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

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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 – SAT DeMystified

There’s no mystery here – DON’T BUY THIS BOOK.

SAT DeMystified, by Alexandra Mayzler and Joseph Daniele, is published by McGraw Hill. McGraw Hill also publishes the highly regarded SAT prep book, so I was surprised at how poor the current offering is.

SAT DeMystified was published in August 2011, and is part of a series of DeMystified titles which include Robotics DeMystified and Home Networking DeMystified.

SAT DeMystified has 583 pages, but those pages aren’t as large as those found in the major prep books. Still, there’s a lot of material here; it is meant to provide a full course.

Organization

Introduction – about the book, about the SAT

Overview of content, strategies, and drill for each section, organized by question type (Verbal sections) or topic (Math)

3 practice tests

Pros

The book does tell you what material is on the SAT (but so do all of the other prep books). There are many useful strategies here (but read on).

3 practice tests are included.

The writing is serious and easy to understand.

The book is well organized, so it is easy to look up topics.

Cons

Many of the strategies are useless; some will even hurt students’ performance. For example, the authors abandon tried-and-true strategies for Sentence Completions and recommend a 6-step process instead:

Read, Find the definition, Positive/negative/neutral, Fill in the blank, Eliminate, Plug it in.

Now, there is a lot of good advice there, but some of it is only applicable to certain questions. Do the authors really think that students should memorize these 6 steps and apply them meticulously to every question? Furthermore, do the authors really believe that most students will even try? Sometimes you can read the sentence, think “the answer should mean ‘improve,'” choose “progress,” and you’re done.

I’ll give one other example. The most useful technique for algebra, plugging in, is included. However, it isn’t demonstrated separately; it is only given as the solution to certain questions. Furthermore, students aren’t told when to use it, and no instructions are given. Some values are copied from the question, and some are plugged in, but you’re not even told which is which – you have to figure it out. I’ve taught this technique to many students for many years, and I can tell you that very few will pick it up from this book.

Many excellent techniques that are found in other prep books are absent here.

The practice questions often don’t resemble the real ones, and there are quite a few errors.

Amazingly, no explanations are given for either the drills or practice tests (there are only answer keys).

Overview

Unfortunately, many students will buy this book because it looks slick on the outside.

SAT prep guides have come a long way in the past twenty years; several excellent ones are now available. There is simply no excuse for such an awful book as this one.

I could go on about what else is wrong with this book, but you get the idea. Run away!