I talk to a lot of parents that want to help their kids study for the SAT, but aren’t sure what to use. Here are my favorite resources that EVERYONE should use (whether you are studying on your own, taking a SAT class, or working with a tutor.)
Use the real thing
The only real source of actual SATs from the College Board. You can buy the book from Amazon for about $20. It has 8 tests in it. Or you can download (for free) and print out all 8 tests from the College Board’s website. Tests 5 and 6 were given last year so those are the most-like-the-real-thing. I have my kids practice on Test 1-4 and we save 5-8 for our final run-throughs closer to the actual test date. And there are full answer explanations for every question. Yay!
They’ve partnered with the College Board and have a lot of good study material and additional practice questions. It’s not perfect – they tend to be nerd-heavy on the explanations – giving the “official” way, rather than an easier way to learn it. And, with the SAT, there are good strategies that Khan usually doesn’t address – like backsolving. And they’ve tried to get all fancy with a practice algorithm that automatically gives you easier questions when you miss one. And they’re pretending that answering questions online is exactly the same as the pencil-and-paper test. But – there’s lots of good information for brushing up on concepts you haven’t seen in a while. So identify which subjects you specifically need help with and go learn those. (Here’s their main math topics page.)
Learn how to do the real thing
I’m fanatical about only using official material. Most of the books on the market contain questions that *look* like SAT questions, but they miss the mark by being too simple or too complex, testing the wrong thing, or adding the wrong kind of extraneous info.
Unfortunately, while the College Board is a great source of test material, they’re not a good source for learning those skills. And, yes, the Khan Academy is helping to address that issue. But while they may teach you the skill, they don’t focus on how that skill shows up on the SAT. (Like “being” is always wrong on the SAT.)
I’ve read all the books on the market and proceeded to throw 99% of them away. These are 4 that I keep on my bookshelf and use every day with students.
They are written by long-time SAT tutors. These folks have spent years working with the SAT, answered thousands of SAT questions, and tutored thousands of kids studying for the SAT. So they have both deep domain knowledge in their expertise, and they also know where and why kids struggle and how to set them straight on the SAT. All that expertise shows – they know exactly what skills are tested and have created questions that match the content, complexity level, and capture the tone and nuance of the SAT.
This is my absolute favorite SAT math book ever! Phil has spent 30 years teaching high school math and it shows – he explains math in a way that even the non-math among us can understand. (And in a way that kids can turn into high scores.) Love love love this book!
This is another favorite. This is geared for kids already scoring in the 600s. It’s HARD. It makes the SAT look easy in comparison. Kids love this book because instead of boring “find the angle” questions, Mike’s questions are things like calculating the ratio of donuts left after a zombie attack. Even though it’s quite entertaining to work through, the concepts he’s reinforcing are exactly what and how they are tested on the real test (minus the zombies.)
This book isn’t easy to wade through – it’s dense in the best way. Kids need to be scoring in the 600s if they want to tackle it on their own. (Kids with lower scores can work through it with help) Erica shows you exactly what’s tested and teaches you the relevant skill. This is the only book that I’ve found that actually breaks apart the skill set and methodically teaches each part.
Most of my students are weak on grammar. Erica breaks down each grammar point, and teaches what it is, how to recognize it and gives many examples and practice exercises. She’s also got a companion workbook with 8 practice writing tests.
The SAT is no longer officially testing vocabulary – they got rid of the vocab section of the test. But – they still are testing vocabulary in context in both the reading and writing section. This book will help you learn the key vocabulary that shows up most frequently.
These books are the best ones you can use as you work on increasing your SAT score.
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