Review – How to Succeed in High School and Prep for College by Phyllis Zimbler Miller, M.B.A.

I had not heard of the author until she followed my Twitter account. I also took a peek at her LinkedIn account; her experience is in marketing and speechwriting (she has also written novels and screenplays).  What, no college counseling? I offered to read and review this book with the understanding that my report would be an honest one, and Ms. Miller agreed.

As I began to read, I was impressed. Before I reached the midpoint, I was converted. How to Succeed is a must read for students who are committed to playing the college entrance game to win.

The book is available in Kindle format (text-to-speech is enabled) for $9.99, and was 247 pages long on my iPad. It is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of the entire college application process. However, it is chock full of useful advice.

Organization

Here is the Table of Contents:

CHAPTER I: TAKING YOUR OWN PATH
OPTIONS AND CONTROL
PASSION – THE NUMBER ONE THEME OF THIS BOOK
NOTE FOR PARENTS, ADVISORS AND MENTORS – “MIDWIFE” PASSION
STARTING AT THE BEGINNING – YOUR RESUME
FORMATTING A RESUME
WHAT GOES ON A RESUME

CHAPTER II: PREPARING FOR INTERVIEWS OR MEETINGS
GENERAL PREPARATIONS FOR YOUR LIFE PATH
BEFORE A MEETING/INTERVIEW
DURING A MEETING/INTERVIEW
AFTER A MEETING/INTERVIEW

CHAPTER III: PLANNING AHEAD FOR HIGH SCHOOL
CHOOSING YOUR HIGH SCHOOL COURSES BEFORE SCHOOL BEGINS
ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSES IN HIGH SCHOOL
THE FUN PART OF HIGH SCHOOL – EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
INTRODUCTION TO INTERNSHIPS
A FINAL WORD ABOUT WORDS
EXERCISES

CHAPTER IV: APPLYING TO COLLEGE
THOSE ALL IMPORTANT ESSAYS
EARLY ADMISSION OPTIONS
OTHER COLLEGE APPLICATION FACTORS
HE SAID, SHE SAID – THE IMPORTANT RECOMMENDATIONS
EXTRA HOMEWORK
CONNECTING TO OTHER PEOPLE FOR HELP
SUMMER PROGRAMS VS. SUMMER PROGRAMS – SOME YOU PAY FOR
ADDITIONAL ASSISTS IN COLLEGE APPLICATIONS
STANDARDIZED TESTS
GET ALL THE INFORMATION YOU CAN ON EACH COLLEGE
FINANCIAL AID
EXERCISES

CHAPTER V: AFTER THE COLLEGE/PROGRAM APPLICATIONS ARE IN
EXERCISES
BONUS: Tips for How to Use Dynamic Language on a College Application Essay

Pros

How To Succeed offers a unique and effective way to do what the title promises: maximize your potential and win the “college hunt.” It begins by advising you to begin planning as early as the summer after eighth grade.  The guide is directed at the student, but useful advice for parents is sprinkled throughout.

Most teenagers put off thinking about their responsibilities as long as possible. A central theme of this guide is prepare early. Start working on your resume before you need one. Practice interviewing, use social media effectively, learn about colleges, etc. If you follow this book to the letter, you may even feel sorry for most other students when you realize how unprepared they are.

As mentioned above, the author does not have a professional background in college counseling. However, she has clearly had a lot of experience in the area, and has done exhaustive research. As a result, the guide includes helpful tips that aren’t found in many other books. For example, a student may not realize that, by completing 9th grade math in junior high, he may be required to take calculus if he plans to apply to colleges that require four years of math in high school.

Cons

My only real objection is not truly a criticism of this book. In order to best use the given advice, a teenager needs to be very ambitious and dedicated even before she begins high school. Unfortunately, not many students fit this bill. However, it is my feeling that many students who use this guide will experience a “rush of empowerment” as they begin to follow its recommendations, even if they were initially reluctant.

I found about ten minor grammar/style errors, which should be corrected by a proofreader.

Overview

As I mentioned, only highly motivated students will get the most out of this book. It will still be of use to others, including those who read it midway through high school. But those who do begin following the author’s regimen after eighth grade, and follow it through rigorously, will have a tremendous advantage at the college hunt. I have no doubt that this advantage will carry over beyond college. In any case, the author plans to write two follow-up books to help during and after college.

This guide is largely about developing a certain attitude. The author does not expect students to stop having fun; rather, she suggests that students learn to integrate fun activities into a driven, goal-oriented lifestyle.

To that end, the author’s background as a writer and marketer have served her well. As I read this book, I frequently felt energized as I thought “students who read this can morph into ‘movers and shakers.'”

I highly recommend this book. 5 stars.

Buy the book here.

SAT Book Review Winners

Here are my recommendations based on the materials I’ve reviewed to date:

Two independently published specialty guides lead the pack:

PWN the SAT Math Guide by Mike McClenathan

and

The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

They are simply the best books available in their respective subjects.

Although I have not reviewed them, I keep hearing great things about these (from SAT experts around the country):

Direct Hits Core Vocabulary of the SAT

Direct Hits Toughest Vocabulary of the SAT

Of course, there’s more to the SAT than math, grammar, and vocabulary, so you’ll need a comprehensive SAT guide to cover the entire test. The winner (by a nose) is:

McGraw-Hill’s SAT

A close second is:

Barron’s SAT

I placed McGraw-Hill’s book first because the practice tests are a little more realistic. However, I am listing the Barron’s book here because there are two useful accessory tools available:

Barron’s SAT Flash Cards

Barron’s Pass Key to the SAT

Vocabulary flash cards are also available from both Barron’s and McGraw-Hill.

If any authors or inventors would like me to review their books or products, please contact me via the About Page. Note that my review will represent my honest opinion; I don’t play favorites.

Where to buy these books on Amazon:

PWN the SAT Math Guide

The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar

Direct Hits Core Vocabulary of the SAT

Direct Hits Toughest Vocabulary of the SAT

Mc-Graw-Hill’s SAT

Mc-Graw-Hill’s SAT with CD-ROM

Barron’s SAT

Barron’s SAT with CD

Barron’s SAT Flash Cards

Barron’s Pass Key to the SAT

Review – SAT For Dummies

The title says it all. This is the worst SAT prep book I’ve reviewed to date.

A lot of the introductory material that can be found in the College Board “Blue Book” is also in SAT For Dummies, 8th edition, by Geraldine Woods et al. That’s the best thing I can say about the book.

Organization

576 pages

Introduction – SAT vs. ACT, about special needs students, what’s on the test, about scores

Information on section types

5 practice tests

More advice

The book is available with and without a CD, which includes vocabulary, 2 more tests, some essay prompts, and some basics from the book.

Pros

This makes an excellent gag gift for your favorite SAT teacher.

Cons

Very few strategies are given, and those are often poorly explained. Mostly, unrealistic example questions are presented, followed merely by explanations of why the answer is right.

There are many errors in this book.

The tests are some of the most unrealistic ones I’ve seen (even the wrong vocabulary words are tested – i.e. those not on the SAT).

The book without the CD has no vocabulary section.

Overview

This book probably sells reasonably well, because it’s part of the immensely popular “For Dummies” series. The idea of simple self-help books that don’t talk over reader’s heads is a great one. However, this book is useless for the reasons mentioned above.

I don’t want to rant too long, but here are a couple of examples of this book’s flaws:

There is no mention of plugging in, or many other useful math techniques that are found in most other SAT guides. To be fair, backsolving is mentioned.

The section on Sentence Completions begins with an explanation of what the questions entail, and a description of one- and two-blank questions (hint: one type has two blanks). But NO strategies for actually solving them are given. Instead, the author dives right into example questions (and poorly written ones at that), and merely explains why the answers are right. As I’ve already mentioned, this pattern is repeated throughout the book.

Here’s one of the sentences:

Although she was upset by the security guard’s close attention and stormed out of the lingerie store, Suzy Sunshine remained _______ for the rest of the day:

(A) braless
(B) serene
(C) annoyed
(D) joyful
(E) hungry

According to the author, the answer is (B). Of course, (D) is a perfectly valid answer, although (A) is my personal favorite.

No links for this one. Don’t buy it.

Ugh.

Review – Barron’s Pass Key to the SAT

This is the “compact version” of Barron’s SAT. It’s well written. It’s nifty. If you’re planning to study with the larger book, it makes a great companion book.

Pass Key for the SAT, 8th edition, is 440 pages long. At just over 5″ by 8″, it’s not quite a pocket book, but it’s a handy paperback.

Organization

Introductory chapters – SAT format, guessing, timing, study plan

Strategies by section, vocabulary

2 practice exams

Pros

There’s a lot of helpful information in this small book.

There are few errors, if any.

The text is very easy to understand.

The authors of Pass Key also wrote Barron’s SAT, and the techniques are the same.

This is one of the few quick guides that has practice tests.

Cons

Not many. Obviously, the book isn’t comprehensive, but that’s no problem if you are studying from a larger book also.

At $9.99, Pass Key costs almost as much as the 936-page Barron’s SAT.

Overview

The great thing about this book is its size. If you’re studying from Barron’s larger book, you probably won’t want to lug it around everywhere you go. But you can easily grab this one and take it to Grandma’s, the library, etc. and get a bit of SAT prep in here and there.

If you’re studying from another large prep book, such as McGraw-Hill’s, this won’t be as helpful. Although the techniques are similar, the organization and explanations will be different.

What I like about this book is that it will encourage students to study for the SAT when they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s a great “road companion.”

Buy the book here.

Review – The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

Several SAT experts have enthusiastically recommended this book to me, and I’m pleased to add my own praise for this wonderful guide.

The grammar sections in the big commercial books aren’t bad. Grammar is grammar, and only a handful of errors are tested on the SAT. Other books list these errors, and offer illustrative questions.

But The Ultimate Guide goes further.

Organization

162 pages long, softcover

Introduction, parts of speech

Overview of error types, with emphasis on Error IDs

Fixing Sentences, more about error types

Fixing Paragraphs

Appendices – Summary of error types in the Blue Book

Answer Key

Pros

The text is straightforward and easy to understand.

Information on grammar errors is more thorough and accurate than that in other books. For example, there is a list of common idioms involving prepositions, and also a discussion of the use of this, which, and that.

The example sentences test the errors in a manner which is virtually indistinguishable from those on the SAT. That’s big, and the same is not true for any other book that I’ve seen.

There are many “predictive strategies” – i.e. methods of knowing which errors are likely based on the number or content of the question (e.g. the mention of a profession indicates a noun agreement question).

The book isn’t filled with “extra” grammar rules which aren’t found on the test. The author even let me know that a grammar rule that I posted on my blog was no longer found on the exam. Ms. Meltzer is an expert on SAT grammar, and you won’t waste your time studying superfluous material with this book.

Cons

I see none. I suppose I could point out that the author’s claim of having “cracked” the exam sounds a bit enthusiastic. However, she has written the best SAT grammar guide available.

Overview

In order to do well with this book, you’ll have to put in some hard work. But that will be true if you use any book.

The guide has mostly excellent reviews on Amazon (the two negative reviews are bizarre and lack substance).

What separates this guide from the others is that Ms. Meltzer has put tremendous effort into analyzing a ton of SAT questions. The appendices alone, which give the error type for every question in the College Board “Blue Book,” are alone worth the price (one appendix gives the questions in order, and the other is organized by error type).

Clearly, the author has analyzed not only the 10 tests in the Blue Book, but many others as well. I noticed that she mentioned a couple of questions that appeared on my students’ disclosure exams.

Ms. Meltzer stated that parallel structure errors are very common on question #11 of the long section, and #14 of the short one. Indeed, they occurred on 6 out of 20 such questions in the Blue Book, according to the appendix. I decided to test this by looking at 8 disclosure SATs which were administered in 2005 – 2007, and I found these errors in 7 out of 16 of these questions. The author has done her homework.

If you study SAT grammar from another book, you should improve, because you’ll learn some appropriate grammar rules and how to avoid errors. But you’ll do even better with this book, because you’ll gain knowledge of exactly how these errors are tested on the exam.

If you’re serious about doing your best on the SAT Writing multiple choice, this book is worth every penny.

Buy the guide here for $24.75

Review – Gruber’s Complete SAT Guide

Gruber’s Complete SAT Guide 2012, 15th edition, is 1088 pages long, making it one of the fattest SAT guides on the market. On Amazon, it ranks behind books by Barron’s, The Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill, and Kaplan in sales.

As I have mentioned in earlier reviews, most of the strategies for the SAT that are found in these books were first published many years ago. Although there are some differences between the guides, they are mostly similar.

Obviously, people who write or publish an SAT book would like their product to stand out from the pack. Dr. Gruber has made an effort to do that, but in this case, different clearly doesn’t mean better.

On the back cover, it says:

“The Best Book On The SAT” – CBS Radio

For real.

Organization

Introduction – basics, thinking skills and modes, study program, SAT format

Small Diagnostic Test – 90 questions

Mini Diagnostic Test – 18 questions! (7 Reading, 4 Writing, 7 Math)

Strategies – Math, Reading

Refresher

Vocabulary

Writing section

5 Practice Tests

Pros

The test is well written and easy to understand.

Helpful SAT tips are found throughout the book.

The practice tests have few errors.

The book is only $10.99 (eligible for free Super Saver Shipping) on Amazon.

Cons

The author goes out of his way to teach techniques that differ from those in other guides, and most of the ones here are inferior.

The practice tests differ more from the real SATs than the ones in the better guides.

Many strategies are not well explained and/or are insufficiently stressed.

The diagnostic tests are too short. The mini-test is laughable.

There are only 5 practice tests.

Overview

This book isn’t awful. I’m sure that many students could improve their scores with it.

I have mentioned in previous reviews that many of the comprehensive SAT study guides are very similar. The author of this one tried too hard to make it different, without substance to back it up.

I don’t want to list every example, but here are a few ways this book runs off the tracks:

I’ve already mentioned the ludicrous 18-question diagnostic.

There is a section on SAT strategies for women. Men beware!

Plugging in (perhaps the most useful strategy for the Math section) is mentioned almost as an afterthought, and is poorly explained.

Backsolving (plugging the answers into a variable in an algebra question) is also very useful. Every other guide, and every SAT teacher I’ve ever spoken to about it, tells you to start with answer (C). That’s common sense, since the answers are almost always in order, and you can usually tell if (C) is too large or small if it doesn’t work. But Dr. Gruber says to start with (E) and work backwards!

I cannot recommend this book.

Review – LSAT Timer watch

Yes, I know that this is an SAT blog, but I do love teaching the LSAT too, and I couldn’t resist reviewing this watch that one of my LSAT students bought. If you don’t care about the LSAT, don’t worry. I’ll be back with an SAT-related article in a day or two.

The only timer that you are allowed to bring for the LSAT is a silent analog wristwatch. That’s right – no desktop timers, and nothing digital. I suppose that the good folks at LSAC are worried that someone will invent a digital watch that can be programmed to solve logic games.

At first glance, this is easily the ugliest wristwatch I have ever seen. It’s huge and plasticky, and it’s asymmetrical face is unbecoming. No matter – functionality is what you’re looking for anyhow.

The watch feels so-so in quality, but it has a black rubber case, and should be durable enough to last through a LSAT or two (including lots of practice tests). The manufacturer’s website flashed a teaser photo showing the watch in several different “stylish” colors that will be “coming soon.” No need to wait – it won’t look stylish in any color, even if you move like Jagger.

My student assured me that the watch times each 35 minute section accurately. It retails for $19.99. Even with the added $5.15 USPS shipping (overnighting it costs a whopping $20.99!) and state tax ($1.75 to my zip code), it’s still fairly inexpensive. If you order it at Amazon, it’s eligible for free Super Saver Shipping.

However, I have one major beef with the LSAT Timer, which is that it’s hard to reset accurately. I had to struggle to get the minute hand exactly at the 35-minute mark, and once I did, I found it usually jumped a minute or two when I pushed the crown in. That would be really annoying/anxiety inducing during an actual exam. Furthermore, the second hand doesn’t reset at all, so I wonder why they bothered with it.

By the way, if you watch the video at the manufacturer’s website, you’ll notice that the minute hand is a bit off (maybe 1/2 min.) on the second reset. You may like the “Peanuts” music, though (Linus and Lucy, by Guaraldi).

I don’t want to call this a deal breaker, but I’d much prefer a watch with a reset button. When I was a kid, I had a cheap stopwatch that had this feature, and it worked very well, instantly bringing both the second and minute hands to the exact reset position.

By googling “LSAT watch,” I easily found one called the “180Watch,” but it retails for $49 (+ $7 S&H). Of course, I haven’t tried that one, but most watches manufactured today are quite accurate (even cheapies). It’s your call whether the reset feature (both minute and second hands reset) is worth the extra $$ and the risk of buying an unknown product. By the way, it’s also very unsightly.

If you don’t mind futzing with the reset between sections, the LSAT Timer is an affordable product that does what it’s supposed to.

Buy the LSAT Timer here

Amazon