Most of the big test prep book publishers (I’m talking College Board, Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Barron’s) have released, or are on the cusp of releasing, a book for the redesigned SAT. But not all New 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.
To help you maximize your study time (and save your hard earned cash) I’ve reviewed the top options for best SAT books on the market and broken them down into the good, the bad, and the (not so) ugly. If you see the same book in multiple sections, don’t worry – you’re not going crazy. That just means that some publishers do a good job on some things (like practice tests or a specific section of the New SAT) while doing 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.
Then, for even more, scroll down for my complete book review of each SAT book, or use these links:
- The Official SAT Study Guide 2016
- Barron’s New PSAT 2016
- Kaplan New SAT 2016
- Princeton Review 500+ Questions for the New SAT
- SAT Exam Secrets: Study Guide from Mometrix
- Kallis SAT Pattern Strategy
- PWN the SAT: Math Guide
- Barron’s 6 Practice Tests for the New SAT
- SAT Prep Black Book (coming soon)
Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment, and let’s get the discussion started.
The Good (the Best SAT Books of 2016)
The Official SAT Study Guide (2016 Edition)
(The Practice Tests)
The Official SAT Study Guide is the holy grail of SAT test prep: a book that contains questions by the writers of the test (The College Board). Nowhere will you get a better sense of what to expect test day. Specifically, there are four full-length practice tests with explanations (see “The Bad” for a comment on the explanations).
Barron’s New SAT
Barron’s overall does a decent job of recreating test questions and a good job of dissecting the test and offering helpful examples. Out of the main third-party publishers (Kaplan and The Princeton Review are the two others), this book is the one you should get. Scroll down for a review of Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT.
Kallis SAT Pattern Strategy
See our full review below!
Kaplan New SAT 2016
(The Math Section)
Kaplan does such a poor job of approximating the verbal section that I think students would be better off not using any Kaplan verbal content. The writing section questions, for instance, make the test seem overly easy. To boot, the passages are supposed to be written by a professional; the person writing these sentences is anything but a professional, laboring to string sentences together in a way that is cohesive (eloquence be damned!). (Read my full review of Kaplan New SAT 2016 below.)
The Official SAT Study Guide (2016 Edition)
College Board explanations leave something to be desired. So if you didn’t quite understand why you missed a question, the explanations often aren’t very helpful. The strategy/test overview section of the book, which comes at the beginning, isn’t very useful. I can imagine many students scratching their heads after reading some of the tedious and vague explanations of question types.
SAT Exam Secrets: Study Guide from Mometrix Media
This book is so bad that it actually needs its own category–horrifically horrific (but we will leave it here for now). Usually I don’t like to pick on the little guys but this book had so many positive reviews on Amazon that I had to review it. This book uses old SAT question types and has questions that in no way are like the actual exam. There is not one positive thing about this book. The bottom line: avoid at all costs.
The (not so) Ugly
Kaplan New SAT Premier 2016
(The Verbal Section)
Though Kaplan’s math is mentioned in the section above, the verbal section is a different breed altogether. Kaplan’s general guide does a good job of breaking up math concepts so you can get a sense of the different areas covered. Additionally, there is a helpful practice quiz at the end of each section.
Princeton Review 500+ Questions for the New SAT (2016 Edition)
The Princeton Review has, on the whole, done an okay job. The questions aren’t totally aligned, sometimes they are flat off, but in general what you get is a simplified version of the SAT: good for beginners, not so good for those wanting to prepare for the rigors of the actual test. Head down below for a full book review of Princeton Review’s 500+ Questions for the New SAT.
We also have all the details on the Best SAT Books of 2015.
2016 Best SAT Book Reviews
The Official SAT Study Guide 2016
This is like reviewing the Bible: The Official SAT Study Guide is so foundational to SAT success that it seems sacrosanct to suggest otherwise. So, instead of giving my five-star stamp of approval rating, I’m going to say something that might seem heretic: this book is flawed.
Sure, the questions in this book might be indispensable, but is the book uniformly useful? No. And here’s why.
The questions in this book are Mt. Sinai level. In other words, it is the SAT gods parting the skies and giving 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 test day.
However, there are a couple of ‘buts’, some of which are big…
The practice questions contained 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 if you actually need to purchase this book. What follows might indeed make you think you don’t need the book at all.
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). Line 11-13, <insert quote here> show this.
(B), (C), and (D) do not specifically answer the question.
To be fair, often the explanation to the right answer is 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 vague to the point of infuriation and truly understanding your mistakes, is one of the best ways to improve.
I like the way that the book breaks down the test so we can see what has changed since the old test. However, there is so much terminology that I imagine students getting bogged down thinking that they have to know first off what nonrestrictive and parenthetical elements mean, and that this mouthful of a description for something relatively straightforward, is filed under “conventions of punctuation”.
What we don’t get in the case of writing, is a solid review of the grammar concepts and a straightforward way of describing how those 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 is more for people like me that want to understand how the test is constructed and less for actual students who need help understanding the how to the material, not the what.
For review, you are much better off going with any of the major publishers on the market. Though for questions there is no better source than the College Board. The fact that the College Board has made this content free online, however, 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.
Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT
Sure, this is not a guide for the New SAT, which Barron’s is still working on. But did you know that the PSAT and SAT are the same content-wise? Sure, there are subtle differences in the way the easy and difficult questions are arranged. For instance, the PSAT tends to have more ‘easy’ questions and fewer ‘hard’ questions. But, honestly, most can’t really tell the difference.
So if you are looking for practice content for the redesigned SAT exam (debuting in March 2016), Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT is a great place to find it. There are two practice tests at the end of the book and some practice content, albeit not much, at the beginning (this is a slim volume, coming in at a mere 257 pages).
Given that there are so few practice books out there for the New SAT, and those few that are out there don’t have the best practice content, Barron’s for the PSAT is a valuable addition. So if you find that you have burned through the tests in the College Board SAT Study Guide, or if you’d like a warm up for the real test, the Barron’s is a good place to start. You’ll get used to the format and the question types.
That is not to say the book is not without flaws. After all, nobody can really create questions that are of the standard of the actual test. But Barron’s does a decent job; prepping with this book will likely help you raise your score. Using this in conjunction with the College Board book, though, is best to really get a feel for the test, specifically the wrong answer choices the test will try to fool you with.
Also, this book is about practice questions and advice on strategies and techniques is scant. So at the very least you’ll need to supplement this book with one that provides tips on how to approach the test and a review of fundamentals and concepts covered on the test.
A good place for a couple of practice tests.
Kaplan New SAT 2016 Strategies, Practice and Review with 3 Practice Tests
Kaplan has created a Jekyl and Hyde guide. On the one hand there is an excellent math section. Kaplan really takes time to teach basic strategies. Students will understand many of the concepts before moving on to the practice questions—questions that reinforce many of the principles learned in the review section. I had typically avoided using Kaplan for the last SAT, since the content was too easy; students would often gain a false sense of confidence. In this book, some of the questions are actually more difficult—or at least involved—then the questions offered in College Board book.
Then there is the verbal. To be honest, it is flat out terrible. Sure, the strategies are hackneyed—Kaplan fells whole rainforests to tell students obvious approaches (“Don’t forget to xyz”). But it’s the creation of the actual questions and passages that Kaplan just can’t seem to bring it together. What that means for the student is that they are getting a test that doesn’t really prepare them for the actual SAT. Questions and prompts are shoddy imitations of the real thing.
For instance, the essays that are part of the Writing section are supposed to be well- crafted pieces imparted with a strong, writerly voice. Instead, it feels like Kaplan had some hapless high-school student cobble together an essay. Gone is the sense of control and voice that even semi-professional writers can pull off. Sure, this sounds like a snobbish quibble on my part, but the truth is this shoddiness affects the questions. Many are just flat out too easy because the passage itself is too basic and doesn’t lend itself to nuanced question types or tricky trap answers that are sure to be awaiting test day.
Reading Comprehension isn’t quite so bad. Still, the passages are taken from textbooks not reputable journals. What that translates is a lot of dry passages, written at a level devoid of the more sophisticated prose and dense ideas the College Board expects you to be able to navigate. What you’ll get—once again—is a section that looks like the New SAT Reading but is testing a comprehension level closer to that tested on the TOEFL test (that’s the test for those who learn English as a foreign language).
Use the Kaplan book for math strategies and practice; steer clear of the verbal.
Princeton Review 500+ Practice Questions for the New SAT
At the time of this review, Princeton Review has yet to release a general guide. A practice test guide will be due out shortly (I’ll review that as soon as I can). For now, we are left with lots of questions and very little guidance/strategies/concept review.
While I could easily fault this book (500+ Practice Questions for the New SAT: Created for the Redesigned 2016 Exam) for the lack of these things, it would be unfair to do so, because the purpose of this book is to be a question bank. And on that level it scores a resounding meh. That is not to say it won’t be of use to lower-level students (you can probably see where my review is going). 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.
For many that’s exactly what will be happening on the new test. The question types and the format will be unfamiliar. The Princeton Review is a great introduction. You won’t feel quite as challenged and will be able to focus on the new format. Once you feel confident with the Princeton Review book you can move on to College Board material.
I should make it clear that I’m not saying oh this book is just an easy version of the test. I’m saying it is an easier version of the real thing and it is a valid version. Unlike, Kaplan’s verbal, for instance, which—at least for verbal—is much easier than the real test, yet an inaccurate kind of easy, the Princeton Review mostly stays true the underlying subtleties of the questions and answer choices. It just doesn’t have the hard-level question that make up 15-20% of the actual test.
Of course, you’ll have to pick up another book to help you with strategies and to review the fundamentals. Indeed, you’ll need a book that also has practice tests, since this book is only filled with one drill after another. But as a companion guide to a book of strategies and fundamentals, this book is a great place to start.
A great place to start drilling, especially if you are new to the test. But for practice tests and more difficult questions you’ll need another book.
SAT Exam Secrets: Study Guide from Mometrix Media
In my job as a book reviewer, I’ve never considered myself as doing an ethical service. After all, I’m just advising which book to use and which one not to use. Well apparently, this logic was turned on its head today as I read through Mometrix’s SAT Exam Secrets Study Guide.
Why I even decided to review this book in the first place is it was one of the highest rated SAT books on Amazon, receiving five stars and nearly 100 reviews (it’s since dipped to 4.5 stars).
First off, I believe this is the last time I will ever trust Amazon. They’ve clearly been compromised by reviewers who get free versions of a book for an “honest review”. Rarely, do I get this shrill—and I apologize if I’m coming across as abrasive—but the Mometrix book is so atrocious, so worthy of little more than a glossy fly swatter come summertime that I feel it is my ethical duty to warn unsuspecting Amazon buyers and high school students really hoping to improve on the GRE (and I hope this review serves as a broadside to Amazon, i.e. a well aimed kick in the butt).
So why is Mometrix so awful?
1. Annoying, ingratiating tone (think of the car salesman who puts his arm around your shoulder and calls you buddy).
2. Sentence Completions, which even my grandmother knows is no longer on the SAT, are included. While I’m talking about this anachronistic question, Mometrix people—assuming you are not evil robots—my grandmother can write better questions than this—and she spoke broken English.
3. Nothing about the Reading Comprehension section questions are valid. The questions ask, what is something that the passage talks about in line 3. And then they give you four answers (at least they got that right) followed by an answer that is word for word from the passage.
How hard is it to realize that there are evidence-based reasoning questions and they look a certain way? Or vocabulary in context questions? Even a fourth-grader could at least mold the question—and arguably write a better question than what’s in here.
4. You are teaching formulas that nobody will ever have to use on the SAT math section. Mometrix, did you even take the SAT? Have you ever cracked open an SAT prep book?
5. In discussing grammar, it kind of makes sense not to have glaring grammatical errors on nearly every page of the book, potentially every paragraph.
6. There is nothing wrong with organizing information in readily consumable chunks. Mometrix feels that it is okay to dump information into poorly organized and poorly formatted paragraphs (I’d rather read the New York City phonebook).
7. Mometrix, did you realize that the SAT contains a 44 question grammar section? You might want to include it in your next edition. Actually, do those hapless high school students whom you bamboozle with this travesty of a book by never releasing anything into the world again.
And Amazon, say it ain’t so.
Grade: UA for utterly atrocious
Kallis SAT Pattern Strategy
Kallis is a bit of an enigma. I’d never heard of it before I saw its 5-star rating on Amazon, while furrowing my brow skeptically. From its website, it seems that they have a grand total of three books including this book for the New SAT, there are two TOEFL texts. Who exactly are they?
Perhaps more importantly, how is it that this amorphous newcomer was able to create a text for the New SAT that far outdoes that of any other publisher to date?
Luckily, we don’t really need to be able to answer that question to reap the benefits this book offers. The content review for each section is thorough, clear, engaging and, most importantly, helpful. There are a lot of publishers do that right or at least okay. Where most flounder is in writing the practice tests. That is not to say Kallis is perfect, it’s exceedingly difficult to write questions on the same level as the actual one, but Kallis does a respectable job.
Here are some minor quibbles:
- The writing questions tend to be more difficult than those on the actual test and don’t quite have the feel of those questions. Hard to put my finger on, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Usually I can cite exactly how questions miss the mark, maybe because the other publishers miss it so widely.
- The reading passages are sometimes spot on. Other times they are too stylistic and more reminiscent of the old SAT. There also might be more a focus on trap answers than on the actual test, but not in a way that would affect your performance on the real 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 at discussing strategies. For instance, it shows you the tedious, and not necessarily intuitive, way of setting up complex equations rather than the tried-and-tested way of plugging in values. Likewise, the writing section recommends always reading the question first instead of reading the passage or at least a paragraph at a time. I advocate for a nuanced approach, one that takes into account both tactics.
- Word problems in the math section tend to contain far fewer words than the actual exam. The contexts used in the examples are often a little too relatable. Gone is the more esoteric fare found on the actual test—bacteria in a petri dish, strength of a satellite signal, etc.
- The break down of the math questions doesn’t reflect the actual test that well. The last four questions in one section are geometry questions. That wouldn’t happen test day.
An all-around excellent New SAT prep book, 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 which I say this about very few prep books outside of the official materials.
PWN the SAT: Math Guide
Many test prep books make the mistake of being dry—like 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 of the important parts of the new SAT. And 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.
That said, 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 give 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 is 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 aren’t 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.
Luckily, the book gives us a clean break down 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 questions 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 New SAT
The practice questions aren’t that representative of the new test and tend be overly difficult for those who are weaker at math.
Nothing ugly here!
Barron’s 6 Practice Tests for the New SAT
Usually, a name to trust in the SAT test prep book world, Barron’s has created a book of six tests that don’t accurately mirror the real test and will likely cause more frustration than enlightenment.
The editors seem a little tone deaf in their selections. This is surprising since the College Board has been very clear about the types of passages it is using. It wouldn’t hurt to practice with the passages in this book. But with so much out there in the SAT prep book-o-sphere, why waste your time with passages that aren’t reflective of the type of writing you’ll see test day.
Many of these passages aren’t very well written. But that’s not my biggest carp. Too many of the questions have debatable answers or flat out unfair answers (apparently the test writers want you to know that in a medical context “ambulatory” refers to doctors/nurses who travel out, and you are not supposed to pick “itinerant”). To make matters worse, the explanations are meager, at best. A typical explanation looks something like this:
(A) is not grammatical. (B) is the most grammatical. (As for (C) and (D), they don’t even mention them).
I want to say practice, which can’t hurt. But the wrong kind of practice can hurt. Math problems at the beginning of a section that harder than anything on the actual test are only going to hurt student’s pacing. After all, the SAT test is one of performance. You want material that accurately measures the section you’ll see test day. True, Barron’s matches the content pretty well, but since the test skews difficult most students are going to feel frustrated.
The math content is good practice for high-scoring students, though the ordering of difficulty is so far off that I’d only recommend students pick and choose questions rather than go through an entire section. Which of course defeats the purpose of a practice test.
The content doesn’t match up with the actual test well. The ordering of difficulty, which is how questions in the math section are ordered, is all over the place. The reading passages are more stylistic and less informative than the typical new SAT passage. And the writing passages are sloppily put together, with debatable answers.
Since this book’s one function is to serve as a book of practice tests it fails miserably on this account. Students who work through this book might—as often happens with subpar material—hurt their score, since the logic to solve some of the questions is so contrived that students could end up applying screwy logic to real questions. Never a good idea!
SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective SAT Strategies Ever Published
An SAT student favorite. We aren’t reviewing the existing SAT Prep Black Book by Mike Barrett here because it is for the old SAT, but as soon as the Black Book is out for the New SAT, you can count on our full book review here!!
In the meantime, for video explanations from SAT expert, Chris Lele, to questions from the Official SAT Study Guide 2016, check out our Magoosh SAT YouTube Channel!
For more information on how to put the best SAT prep books of 2016 to use in a complete study plan, check out our study schedules for the new SAT.