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Chris Lele

Best SAT Books 2020 – 2021 | Book Reviews

Best SAT books - magoosh

Not all SAT prep books are created equal: some you’ll want to use in their entirety (though only a few), others you’ll want to use only parts of, and others you’ll want to steer clear of. This is particularly true now that prices are falling and Kindle versions are available—in some ways, that’s awesome, but it can also encourage students to buy a ton of books without seriously evaluating their quality.

To help you maximize your study time (and save your hard-earned cash) I’ve reviewed the options for the best SAT books on the market and graded them from most to least helpful. Keep in mind that some publishers do a good job on some things (like practice tests or a specific section of the SAT) and a sub-par job on other things. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t buy the book, but it might mean that you won’t use the book in its entirety.

Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment, and let’s get this discussion on the best SAT books started!

Best SAT Books of 2020

Click the book title in the table below to jump to the complete book review.

GradeTitlePublisherYear Price*
AMagoosh SAT eBookMagoosh2017FREE!
A-SAT Prep Black Book: 2nd EditionSAT Tutoring2017$24.82
B+ (tie)Kallis' SAT Pattern StrategyKallis2015$27.06
B+ (tie)New SAT Guide, 6 Practice TestsIvy Global2015, 2019$7 (New SAT Guide), $32.50 (6 Practice Tests)
B (tie)Cracking the SAT Premium Edition with 8 Practice Tests, 2020Princeton Review2018$19.89 (premium), $15.88
B (tie)PWN the SAT: Math GuideMike McClenathan through CreateSpace2016$28.49
B (tie)500+ Practice Questions for the New SATPrinceton Review2015$34.95 (new), $1-5 (used)
B (tie)10 Practice Tests for the SAT, 2020 EditionPrinceton Review2019$17.49
B (tie)Barron's SAT, 30th EditionBarron's Educational Series2019$21.11
C+The Official SAT Study Guide 2020The College Board 2019$19.94

*List prices given at time of publication and subject to change. Click on the book cover found in each review to see the current price on Amazon.

Not Recommended SAT Books of 2020

GradeTitlePublisherYear Price*
CSAT Prep Plus 2020Kaplan Publishing2020$21.49
D+8 Practice Tests for the SAT: 1,200+ SAT Practice QuestionsKaplan Publishing2018$12.79
D-Barron's 6 Practice Tests, 3rd EditionBarron's Educational Series2017$14.19
UA: Utterly AtrociousSAT Prep 2020 & 2021Mometrix Media LLC2019$15.98

Best SAT Books of 2020: Reviews

Magoosh’s Complete, Free SAT Study Guide

I want to start by pointing out that Magoosh has a great, free SAT study guide! We’ve spent years and years reviewing all of the SAT study guides out there. We knew that our experts could cut through all of the unnecessary stuff and give you the best info out there…so that’s what we did! Even better? It doesn’t cost you a cent. We even have a free SAT practice test you can take after studying!

SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective SAT Strategies Ever Published

SAT Prep Black Book - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
This book hasn’t been updated for a while (the most recent version was published in 2017), so steer clear of the first edition: it’s written for a previous edition of the test and won’t help you prepare for the current SAT!

Things to Love

  • This book provides in-depth explanations (and we mean really in-depth explanations) of the four official SAT practice tests from the College Board. The College Board’s practice is great—but if you’re struggling to understand why you got questions wrong even after reading their explanations, this is a great place to turn.
  • It’s also a great place to get your strategy set for test day. Not only does Mike Barrett give you multiple workable methods to approach questions, but he also goes through possible issues and solutions to every type of everything: passages, questions, answers, even test-taking vocabulary.
  • The book even covers what non-native English speakers should focus on (albeit in a slightly perfunctory way).

Things to Consider
Is this the be-all and end-all of SAT prep? Well, no.

  • In the first place, we definitely have some pedagogical (teaching) differences. Barrett encourages you not to think about the average time you spend per question, and while we don’t think you should obsess over this, you should definitely be aware of it.
  • He also doesn’t encourage taking notes while you read or taking a diagnostic test. Those strategies can be helpful for many test-takers.
  • In addition, Barrett vastly underplays the importance of the SAT essay, noting that a lot of test-takers won’t need to take it. While that may be true of some test-takers, more and more schools are requiring the SAT essay—particularly the most competitive schools that students aiming for a 1600 are probably targeting.
  • Finally, you won’t find any practice questions here. Barrett has his own arguments for why you should only use College Board resources. We definitely disagree with that; for students aiming for top scores, a much deeper pool of questions is important (as long as they’re up to snuff)!

At the end of the day, this is a pretty great addition to your SAT library, particularly for those students just starting their test prep journey.

Kallis’ SAT Pattern Strategy

Kallis Redesigned SAT Pattern Strategy - review of the best SAT books by Magoosh
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
The 2018 Kallis book and the previous 2016 edition are similar in many respects, but there have been a few distinct changes. Most of these changes are good. The SAT Reading and SAT Math practice questions have been updated to better reflect the content of the real SAT, with more recently written passages and a more even mix of math topics, respectively. There are a few changes that seem like downgrades though, with less tutorial support for certain topics in SAT Writing & Language and SAT Math.

Things to Love

  • The content review for each section is thorough, clear, engaging, and most importantly, helpful. Of course, many publishers do content review fairly well.
  • Where most books flounder is in writing the practice tests, but Kallis is relatively strong on that front. Kallis isn’t perfect—it’s exceedingly difficult to write questions that mimic the real test—but they do a respectable job. And in the newest edition, the quality is more respectable than ever. The SAT Math practice is much improved–there no more long strings of problems that just focus on one topic, and Kallis has added more complex word problems that resemble the College Board ones more closely. The SAT Reading practice also now includes more passages that were written in the last 20 years, compared to the 2016 volume’s disproportionate use of late 1800s/early 1900s readings.
  • The amount of practice content is great too: 6 full practice tests!

Things to Consider

  • The writing questions tend to be more difficult than those on the actual test and don’t quite have the feel of those questions.
  • The reading passages are sometimes spot-on. Other times, they are too stylistic and more reminiscent of the old SAT. There’s also slightly more of a focus on trap answers than on the actual test.
  • The book does a great job in presenting the content you need to know for the new test. However, it doesn’t do the greatest job of discussing strategies. For instance, it shows you the tedious and not necessarily intuitive way of setting up complex equations rather than the tried-and-true way of plugging in values. Likewise, the writing section recommends always reading the question first instead of reading the passage first, or at least a paragraph at a time. I advocate for a nuanced approach, one that takes into account both tactics.
  • Even with the addition of some more SAT-like word problems, most of the word problems in the math section still tend to contain far fewer words than those on the actual exam. The contexts used in the examples are often a little too relatable. Gone is the more esoteric fare of the actual test—bacteria in a petri dish, strength of a satellite signal, etc.
  • Frustratingly, support and advice for certain key Writing & Language and Math topics that were in the 2016 version of Kallis’ SAT Pattern Strategy have been removed from the 2018 book. There is noticeably less support and advice for stats and functions, and advice on certain Writing features such as passive voice or reporting verbs have been removed altogether.

An all-around excellent prep book for the SAT, one that is great for the motivated self-studier, especially one who aims to score in the top 20%. I intend to use it to tutor, which is a lofty compliment, given that I say this about very few prep books outside of the official materials.

(Quick update: I ended up using this book for my class, and it turns out that quite a few of the writing questions have debatable answer choices or at least wrong answers that aren’t quite wrong enough. For that reason, I’ve lowered the grade from an A- to a B+.)

Improve your SAT score; start your Magoosh SAT prep today

Ivy Global

Ivy Global is a lesser-known publisher that produces high-quality practice materials. They have two main books, the New SAT Guide and SAT 6 Practice Tests, and offer two free practice tests on their website (available to anyone whether you bought a book or not). The New SAT Guide offers thorough concept review for each section and two practice tests. The 6 Practice Tests book gives a quick run-down of the sections and question types and offers 6 practice tests. Each practice test is different from the others from Ivy Global, so you don’t have to worry about paying for the same material twice.

Things to Love

  • In both books, the text and layout design are clear and understated. They don’t go for the whimsical or frenetic styles that other test prep books have, which can definitely be a plus if you want something a little more no-nonsense 🙂
  • In the main book, the New SAT Guide, the introduction to the SAT and test-taking strategies sections are clear and well-formatted.
  • The section-specific explanations cover the necessary material and use lots of examples. Not enough to teach you a concept if you’ve never seen it before, but definitely enough to help you refresh your memory and fill in any gaps.
  • Their practice tests are strong. The questions match the difficulty of the real thing, and there’s a good range of difficulty in each section.

Things to Consider

  • The one small weakness is that there are no answer explanations in the back of the book, just the correct answer choices. Answer explanations are available online, which isn’t too big of a deal, but it does add an extra step.
  • This book might have jumped into the A range if it had more extensive review of strategies and made it clear how they are most advantageous for different topics and situations. Similar to the Kallis book, this is a great resource, but probably shouldn’t be your only test prep resource.

Great general-purpose practice source that deserves more attention!

Princeton Review Cracking the SAT, 2020

How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
The 2020 edition is essentially a re-print of the 2019 edition with a few cosmetic changes. The book is certainly useful, but if you have a 2019 copy (or even a 2018 copy), it’s not worth buying the 2020. The Premium versions gives you eight practice tests (four in the book and four online) whereas the conventional version gives you five practice tests (four in the book and one online). The rest of the content is the same.

Things to Love

  • Hey, want to learn a lot about SAT Math? This book has almost 300 pages of material to review, strategies to learn, and practice sets to, well, practice. If you want a total math review with lots of practice, this is a great place to start.
  • The verbal sections are really strong in how they introduce the test format, then walk you through progressively more difficult (and SAT-like) examples.
  • Unlike a lot of other books, the verbal here is pretty solid as well. In particular, the Princeton Review seems to actually understand the College Board’s incorporation of graphs into the verbal section on the new SAT—a nuanced concept that few publishers get right.
  • Also, the practice tests here are different than those included in the Princeton Review’s 10 Practice Tests for the SAT, so if you’ve bought both books, you’ll really get your money’s worth.

Things to Consider

  • What’s that you say? Seems overwhelming? It is, a little.
  • If you’re looking for practice on Reading or Writing and Language, the book does offer good advice and practice sets—just not very much advice and not many practice sets (think 50-75 pages).
  • Yes, students do struggle with SAT math, but there’s no need to push it on them to the exclusion of the other sections. After all, you need to look at that composite score, too!
  • Meanwhile, other parts are unnecessarily confusing, mainly because they use a ton of acronyms (including the unfortunate “POOD”).

A great place to overhaul your math scores if you have a lot of time before the exam. Also worth looking into for the use of graphs in the verbal sections.

PWN the SAT: Math Guide

PWN the SAT - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
The most recent edition of this book is from 2016, when the SAT changed—so definitely don’t get earlier editions! They won’t prep you for the current test.

Things to Love

  • Many test prep books make the mistake of being dry—really dry. And that’s a problem when your subject matter is already dry to begin with. Mike McClenathan steers clear of any such aridity, injecting a “hey-we’re-in-this-together” voice as he takes you through all the important parts of the SAT.
  • You never feel like he’s writing this book to meet some deadline. It’s clearly a labor of love. His affection for the material and the test comes across in nearly every page. But it isn’t that he just wants to geek out on the material—he genuinely seems to care that students improve their score.
  • Luckily, the book gives us a clean breakdown of every question type in the Official Guide. That way, you can practice a concept on real SAT questions and have a rough idea of how difficult they are (the difficulty of these questions depends on where the question shows up in the section—easier questions are at the beginning; harder questions at the end).
  • Overall, a strong book for the self-studier who needs an accessible refresher of the math tested on the SAT.

Things to Consider

  • This book alone isn’t enough to improve your score—though it is a good start. You’ll want to make sure to complement it with the Official Guide (as the author encourages). Even then, I recommend a book like Barron’s 1600 Math book so you can get lots of extra practice questions.
  • The questions in the PWN book, while okay, don’t quite impart the flavor of the current test. It seems that some of them are still steeped in the old-SAT-style of asking questions.
  • Another issue is there is no indication of whether a question in a practice set is ‘easy,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘difficult.’ This is problematic because, often, the section that introduces the topic uses clear, easy-to-follow examples. Then there’s a jump in difficulty in the problem sets, often because what you learned at the beginning of the chapter isn’t enough to answer the harder questions. For students who are just starting out, they might get easily frustrated and think, as they are wont to do, that they aren’t good at math. The problem sets would have been improved had they included easier questions and broken up the questions into discrete difficulty levels.

On its own, this book isn’t enough to prepare you for test day. In combination with a few other resources, though (namely, the Official Guide), it’s a great resource for students aiming for top math scores.

500+ Practice Questions for the New SAT

Princeton Review 500+ Practice Questions for the New SAT - book review from Magoosh
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
This book hasn’t been updated since 2015, but it does focus on the “new” (i.e. 2016-onwards) SAT. So don’t get earlier editions, but this one is geared towards the current test.

Things to Love

  • The Princeton Review has created questions that, while perfectly legitimate, aren’t quite as complex and nuanced as those found on the actual test. And you know what? That’s not necessarily a bad thing—if you are just starting off.
  • Unlike Kaplan’s books, for instance, which—at least for verbal—are much easier than the real test in an inaccurate way, the Princeton Review mostly stays true to the underlying subtleties of the questions and answer choices. It just doesn’t have the hard-level questions that make up 15-20% of the actual test.

Things to Consider

  • You’ll have to pick up another book to help you with strategies and to review the fundamentals.
  • You’ll need a book that also has practice tests, since this book is made up of just one drill after another.

As a companion guide to a book of strategies and fundamentals, this book is a great place to start.

10 Practice Tests for the SAT, 2020 Edition

10 Practice Tests for the SAT, 2020 Edition - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
NOTE: The practice tests in this book are not the same ones that appear in the Princeton Review’s Cracking the SAT (reviewed above). All commentary here applies to the 10 Practice Tests book alone.

How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
The changes between this and 6 Practice Tests for the SAT, 2017 Edition really are minimal. In fact, the only major change is the obvious one that you can guess from the title: there are four additional new practice tests. However, tests 1-6 are the exact same six tests seen in the 2017 book. There is one other minor change, however. Two of the SAT essay prompt passages have been changed from older passages to newer ones. The two new passages were written in 2008 and 2014, while the older essay prompt readings were from the early-to-mid 20th century.

Things to Love

  • The verbal sections here are pretty strong, and there are also great medium- and low-level math items. The science passages in the reading section are outstanding, and so is the Princeton Review’s use of graphic stimuli in these sections. These types of problems are going to be a new kind of challenge for many students on test day, and here we have difficult, test-like problems! Woohoo!
  • Answer explanations are also pretty good. The explanations of wrong answers are brief or even missing, but the clear explanations of why the right choice is right make this a relatively small issue.
  • The upgrades from the previous edition are nice. 10 practice questions are literally greater than 6! 🙂 And the two modernized essay prompts a minor but nice improvement.

Things to Consider

  • The math here verges on the easy side, but not so much so that it’s unfaithful to the test. It’s just missing those tough problems that you’ll need to answer correctly for a 700+ sectional score. If you’re looking to get your score up in the top percentiles, you’ll want to supplement the tests with practice problems from books like the College Board’s Official Guide.

A good book for most students. If you’re hoping to score in the stratosphere (90th percentile or above), you might begin here, depending on where you are now, and move on to more challenging materials as you master these problems.

Barron’s SAT, 30th Edition

How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
These are pretty darn close, particularly in math…but that said, this is the most recent edition and it’s from 2019, so don’t go any older! The SAT changed in 2016, so you really don’t want to accidentally study for a test that isn’t even given anymore!

Things to Love

  • The math is great! The strategies are solid and helpful, the concepts are broken down well, and it hits that Goldilocks sweet spot of around 200 pages—enough to help you enormously without being overwhelming.
  • Answer explanations are great on the practice sets (though less so on the practice tests…see below).
  • Finally, there’s a flashcard app! This is exciting.

Things to Consider

  • How long do you think it would take you to memorize 74 pages of word definitions in teensy-tiny type? Is there enough time before test day? If not, and you’re looking for verbal help, you’d better look elsewhere. Other than those 74 pages, there are only about 60 pages of Reading test help here, and ditto for Writing and Language. Furthermore, Writing and Language is full of lists that made even my eyes glaze over. How helpful is a list of conjugated irregular verbs when you’re studying for the SAT? Well…Sorry, I just fell asleep there for a moment. Those lists are not helpful at all.
  • Practice test answer explanations are really weak (“A is the right answer because xyz. B is not the right answer because it is not xyz”).
  • Yes, there’s a flashcard app…but is your time going to be best spent studying the 3,000 words the book claims are on that app? Definitely not.

This is great for math practice and really, really not student-friendly for the verbal.

Recommended (with some caveats): Official Guide

The Official SAT Study Guide 2020

Official SAT Study Guide - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
There are a few small, inconsequential changes to the math support in The Official SAT Study Guide (2020), compared to the previous 2018 version. A few example problems have been changed, with one algebra equation replaced by another, a geometry question replaced with a different geometry question on a similar topic, and so on. Again, very minor changes, likely due to feedback or analysis that the College Board received regarding the prior version of the book. The truly big change here is the eight practice tests: two of the practice exams are brand new, while the other 6 also appeared in the 2018 SAT OG.

Things to Love

  • The questions in this book are Mt. Sinai level. The SAT gods part the skies and give us a taste of what to expect when the test debuts in a couple of months. All the nuances, all the traps, all the idiosyncrasies are there for us to behold, and the more you understand them, the better prepared you’ll be come test day

Things to Consider

  • The practice questions in this book are available for free online, and, since the questions are by far the best thing about this book, you might rightly start to wonder whether you need to actually purchase this book. What follows might indeed make you think you don’t need the book at all.
  • The explanations are really weak. How weak? Well….Hi, I’m going to play pretend today. I’m going to pretend I’m the person or people who wrote the explanations for the questions.Choice (A) is the best answer because the information in the passage best supports (A). Lines 11-13, <insert quote here> show this.(B), (C), and (D) do not specifically answer the question.To be fair, the explanation of the right answer is often more thorough. As for why the wrong answer is wrong, forget about it. That is about as specific as it gets. In the end, you are likely to find these explanations laconic to the point of infuriation. This is problematic, since understanding your mistakes is one of the best ways to improve.As a result, I’ve put together video explanations to the Official SAT Study Guide questions. You can check them out for free in our Magoosh SAT YouTube channel.
  • The strategy tutorials leave a lot to be desired. Admittedly, I like the way the book breaks down the test so and covers all its components and aspects. However, there is so much terminology that I imagine students getting bogged down thinking they have to know what nonrestrictive and parenthetical elements are, or that these needlessly complicated terms are known as “conventions of punctuation.”As indicated in my example above, the strategy support for SAT Writing & Language is particularly frustrating. What we don’t get is a solid explanation of grammar concepts and how they relate to the test. Nor do we get strategies on how to approach these questions. In fact, I feel like the first few hundred pages are more for people like me—people who want to understand how the test is constructed—and less for students, who need help understanding how to solve the actual questions.

In sum, you don’t need to buy this book. For review, you are much better off going with any of the major publishers on the market. For practice questions, there is no better source than the College Board, but the fact that they have made this content available for free online makes this book unnecessary, if not unhelpful. Now let’s hope the clouds don’t part and the College Board strikes me down with lightning. (My alternative grade for this book? ‘R’ for redundant.)

Not Recommended SAT Books of 2020

Kaplan SAT Prep Plus, 2020

How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One

While previous editions of SAT Prep Plus were largely identical, the 2020 edition has some welcome changes. For example, whereas math review sections in previous versions had lengthy explanations of topics with no practice problems mixed in, the 2020 edition has exactly that. This participatory form of learning is much more helpful. Other sections have gotten an upgrade as well. The Reading sections are organized much more logically by passage type, and the Writing and Language section is much more developed. The bottom line is that we still don’t recommend this book, but want to point out that the 2020 edition is a step forward from past editions.

The practice test is not great, but it’s not terrible. Also, note that I said “practice test” and not “practice tests” (the cover promises five). Four of those are online, which is a bit annoying considering that this is still a paper-based test. Furthermore, I tried to get online access as promised by the book to the additional tests, and the Kaplan website was super complicated. This may have been a problem on my end, but it’s worth noting that you have to give them a TON of info in order to get to those tests, even when it does work. That way they can put you on all those sweet, sweet marketing lists. That’s not a reason to not get this book or take the tests, but it is a reason to put Kaplan in your spam filter. (I signed up for the tests online for the 2017 edition and I’m still getting emails about every 30 seconds.)

8 Practice Tests for the SAT: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions

8 Practice Tests for the SAT: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
Here again, Kaplan isn’t big on updates, other than upping the date on the copyright of the book. We’ve moved one year forward, but there is no step forward of any sort when it comes to content.

One of the gravest sins here is that the book doesn’t explain wrong answers at all. It shows you the thought process of arriving at the right answer, but this won’t be enough for a lot of students (it wouldn’t be enough for me!). In terms of the verbal sections (Reading Comprehension and Writing), though? One word: scary. Why? Kaplan hasn’t mastered how the College Board now uses graphic stimuli in verbal sections. Their charts and graphs are far less complicated than the real test. This is particularly true where science passages are concerned in Reading Comp. Also, the verbal questions go back and forth. Either they’re all on the easy end of the spectrum (no matter how Kaplan has classified them), or they’re impossible to the point of being unfair, particularly when it comes to synonyms.

Barron’s 6 SAT Practice Tests

Barron's 6 SAT Practice Tests - Magoosh review of the best SAT books
How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One
This book hasn’t been updated since 2017; we don’t recommend it (or previous versions either, for that matter).

The content doesn’t match up well with the actual test. In terms of math, Barron’s matches some of the content and the general form of the test, but since the test skews difficult, most students are going to feel frustrated. For Reading Comprehension, the reading passages are more stylistic and less informative than the typical SAT passage, and not reflective of the subject matter or graph usage you’ll see on the exam. In Writing, too many of the questions have debatable answers. Since this book is supposed to serve as a series of practice tests, it fails miserably. Students who work through this book might—as often happens with subpar material—hurt their score, since the logic of some of the questions is so contrived that students could end up applying screwy logic to real questions. Never a good idea!

Mometrix: SAT Prep 2020 & 2021

How the Current Edition Compares to the Previous One

Just as with past editions of this book, we do not recommend the SAT Secrets Study Guide by Mometrix for your SAT prep. The book is split into general study tips, section-specific content tips, and practice materials. It would have been better to combine these a little. Instead of just listing grammar rules in the abstract, tie them together with some sample questions that use that concept. What’s worse is that the content that’s there is not user-friendly in style or formatting. Mostly the book reads like a loose collection of tips and information interjected with links and codes to videos to similar material on the Mometrix website.

Using the Best SAT Books in Your Studies

There you have it, the best SAT books to use in your prep (and the worst). For more information on how to put the best SAT books of 2019 and 2020 to use in a complete study plan, check out our study schedules for the SAT!

About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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