Dense, vast, and comprehensive, Barron’s SAT is to test prep what the dictionary is to vocabulary. It’s got everything you need (and some stuff you don’t). Yet, when all (and there’s a lot!) is said in done, Barron’s may not be the most efficient—or pleasant—way to prep for the SAT.
First, there is Barron’s apparent disregard for our eyesight. As much information as possible is jammed into each page, unlike the Princeton Review guide, which is complicit in wasting more than a few trees. Yet making one’s way through this book would be—to bring up the analogy again—much as making one’s way alphabetically through the dictionary in order to increase one’s vocabulary. Speaking of which there is a massive word list in alphabetical order squished in the middle of the book (kudos to Barron’s for providing flashcards for the most common words from the list).
The content is a mixed bag:, the warm-up exercises, lands somewhere between Princeton Review and Kaplan’s. Luckily, the diagnostic tests have mch better content that, while not up to SAT standards (really, what is!), is on par with, and in some cases even surpasses, Princeton Review.
Overall, I’d recommend strong students use the diagnostic tests and advanced strategy tips (this book goes a lot more in depth strategy-wise than its more superficial counterparts, Kaplan and Princeton Review). Beginning students may get some use from the watered-down exercises. However, I would not recommend that any student actually work, from cover to cover, through this monstrosity of a book. By the time anyone gets through this book, it may well past application deadlines.
(Note: Despite some notable cons, this book still makes my list of this year’s best SAT books.)
Barron’s provides helpful and thorough strategies, especially for Critical Reading. What I really like is how they throw in words that pop up often in the questions following each passage. For instance, you have a list of common tone/attitude words, words relating to Main Idea questions, and words relating to writing style.
The Sentence Completions, strategy-wise, are a little more meager, perhaps because the question type doesn’t call for such elaborate techniques. Still, a few more nuanced strategies for the high scores would have been helpful.
For those just starting off on the SAT, the reading passages from Kaplan may not look that different from those found on the actual test. The same goes for the questions that follow each passage. But once you’ve been prepping SAT for awhile, you’ll notice the differences, which, between Kaplan and the real deal, are pretty different.
Barron’s, on the other hand, selects some passages that very well could end up on the SAT—though many other passages are not up to SAT standards. What exactly are these standards? It’s hard to say exactly, without launching into a 5-page post, but it boils down to the following: density and types of words, density of ideas, style used, topics discussed. Many Barron’s passages capture at lest a few of these characteristics, and I’d say somewhere around 50%, which is pretty good, capture all four of them. I’d say the only true omission is that of the very difficult passage (the SAT you see test day will have one or even two such passage).
What really makes the SAT difficult to mirror is not in the passage selection, but in the questions that follow the passage. Barron’s does a pretty good job of capturing some of the complexity found in the easy and semi-easy SAT questions. There just aren’t too many difficult questions. And by difficult, I mean questions in which two answers seem to fit and you really have to hunt through the passage to find supporting information.
That said, Barron’s does the best job, amongst Princeton Review and Kaplan, of actually incorporating SAT level vocabulary into their Reading Comprehension questions and answer choices—though not quite at the level of the actual SAT.
What all this means for you the SAT “prepper” is that Barron’s reading comprehension makes for good practice, especially if you are just starting out. For those looking to crack the 700, you’re not going to get much mileage out of the Barron’s book.
For Sentence Completion, there aren’t as many tough vocabulary words as on the SAT. Nonetheless, the Barron’s questions make for some decent practice. I wouldn’t say they have quite the same “flavor” as the SAT SC; at the same time, I don’t see them hurting your approach to actual SAT Sentence Completions.
The math scores points on comprehensiveness. There are so many tips and strategies—perfect for anyone who needs to brush up on their math skills. Indeed, it may seem surprising that Barron’s omitted anything. But the truth is sections, such as the Coordinate Geometry, go over only the basics. Questions that come up on the diagnostic tests require more than just the fundamentals—yet the student will not be equipped with how to deal with them. I was inclined to say that Barron’s provides all the tips necessary for students to get the medium questions right. However, if a relatively straightforward parabola or function graph comes up, students won’t know what to do.
One could argue that the questions in the diagnostic tests should prepare students for the rigors of the hard SAT questions. Yet, many of the so-called hard questions, simply were easier versions of SAT hard questions. This oversight probably won’t be that big of an issue for those looking to crack 600. But for those looking for anything close to a perfect score, there really isn’t too much in Barron’s general SAT guide (which is why, I guess, Barron’s released a 2400 SAT book).
For such students, I’d recommend using a mixture of College Board materials: The Blue book, the old SAT Red Book, and even any PSAT tests you can get your hands.
For the beginning to intermediate student, Barron’s math will definitely help. I think the only concern is that there is just so much information—information that is not presented in the most pleasant form, jammed, as it is, onto each page—that students who aren’t strong at math will want to give up, or at least use a prep book where the concepts are presented in a more friendly way.
Barron’s has done an excellent job of pooling together all the grammar you will need for the SAT. It’s all here in over 100 pages (except maybe a more comprehensive idiom list). But that’s part of the problem—there is so much jammed into so few pages that it’s not that readable. Since many students using these books are self-studying, I can image them giving up very early on as they trudge their way through the grammar essentials. While neither Kaplan or Princeton Review come close to Barron’s in terms of thoroughness, students will probably walk away after studying the Kaplan or Princeton Review grammar section feeling they learned something—instead of merely getting inundated with text.
Also, with such thoroughness, Barron’s also had to make certain sacrifices: a few of the trickier grammar principles are glossed over. Perhaps Barron’s anticipated this problem, so they released an excellent grammar workbook that is both very readable and very clear: the Barron’s Grammar Workbook for the SAT (it’s a must for any beginning student).
Nobody can capture the SAT writing questions like the SAT—but these come pretty close. But it is not the questions so much as how the questions are spread throughout the writing section that makes the diagnostic test feel a little off. Gone are the very hard and very easy questions, the level ‘5’ and level ‘1’ questions respectively. So you’ll get level ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ questions spread throughout the section. Question #13 and question #28 both might be a level ‘3’ question.
What all this means is students still get good grammar practice from the Barron’s questions (at least the ones in the diagnostic tests); they just wouldn’t get very good SAT writing section practice, which has a lot to do with pacing—much of which is based on the way the questions are laid out in terms of difficulty.
Overall grade: B
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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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