistakes, considering that this book was written by the biggest SAT prep company of all. Note that a few errors are described in the reviews at Amazon.

Overview

In my opinion, The Princeton Review has rested on its laurels with this book, and what was once the leader of the pack is now lost in the pack. I’m not saying this is a bad book, but there is nothing to recommend it over the dozen or more others of its ilk.

An idea cannot be copyrighted, and once a technique is published in one book, there is nothing to prevent authors of other books from co-opting it. Presently, there is a glut of SAT prep books on the market, and authors may be reluctant to reveal new techniques for this reason. Also, Robinson left the company years ago.

What is interesting is that any new techniques employed by large teaching companies such as The Princeton Review are bound to become common knowledge, while those taught by small companies could remain proprietary for years to come.

Still, everything you need to know for the SAT is here in this book, and you might want it for the practice tests. These tests will be particularly helpful in training you to avoid traps, as long as you keep in mind that there are too many of them here.

If you insist on studying with a single book, I would recommend Barron’s SAT over this one by a nose; it has fewer errors. Bear in mind that I haven’t read every book on the market (I’m working on it).

If you’re willing to work hard, you should opt for well-written guides that specialize in Math or Verbal skills. I’ve already recommended The PWN the SAT Math guide; I’ve heard of a Verbal guide or two, but I haven’t read them yet. You can still buy one of the big books for extra material and/or practice tests.

The Books are available here:

Book Only

Book With DVD

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2 comments on “Review – Cracking the SAT from The Princeton Review

  1. Pete Guzik says:

    Jon,
    I worked for TPR and still use the book for my private students. Yes, there are a few errors. But I like the way it lays out most of the information. It is very true that they don’t update their books very often. My 2009 version is still pretty easy to use to teach out of instead of updating a new book every year since the changes are minimal (though I don’t know much of the most recent version as there is not much demand for SAT help in NE Brazil). I stopped using their practice tests unless the student ran out of tests in the ETS book because I found the TPR tests to be too easy in general. When I first used their tests, my students kept scoring too high on the practice tests compared to the real thing and just stopped using them. Fun blog to read. Thanks!

  2. Alan E says:

    “Yes, there are a few error”? I have not completed the book and have found 2 drill problems that provide incorrect answers. That is inexcusable. How is a student, working alone, expected to discern that the book is actually wrong, when he presumes that his own answers are wrong? And how does it damage credibility to have even a single error? What would it have taken to have one professional review all of the questions and answers for correctness? Shabby work!

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