Books You Need to Read (That Aren’t on Your Summer Reading List)

Summer is the perfect time to finally get to your reading list — and though you might want to re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the third time, or buy the entire Young Adult section of your nearest Barnes & Noble — there’s always another part of your life for the SAT to invade!

There are tons of books out there which are genuinely good and can also improve your SAT Writing and Critical Reading scores. Learning new vocabulary doesn’t just mean memorizing flashcards! Here is a list of tons of books which can make a big difference in your vocabulary and reading level.

Read those classics!

Honestly, any classic novel is great for preparing for the SAT. They are classics for a reason! Lots of passages on the SAT are written in a more archaic, pre-twentieth century style. Therefore, reading pre-twentieth century novels can work wonders for your reading comprehension skills on test day.

Classic novels which are culturally based are also ideal choices for summer reading. There is always a cultural passage on the SAT, and it never hurts to be a little more culturally aware.

Try some of these…

Pre-Twentieth Century Classics

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Heart of Darkness by James Conrad
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Twentieth Century Classics

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • From Here to Eternity by James Jones
  • Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Culture-Centered Classics

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Recommended Authors

  • John Steinbeck
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jane Austen
  • William Shakespeare
  • Emily Brontë
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Charles Dickens
  • Leo Tolstoy


“Kaplan SAT Score-Raising Classics”

You’ve probably read (or will read) a lot of these classics at school. If one of these classics is part of your required reading this summer, why not buy an edition that has been edited specifically to teach you vocab? Kaplan has a whole series of classics designed to help you boost your score. Each book has hundreds of high-level vocab words that are highlighted in the text, with definitions of said words displayed on the opposite side of the page. I have to admit: that’s almost as cool as this guy’s hair. Books in the series include:

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


“Prestwick House: SAT Words from Literature”

Prestwick House has a similar series in which it highlights vocab words in classics, and shows their parts of speech, pronunciations, definitions, and synonyms or antonyms. It also provides exercises to help you remember definitions of words. This is so helpful if you want to learn vocab without feeling…like you’re learning…vocab. Some books in the series include:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens



Even the College Board itself has a great list of books which will improve your reading comprehension and vocabulary. It’s mainly composed of classics, which may seem boring at first—but many of these books are genuinely entertaining. Check them out at 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers.

If you don’t want to make any long-term commitments to books, but you’d still like to read a lot this summer, you can also read high-quality newspaper and magazine articles. The New Yorker, Reader’s Digest, Time, and The Atlantic Monthly are great choices. The type of writing in these publications is short and condensed, much like SAT passages. There’s something for everyone!



People who read frequently tend to do better on the Writing and Critical Reading sections than those who don’t. Making reading a habit, then, is a crucial part to studying for the SAT. And don’t stop after test day!

Reading is a building block for knowledge and a building block for tons of skills you’ll need in your lifetime. If it isn’t already, make reading a daily habit. Unlike AP Chemistry, you really won’t regret it.


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6 Responses to Books You Need to Read (That Aren’t on Your Summer Reading List)

  1. Mohammad October 18, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    are Aurther Conan Doyle novels good for SAT reading?
    thank you in advance

  2. Chris Lele
    Chris Lele October 19, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    They are great for SAT reading! 

    In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t see them on the recommended reads
    above. But dive into the world of Sherlock Holmes (or any of Doyle’s
    other works). You’ll encounter a slew of SAT vocabulary and an archaic
    writing style that sometimes comes up in the SAT fiction RC passages.

    Happy reading 🙂

  3. Joceline July 21, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    Do these books also help with your reading skills for the ACT? Thank you :3

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 24, 2016 at 6:35 am #

      Hi Joceline! Good question 😀 Yes, these books are also great to improve your reading skills as you prepare for the ACT 🙂

      Happy reading!

  4. Nil December 14, 2018 at 1:31 am #

    Hi.i dont have time for studying all of this novels,can i read just newspaper instead of them?or suggest me some necessary novels.tnx

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 16, 2018 at 3:57 pm #

      Hi Nil!

      You can definitely read newspaper and magazine articles instead of books to improve your reading skills for the ACT or SAT. 🙂 In fact, reading short passages like this might even be better! This is because websites tend to contain shorter pieces of writing, more on par with the short articles you read in the exams. 🙂

      Both ACT Reading and SAT Reading have a selection of passages related to science, social studies, and literature (fiction). The ACT also always has articles about art, including performance arts such as music and theater.

      So here’s what I’d suggest: Try the older articles (50 years old or more) on the Online Library of Liberty website, or the Founders Online website. For literature, try short stories or individual chapters from the writings on websites such as Classic Reader, the Literature Network, or For nonfiction, try sites like The New Yorker, or Popular Mechanics.

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