Are you planning on buying a book to help you prep for SAT Writing?
In this article I will discuss the top prep books for SAT Writing on the market today, and why you should or should not buy them.
These books can be found at bookstores, the library, or online. If you make use of all these books and practice effectively, you'll be sure t o improve your SAT writing score.
Who should use these books?
Books are a great way to study for students who are serious about their prep and who are able to motivate themselves.
Keep in mind that studying from books is not the most effective method for all students. It’s important that you know how you study best. Buying a book is not going to track your progress or motivate you to study – so you need to be able to do that for yourself, and you also need to be able to understand and evaluate your own mistakes and progress. If that sounds like you, these books will be great for you.
In order to take full advantage of these books, you also need to be willing to make a time investment. Just buying a book is not going to make a difference to your score – you have to be willing to commit and spend time – we’re talking at least 10 hours, or much more depending on where you’re starting from - going through it in order to get the benefits.
So if you’re looking to invest a good deal of time and want to make a significant improvement in your SAT Writing score, read on to see which books can help you!
There are two books that all students should have before taking the SAT.
The Official SAT Study Guide from the CollegeBoard
Sold on Amazon from $11.81.
It’s critically important that when you study, you are using real questions that actually appeared on the SAT. Why? Many test prep companies have people who don’t really understand the test writing their practice questions. There is a good chance that if you only study questions written by prep companies, you will not be seeing the kinds of questions that actually appear on the SAT.
The Official SAT Study Guide provides you will 10 full-length practice tests. For the Writing section, that’s 490 multiple choice questions to practice with. When you buy the book, you also get online access to explanations to all of the answers.
Additionally, many of the books I will mention below make references to the questions in this book as examples.
Where it could be improved:
Unfortunately, this book does not work as a complete study tool. It gives little to no explanation for the different concepts that are tested on the test, and only gives the most basic strategy tips – some of which are quite debatable (such as when to guess).
Similarly, the online explanations for right and wrong answers aren’t the best. They tend to expect a high level of comprehension of the basic concepts, so you’ll need to understand your own mistakes to make the most of this book.
Because of this, it’s best to pair this book with another one or two from the list below, depending on what your score goals are.
SAT Prep Black Book by Mike Barrett
Available on Amazon from $17.97.
This book is critically important because it teaches you how to think about the SAT.
It aims to teach students that anyone can succeed on the SAT, as long as they approach the test the right way. For example, the test is predictable in that the material tested is always the same, but has to be difficult enough to stump some students. Therefore, the fairly straightforward grammar rules on the Writing portion of the test will be presented in unexpected ways. If you are ready to view the test this way, it will be easier to see where the College Board is trying to trick you.
It contains a lot of practical strategies for how to approach each type of question, and then also explains the answers to several of the questions in The Official SAT Study Guide in depth.
In particular, this book gives great advice for how to tackle the essay section of the test.
Where it could be improved:
This book does not give a clear set of guidelines for how to approach each question, which might make it confusing for some students. I would recommend reading this book for general strategy and learning how to think about the test, and pairing it with other books if you want a more straight-forward list of rules.
The end of the book gives a “Grammar Toolbox” that outlines all of the major grammar concepts you will need to know for SAT Writing. However, these are not paired with example SAT-style questions, so it won’t be the best resource for many students.
Best SAT Writing books for high scorers (650 – 800)
Blackstone Review’s Maximize Your Writing Score on the SAT
Available new at Amazon from $21.95.
This excellent prep book focuses in on only the grammar rules covered on SAT Writing. There are several features that make this book stand out.
The grammar skills are ranked by the frequency they appear.
Each grammar point is ranked between one and three stars, depending on how frequently the concept is tested on the SAT. This is helpful because it helps you focus your studying. You can just cover the most important (3 star) concepts if you're in a rush, or you can focus on the 1 star concepts if you already know the basics and are aiming for a high score.
While other test prep books do tell the frequency of grammar rules, this book does it in a very visually-friendly way, which a lot of students may find helpful.
The realistic diagnostic test will help you make an effective study plan.
The book starts with a diagnostic test. Now, students can always make their own diagnostic tests. I’ll talk about this more below. But I particularly like this diagnostic test because it gives example sentences that test grammar concepts in a very similar way to the SAT.
Even better, it gives detailed explanations for each answer and pinpoints which grammar concept is being tested in each question (along with where to find that concept in the book), before showing how the sentence could be revised to be grammatically correct. Though, again, you can do the same process on your own with the practice tests in The Official SAT Study Guide, this could save you a lot of time and help you to quickly see which concepts you are struggling with. This also means you can save all ten practice tests in The Official SAT Study Guide for later practice.
Every concept is explained very clearly.
The grammar points in this book are laid out in a way that is very easy to read and understand. The grammar rules are explained clearly, briefly, and directly. After each rule, the book gives at least one SAT-style question with an error of the grammar concept just introduced, an explanation of why the error is incorrect, and then gives a revised version of the sentence with the error corrected. I like the immediate reinforcement of each idea, and the revised sentences can help students get used to what correctly-used grammar looks like.
Similarly, the end of each chapter gives you additional well-written practice questions with clear explanations. Students who don’t want to get bogged down with a lot of extra words should really like this direct and simple approach. It gets to the point quickly and makes it easy to stay on task.
Additionally, the instruction in this book focuses on grammar concepts instead of technical grammar terms. It won’t bog you down with things that you don’t need to know to do well on SAT Writing.
The study guides and appendixes at the end of the book provide added depth.
The end of the book has two useful review sections. The “Study Outline” briefly goes over all the grammar concepts covered, and the “Super Quick Study Guide” gives an overview of just the most important and most frequently-tested grammar concepts. Though this is an unnecessary feature, these sections are nice bonus tools with example sentences that you can use to get your mind in the correct mode right before the test.
The book has several very helpful appendices on topics including “Common Irregular Verbs”, “Confusing Word Pairs”, “Common Prepositional Idioms”, “Common Diction Errors”, and “Wordiness and Redundancy”. These are very thorough and go into much greater detail than most SAT Writing test prep books. A lot of these topics, such as prepositional idioms, are things you will need to study if you are aiming for a high score.
There is an excellent guide to the essay section.
Finally, this book has a guide for the essay section of the test. This is especially valuable because some other Writing SAT prep books completely ignore the essay portion. The essay guide gives some good tips about how to approach the essay, which is something a lot of students struggle with. You’ll get tips for how to start the essay with a strong statement, how to effectively use notes, and what kind of examples you will need.
It’s especially good for talking about the mindset you need when you approach the essay, and I think that this combined with the tips given in the Black Book would well prepare stronger writers for the test. However, if you are a weaker or very not confident writer and need a lot of hand-holding and instruction for the essay section of the test, you should probably get an additional guide.
Of course, this book is not for everyone. Here’s where it could be improved:
The end of the book has example test questions with detailed explanations for each answer. Though these are quite well-written and test grammar in the same way the real SAT does, the questions are pretty limited. There are only 40 Identifying Error questions, 25 Improving Sentences questions, and 7 Improving Paragraphs questions. Many students will not find this to be enough practice.
As noted above, this book addresses each grammar topic in a concise and to-the-point fashion. I think these explanations are more than enough for students who have at least a decent understanding of grammar basics. While this will appeal to some students, it will be a turn-off for others who prefer to have things explained in more detail.
Finally, the essay tips will not be thorough enough for students who need a lot of help with their writing.
The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar and the accompanying workbook by Erica Meltzer
Available new at Amazon from $27.86. The workbook sells from $28.45 here.
Meltzer has a great understanding of the grammar that appears on the SAT and does a good job of explaining the concepts in detail. She goes through everything that you will need to know in order to aim for a perfect score.
There are a lot of things that make this book a great pick.
It explains concepts from the first principle.
Metzer doesn’t assume any prior grammar knowledge, and gives enough information (starting with an overview of the different parts of speech) to help out those who are not confident in their grammar skills or need a refresher of what they learned in grade school and high school.
It's comprehensive but focused.
The book covers all of the grammar concepts that you will need to know for SAT Writing. Unlike some prep books which leave out the more complex and less-tested material, Meltzer gives a great amount of detail on even the rarest types of question, such as diction questions, for which she also includes a list of commonly confused words that have recently appeared on the SAT. All of the concepts have this level of thoroughness, which means this is a great resource for students who are looking for a book that will help them drill the most difficult types of questions.
Going along with the previous point, Meltzer only covers minimal additional material that does not appear on the test. Most of this is foundational knowledge-type material, and she clearly notes that it won’t directly be tested.
After introducing each grammar concept, Meltzer gives several example sentences of the concept being used both incorrectly and correctly. This is a great feature because it allows students both to see some common mistakes, and to see how they can be fixed.
The practice questions are excellent.
At the end of each concept-based chapter, Meltzer gives several practice questions. For the most part, these questions ask you to find a grammar mistake in the sentence and fix it. She also has very good cumulative tests after every few sections.
Though these tests don’t follow the SAT format, I think they are very helpful because they gives students the chance to first make sure they really understand an individual grammar concept (with no help or guessing from multiple choice options!) in the chapter tests, and then follows that with good practice of finding different types of grammar mistakes, which is the skill you have to develop for the SAT.
Additionally, she gives some of the best-written SAT Writing-style practice questions that you will be able to find outside of The Official SAT Study Guide.Her SAT-style questions test grammar concepts in the same way that the SAT does, and her writing style is extremely similar to the style used by the writers of the actual test. This means that you will have a valuable extra resource of practice questions, in addition to those in The Official SAT Study Guide.
She explains every grammar question in The Official SAT Study Guide.
Some of my favorite resources in this book are Meltzer’s very detailed appendices. She goes through all of the practice tests in The Official SAT Study Guide and breaks them down by grammar concept tested. This is immensely valuable for students because when taking those practice tests, they can use these appendices as a guide for understanding what kinds of questions they are missing. Also, if you have a certain grammar concept you want to have more practice with, you can look up the specific questions in the Study Guide that cover that concept.
Of course, this book could also be improved. Here’s how:
This is a very dense book. While some students will love this writing style, others will find it very difficult to get through. While treating less important topics with a lot of thoroughness is what the highest-achieving students will be looking for, for most others it will simply be too much information.
Going along with that, unlike Blackstone Review’s book mentioned above, Meltzer’s book is not very visually-friendly. For example, while she does tell which question types most frequently appear on each part of the test, you will need to read closely to get that information, which makes it more difficult to skim and skip around to cover the most important concepts.
The example sentences she uses to explain and test grammar concepts do not look like the questions on the SAT. While this won’t be a negative for many students (and I personally think they are very effective at testing the grammar concepts), some students may want to stick to SAT-style questions.
While Meltzer does give answer keys to all of her questions in the main text, she does not give detailed explanations for why the answers are right or wrong. This will not work very well for students who need more hand-holding to understand grammar mistakes.
The workbook that accompanies the text gives additional practice that really should be included in the main book. As it is, it's expensive to have to buy two books to get what should be included in one.
Finally, this book does not cover how to approach the essay, and the main text does not include practice questions for the Improving Paragraphs questions. So if you want to focus in on either of those sections of the test, this will not be the best book for you.
Best SAT Writing Books For Mid-range Scorers (400 – 650)
Barron’s SAT Writing Workbook by George Ehrenhaft
Available on Amazon from $10.99 (Kindle)
This book is great if you are a middle-range writer because it holds your hand like no other for the essay portion of the test. More advanced writers, however, will probably find some of the advice to be simplistic.
There are a lot of things that make it great for a student at this level.
It starts with a good, lengthy overview of each question type on SAT Writing.
If you are less familiar with what you are going to see on SAT Writing or are particularly intimidated by the structure of the test, this will give you a good grounding to work with.
It includes a full diagnostic test with SAT-style questions.
After the explanations, this book gives a full diagnostic test of the Writing section of the SAT, including a practice essay question. The questions are very reminiscent of questions that have appeared on past SATs, so they should be helpful for students to understand their strengths and weaknesses. The best part of this is the detailed answer section, which not only gives several sample essay responses, but also goes through each multiple choice question in detail, telling why each correct answer is correct, and what grammar rule is violated by each incorrect answer.
It gives in-depth instruction for the essay.
This book dedicates a whopping 82 pages to how to write the essay. It takes you through everything you could possibly want to know, in detail. If you pair this with the basic strategy found in the Black Book listed above, you should have no further questions about how to improve your essay score.
The grammar explanations are straightforward.
All of the main grammar concepts that you will need to know for the test are briefly explained. This book doesnot go into as much detail as Meltzer’s book or the Blackstone Review book, but it is more than enough for what you will need for a mid-range score.
After each grammar explanation, the book gives an SAT-style multiple choice question. It’s helpful for students to be able to immediately see the concept put to use in the way it will appear on the test. All of these multiple choice questions are followed with detailed answer explanations. There are also several practice questions that are not in the style of SAT questions, which are good for nailing down grammar concepts without the prop of having answer choices.
The grammar concepts are divided by what you are most likely to find on each section of the test (Improving Sentences, Identifying Errors, and Improving Paragraphs). While there is a lot of overlap in the grammar concepts, this could be helpful for students to pinpoint where they are struggling if they tend to do worse on one section.
This book also goes into greater detail on the Improving Paragraphs questions than many other test prep books do.
There are a lot of opportunities for practice.
Finally, the end of the book has four well-written practice tests, which will be good additional practice if you need more than the ones in The Official SAT Study Guide. All of the questions have detailed answer explanations.
Where it could be improved:
Many of the practice questions are not in the style of SAT questions, and some students will prefer to have more SAT-style questions to work with.
The grammar explanations do not go into a lot of detail and can be vague. This lack of detail means that you may not get everything you need to master the trickiest concepts.
Also, some of the grammar is repetitive because it is found in multiple sections (ie., both in Identifying Errors and in Improving Sentences).
For SAT Writing Books for Low Scorers (400 and below)
If you are getting a very low score on SAT Writing, it may be because you are a non-native speaker of English or are otherwise missing a fundamental understanding of how English grammar works.
Since you can’t run before you walk, I would recommend starting with books that are not specifically aimed at the SAT, but are going to give you a strong grammar foundation that you can build upon with further study.
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy
Available on Amazon from $16.78
English Grammar in Use is great for helping struggling students get to terms with grammar basics, especially verb tenses, their uses and special constructions. It also includes lessons on trickier subjects such as “may” vs. “might”, idiomatic preposition use, relative clauses, and participles. The pages are all written in simple, easily understood English. Every lesson is illustrated to further aid comprehension, and they're followed by a full page of practice exercises.
This text has been popular for a long time for students learning English as a foreign language, but it is a helpful resource for anyone who needs a refresher of important grammar foundations.
Easy Grammar Plus by Wanda C. Phillips
Available on Amazon from $28.52.
Phillips effectively teaches the basics of grammar and sentence construction by breaking them down into the different parts of speech. Every new topic has several pages of exercises for extensive drilling. It's this repetition that really helps the new concepts stick with students.
This book is especially good for students who find the wording of other grammar books to be too complex. It is written with a 4th grade vocabulary, so you can focus your attention where it matters - on the grammar.
How to use these books
If you are a mid-range or high-range scorer, start out with reading through the Introduction and Writing sections in the Black Book (apart from the explanations to questions in the Official SAT Study Guide). This will help you get in the correct mindset to approach the test and is good to build general strategy.
Take a practice Writing test from The Official SAT Study Guide and score it. Make a note of each question you got wrong or had to guess for. Mark down which section it was in (Improving Sentences, Identifying Errors, or Improving Paragraphs) and also what grammar concept it was testing. To do this, you can either use the appendix in Meltzer’s book, or you can use the explanations for The Official SAT Study Guide that can be found online.
(Note that if you have chosen to use a book that includes a diagnostic test, you can use that instead and the answer explanations may make understanding your mistakes a lot easier!)
In whatever book you choose, skim through the grammar concepts you are most comfortable with to make sure there is nothing that surprises you, but really focus your studying around the concepts that you missed in the practice test.
Keep taking the practice tests in The Official SAT Study Guide to check how you are improving.
If you are a low-range scorer, start studying a long time in advance (at least 6 months). Ideally, you should cover the material in the foundational books and then move on to one of the other books that focuses specifically on the SAT. Once you have given yourself time to get the basics down, follow the steps above.
If you're not sure that book studying is for you, check out our test prep program. PrepScholar starts with a diagnostic test and then helps you focus your studying on what you need the most work on.
Also check out our free resources to start prepping for the test. Our blog covers every grammar concept you will find on SAT Writing, as well as general strategies for each section.
Aiming high? Look at these key strategies to score an 800 on SAT Writing, written by a perfect scorer.
Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points?
Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 240 points or more.
Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this Writing and grammar lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.
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There are a lot of “Best SAT Books” lists out there, but we think that most of them aren’t very good or thorough. As a result, I’ve tried to write a much better guide here.
In this article, you’ll learn which books are absolutely critical for your SAT prep, which books to use to improve your individual section scores, and which books you'll need if you’re aiming for a top score. More importantly, you’ll learn how to use these SAT prep books for effective studying.
This guide is pretty detailed, so here are reference links you can use to jump directly to different parts of the article. That said, I recommend reading the whole guide if you can!
What’s Better About This Guide to the Best SAT Books?
Since your SAT score is important for your college applications and you’ll likely spend a fair amount of time studying for the test, it’s important to get the right advice. Follow the wrong advice, and by the time you realize it's wrong, it'll probably be too late to improve your SAT score.
Ideally, you'll vet any advice you get (including ours) before deciding on your SAT prep plan. Before you read each article in your research, be sure to ask yourself, "Why should I trust this person online giving me SAT advice?"
Well, we answer that question right here. Here’s why this SAT prep books guide is far better than others you might find online:
- I explain in detail why certain SAT books are good and what each book's flaws are. You probably haven’t heard of some of these prep books; many are newer or less well known and thus aren't featured as widely as books from more popular companies with larger marketing budgets. Most other SAT books guides just list a few books without context, but we tell you every critical piece of information you need to know before buying a book.
- I believe it’s important to target your weaknesses and where you need to prep. Thus, I’ll point out SAT books that are best for training for specific sections, and books that are better for low or high scorers. Other guides assume all students are the same, but we tailor ours to a variety of test-taker levels.
- I don’t get paid for promoting these SAT books over others. I don't know any of these authors personally. In reality, I’ve studied dozens of SAT prep books, and these are the ones I'd use if I myself were prepping. Other sites, such as about.com and reviews.com, get paid to adjust their rankings or get kickbacks from publishers for mentioning their prep books.
- I like to think that I know what I’m talking about. I scored two perfect scores on the SAT and have worked directly with thousands of students prepping for the SAT. I’ve helped test takers of all levels, from those scoring around 800 to those aiming for 1530+. Other writers don't have the expertise needed to differentiate between good and bad SAT books, and end up recommending books as an afterthought.
One important disclaimer: I’m co-founder of PrepScholar, an online SAT/ACT prep program. I believe we’ve built the best SAT prep program available. It diagnoses your strengths and weaknesses and gives you a structured all-in-one guide, combining the best aspects of the SAT books below so you can know exactly what to study at every point in your prep.
I want to stress that you don’t need a prep program to do well on the SAT. In fact, writing this guide could lose us some customers if you decide you don’t need a program after all. If, however, you're not interested in managing 10 books and would rather have an integrated program that's customized to your learning style, check out our SAT prep program now.
In either case, if you’re serious about SAT prep, keep reading.
Who Is This SAT Prep Books Guide For?
First, this guide is for students who are serious about test prep. You need to be motivated to get a high score, and you need to be willing to put in hard work. Getting through these books will take dozens of hours simply because the SAT covers so much material.
If you plan to study just five hours or so, your choice of book won't make much difference. In this case, it's best to focus on taking an official SAT practice test and reviewing your answers. With such little prep time, your score won’t go up much in the end, so don't expect any miracles.
Buying SAT prep books is the first and easiest step of SAT prep. You'll need to put in serious work to actually get the score improvements you want, though. In the following sections, we explain the best ways to get the most out of each SAT book we recommend.
Secondly, this guide targets students who want to improve their scores by more than 100 points. To consistently score this much higher on the SAT, you'll need more than just tricks; you'll need to understand the actual content being tested—that is, the underlying math concepts and grammar rules. Don't bother with ineffective "tricks" that simply make you feel as though you've learned something when you actually haven't.
If you’re only looking to improve your score by 50 points or so, however, it’s possible for you to do this just by retaking the SAT, especially if you’ve taken the test only once.
Lastly, to improve your score through SAT prep books, you'll need to have an excellent study strategy. It isn't enough to just read a book cover to cover—you must focus on your weaknesses by brushing up on the content you struggle with the most.
Unfortunately, many students spend dozens of hours poring over one book after another without improving their SAT scores. Why? Because they're not understanding what their weaknesses are and aren't focusing their time on their weaknesses.
Without learning how to attack your weak spots, you won't improve your SAT score! It might sound obvious, but it's pretty hard for many students to do this well. I write a lot more about how to prep for the SAT in my guide to a perfect SAT score. It's also how I designed our online SAT program to do all of the hard structural work for you.
Ultimately, if you’re serious about SAT score improvement and want to study with top prep books, this is the guide for you.
The Best SAT Prep Books of 2018
For this guide, we’re going to divide our picks for the best SAT books into the following categories:
- Critical Books: These are must-have SAT books for your prep, no matter your strengths or weaknesses.
- Subject-Specific Books: These are by far the best books to use to better your SAT Reading, Math, and Writing skills.
- Books for Top Scorers: These SAT prep books are guaranteed to push you over the top and help you get the best score you're capable of achieving.
- Books for Low Scorers and Low Motivation: If you only want to study for a few hours and improve your SAT score just slightly, these books are OK to use. Otherwise, avoid them.
- The #1 Book to Avoid: The book I always used to recommend for the old version of the SAT is now squarely on the "Do Not Buy" list. Find out why!
Since the format of the SAT changed so much in early 2016, I do NOT recommend using old SAT books to study for the current SAT. Although older SAT practice tests do share some similarities with newer ones, you'll waste a lot of time studying for the wrong topics and questions if you don't know exactly how the old SAT differs from the current SAT.
Therefore, always use books that target the current SAT (that is, books published in 2016 or later), such as the ones listed below. You can also use our online SAT prep program to learn more about your specific weaknesses and how you can improve them.
Critical SAT Prep Books
These are the books I believe all test takers should have, regardless of their SAT scores or what skills they need to improve. This is an extremely high standard to meet—in fact, there are only two books out of dozens I’ve tested that qualify for this title. We introduce them below.
Official SAT Practice Tests
We’ve written at length about the importance of official SAT practice questions. As you might know, the SAT is a bizarre exam that tests concepts in ways you’ve never seen in school. Thus, you must train with realistic questions in order to accurately learn the patterns of the SAT.
Official SAT tests released by the College Board are the gold standard for practice questions. At present, there are eight official tests. These aren't exactly a "prep book" in the standard sense, but altogether they make up quite an important resource not too different from a book.
Each test contains real questions given to actual students on previous administrations of the SAT. Without a doubt, the quality of official questions is far better than those of questions written by unofficial sources such as Kaplan or Barron's.
Even better, all official SAT practice tests are free! You can download the tests as PDFs from the College Board website or our complete guide to official SAT practice tests. Make sure to print them out to get the realistic on-paper testing experience.
- They're the best set of SAT practice tests you can get anywhere, period. If you want to take a full-length practice test, these are absolutely the ones you should use first.
- Each test is completely free to access and download.
- Eight full-length practice tests mean a decent amount of studying. If each test takes about four hours to take and two hours to review, that's a solid 48 hours of study time.
- Answers and answer explanations are available for all questions.
- Most students will find that the answer explanations aren't that helpful for self-learning. Many explanations read like this: “A is wrong because A is wrong. B is correct for these reasons.” In other words, they don't show you how to solve the question from step one. If you don't know key strategies such as how to approach reading passages or how to plug in numbers for math problems, you'll need a different resource to teach you.
- The tests don't offer any other instructional material. If you’re bad at algebra, you can’t rely on this resource alone. These tests are just that—practice tests and practice questions. Nothing else!
- With only eight practice tests available, there's not enough practice materialfor more motivated students. You'll want to have one test to get used to the format, two or three to track your progress, one to take right before the actual test, and a couple to keep as backups. Unfortunately, you'll need more practice questions than this to get really good at the SAT (which is why our prep program has the equivalent of four more practice tests to help you improve your skills).
- You have to print out the PDFs yourself to be able to work through them on paper. But in my opinion, this is better than having to buy the tests as hard copies (more on this later).
- Taking practice tests without a system for learning SAT content isn’t going to improve your score, and the tests don't provide any guidance on how to do this. Remember, mastering the SAT is as much about strategy as it is about content!
SAT Prep Black Book, Second Edition
The Black Book by Mike and Patrick Barrett is the only other critical book I recommend for SAT prep. Unfortunately, the book itself isn't sufficient, and even with the practice tests above you’ll likely need supplemental help (as I explain below).
What it does have, though, is so good that I believe every student studying with SAT prep books should read it.
What you’ll get from the Black Book is essentially a way to think about the SAT. But what does this mean exactly? Here are a few examples:
- You'll learn that the SAT is designed to be a predictable, standardized test. It needs to test basic concepts so that it can be administered nationwide to all students, but it also needs to be difficult, so it often distorts questions in a weird way.
- It explains how every answer on the SAT must be unambiguously correct, or else test takers would complain that their incorrect answers are correct. Thus, your main strategy should be to rule out all incorrect answer choices—this is especially important on SAT Reading.
The concepts in this book were things I understood intuitively back when I took the SAT and was studying for a perfect score. This resource influenced the way I think about teaching our students at PrepScholar. Overall, of all books on the market, the Black Book aligns most closely with my personal philosophies on how to succeed on the SAT.
- It offers a very lucid take on the SAT. Its ideas will not only change your view on the SAT but also motivate you to work harder by showing you that any student can excel on it.
- The book contains practical strategies that are more helpful than those in most other SAT books. Unlike other popular prep books, this one doesn’t rely on ineffective tricks.
- It doesn’t assume all students are the same. Rather, the book offers a few alternatives for strategies, and then suggests you try them out to see which one works best for you.
- The book has a thorough set of answer walkthroughs for all Reading, Writing, and Math questions in the first four official SAT practice tests (included in the recommended "book" above). Each explanation clearly breaks down how to approach the question and get the right answer.
- The book requires a ton of self-discipline and insight to be able to use it effectively. Because you’re learning from your mistakes with no one there to guide you, you must be self-driven and willing to experiment with different strategies to figure out which one works best for you. For some students, following a set of straight guidelines could be less confusing.
- The fundamental content is lacking. If you’re weak in word problems, for example, this book alone will not help you master the subject. I believe in recognizing your weaknesses and then mastering that skill through focused prep and practice questions. While this book gives you a general approach to SAT prep, it doesn't teach you the specific content you'll need to know.
- It's fairly long (more than 600 pages!), with answer explanations that often feel repetitive; however, that's partly due to the structure of the SAT itself (remember, it's a standardized test and therefore repetitive in how it tests certain skills).
- I personally disagree with some of the key points in this book. For example, the writers believe you should aim to reach a certain skill level rather than aim for a particular score. By contrast, I believe that setting an SAT score goal is a useful motivator.
Once again, I highly recommend these two resources for all students studying with (or only with) SAT prep books. We cover most of the important concepts in the Black Book in our SAT prep program and also provide focused practice on individual skills.
As mentioned above, you'll most likely need specific training on each subject to be able to shore up your weaknesses. Next, we provide you with key resources for individual subjects on the SAT.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Best SAT Books by Subject
Beyond the critical SAT books covered above, you’ll likely need supplemental help on specific SAT sections. Here, we discuss the best prep books to use for SAT Reading, Math, and Writing. These books all follow my SAT prep philosophy:
- Divide SAT content into skills, and then get focused training on those skills.
- Use realistic, high-quality questions that prep you well for the SAT.
- Cover only what you need to know—not advanced material that won't be on the SAT.
Best SAT Reading Prep Book
In my experience with thousands of students, SAT Reading is the most difficult section score to improve. This section uses logical reasoning skills that aren’t as easily mastered as math concepts or grammar rules are. As a result, it’s extremely important to learn what kinds of questions will be asked and how you can approach them in a systematic way.
My recommendation for best SAT Reading book is The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading, Third Edition by Erica L. Meltzer. This book dissects the SAT Reading section by question type and skill, and does a great job teaching the core of what each question is asking. It also clearly explains how to work with a passage to arrive at the correct answer.
Of all writers, Meltzer uses an approach to SAT Reading prep that aligns most closely with mine: to drill questions skill by skill so you can recognize patterns.
- It offers a great breakdown of the Reading section on a skill-by-skill level, as well as helpful strategies for every question type. This is the same approach we use in our own SAT prep program.
- There are lots of high-quality, realistic passages and questions. Meltzer uses passages that are extremely similar to those you’ll see on the actual SAT.
- The book has a helpful guide listing the questions on the SAT by skill so you can get even more focused practice.
- The cost is somewhat high for a book that covers just one SAT section (about $30).
- Its writing style is dry and clinical like that of an academic textbook. It feels very formal and there are no images to break up the text. I personally prefer this style—cut out the fluff—but it can be too dense for some students. What this means is that you might not even read the book because you find it so boring.
- Its lack of creative page layouts and lots of text on large pages can get tiresome—sort of like reading a phone book.
Best SAT Math Prep Book
My philosophy on SAT Math is that the best way to significantly improve your math score is to learn the underlying content. Getting familiar with Math questions and learning some strategies like plugging in answer choices can help you make some progress, but you’ll quickly run into a wall if you have gaps in your underlying math knowledge.
Your best bet, therefore, is to find a book that can teach you math content in an organized way and give you practice problems you can use to focus on individual skills. It should also cater to your skill level, since math questions that are too hard or easy for you will be a waste of time.
For these reasons, I recommend Steve Warner’s series of SAT Math books. He's written multiple SAT prep books for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students, and has a set of 240 SAT Math problems organized by topic and difficulty.
- Lessons that teach math concepts are clear and helpful. They suggest ways to speed up your ability to solve questions and help you identify what a question is really asking.
- Practice questions are all fairly realistic with good answer explanations.
- Customizing your SAT Math practice by skill level is important. If you’re scoring below 600, there’s no reason to focus on attacking the hardest questions on the test. Warner's books give you appropriate practice for your specific math level.
- The books' categories are too broad, making it difficult to find specific math concepts to practice. In contrast, our SAT program splits large topics into smaller subjects. In algebra, for example, we go over linear functions, single-variable equations, and systems of equations. By focusing on each individual skill, you can more accurately pinpoint your weaknesses and drill them in your prep.
- If you’re planning to make a large score improvement, you'll need to buy multiple SAT Math books, which can end up costing you around $100. This is pretty pricey for basically pages of practice questions.
- Math questions can get repetitive from book to book, as though they're being generated from templates. Thus, you definitely need to supplement these books with real practice tests to get broader exposure to how the College Board phrases its SAT Math questions.
- The SAT has some creative, out-there Math questions that I don’t see covered well in Warner's books.
If you’re really struggling with SAT Math at a basic level (say, scoring 500 and below), I recommend supplementing your work with Khan Academy’s math modules. This website is a free program that provides an engaging way to train your most basic skills. I believe the core Khan Academy program has better instruction than its SAT prep program, even though it's not focused on the SAT.
Best SAT Writing Prep Book
The best way to excel at SAT Writing is to understand the grammar rules and how they appear on the test. You also need to answer a lot of high-quality practice questions to ensure you learn the patterns of the SAT (that’s how we designed our online SAT program to teach you grammar!).
Once again, I’m returning to Erica L. Meltzer for her SAT grammar books. Meltzer’s fantastic at distilling all the rules of English grammar into what you need to know for the SAT; you won’t learn any arcane grammar concepts not on the SAT. For the rules that are tested, Meltzer presents them clearly and covers their foundations in case you’ve forgotten grammar rules learned in school.
Unlike her single prep book covering SAT Reading, Meltzer has two books for SAT Writing:
Neither book is sufficient on its own, which is a big drawback. The first one doesn’t have enough SAT Writing questions to let you really drill grammar rules. Meanwhile, the second one doesn’t teach grammar rules, and questions aren’t organized by rule. These problems can complicate studying for students, but I still believe these are the best SAT Writing books out there.
- Each book uses a clear writing style and cleanly articulates SAT grammar rules.
- The books cover only what you need to know for SAT Writing and omit extraneous material. A lot of SAT grammar books suffer from including too many esoteric rules that aren't tested on the SAT.
- The Writing practice questions are all fairly realistic.
- There's no guidance on study strategy. The books offer a nice breakdown of the SAT, but you don't get instruction on how to use each book to best maximize your Writing score.
- Like other SAT resources, the price for each book is a bit high—about $30. They have good content, but I believe Meltzer could get a lot more customers by lowering her prices.
- I'd prefer a more unified, skill-based approach in a single book. Ideally, you'd practice single grammar rules with practice questions and then bring them all together in a full-length practice test. At PrepScholar, we believe in a unified, seamless experience, and integrate test content, customization, and feedback into a single package.
Bonus: Looking for the very best guides to every SAT section? Check out our top guides for every single section of the SAT. Choose the score level you're aiming for:
800 Score Guides:SAT Reading | SAT Writing | SAT Math | SAT Essay
Choose these guides if you're scoring a 600 or above on a section, and you want to get the highest SAT score possible.
600 Score Guides:SAT Reading | SAT Writing | SAT Math | SAT Essay
Choose these guides if you're scoring below a 600 on a section, and you want to boost your score to at least a 600 level.
These are the very best guides available on boosting your SAT score, section by section. They're written by Harvard grads and perfect SAT scorers. Don't disappoint yourself—read these guides and improve your score today.
Best Books for Top SAT Scorers
As you can see, you already have a lot to work on. With eight full-length practice tests and more than five SAT books at your disposal, you'll be studying for well over 50 hours. By using the guidelines we recommend, you can make huge improvements in your score.
If you still need extra practice, though, I recommend Barron's SAT prep book, especially if you want a perfect or near-perfect score. I remember using these books for my own SAT prep in high school. While their questions aren't as good as those in official SAT practice tests, they’re a solid backup source to use when you finish all the other SAT prep books above.
- Each book offers a lot of content—thousands of practice questions and detailed lessons with many examples.
- The books are extremely thorough, covering every nook and cranny of what you need to know for the SAT. You can be confident that little is tested outside of what’s in these books.
- The topics can get too difficult for what you need to know on the SAT. Some questions get unrealistically hard in a way you’d never see on the actual test. If you’re not an SAT expert yet, you won’t be able to detect when this happens and might end up wasting time studying irrelevant concepts.
- The books lack clear direction on what’s important and what's not for the SAT. For example, a grammar rule that appears once every SAT gets the same number of pages as a grammar rule that appears eight times on the SAT. Specifically, algebra is really important but gets far too little treatment. Thus, these are definitely not the books to use if you have limited time to study for the SAT.
- Not all SAT strategies are top notch. For example, I have mixed feelings about the SAT Reading passage strategies detailed in these books.
Best All-in-One Book for Less Motivated Low Scorers
So far my recommendations have been primarily for the super ambitious students who really want to improve their SAT scores. But I know that there are some students who just want to put in a few hours of prep, get exposure to the test, and then take the SAT and forget about it.
I personally believe that for most test takers, raising your SAT score is the best way to improve your chances of college admission. If you don't want to put in hours of time to raise your score, I strongly suggest questioning your approach to test prep.
Still, some of you either won't have the time or motivation to prep better. If you’re one of those just hoping to get the SAT over with, I recommend using Kaplan’s SAT Prep Plus 2018. It’s an all-in-one book that covers the three sections and has a wide assortment of practice questions and tests.
The book doesn’t excel at any of what it’s doing, but it addresses the most important bases for SAT prep. It also has more reasonable content than other all-in-one SAT books like the one by The Princeton Review.
The truth is, I don’t love this book. I don’t even really like it. I don’t recommend it if you actually want to improve your score and are willing to put in the study time needed to do so. However, if you just want a single resource that's easily digestible and does an OK job teaching you the basics, this book is the best one out there.
- It covers all three SAT sections and contains five full-length practice tests.
- At about $25, it's pretty affordable for the breadth of SAT content it covers.
- The book offers some basic test-taking strategies that can get you a few easy points if you're new to standardized testing and often feel like you have no idea what to do.
- Practice questions tend to be unrealistic—the book doesn't phrase questions the way the SAT would and doesn't always test concepts correctly. In addition, the questions don’t trick you in the same ways the real test does.
- Answers and other materials have a lot of errors, indicating poor quality control. You'll probably notice many of these mistakes yourself, but if you don't catch them you'll learn the wrong facts and strategies.
- The strategies are not super helpfulonce you move past a 600 score in a section. To improve beyond this point, you'll need to master specific content and develop customized strategies based on your weaknesses.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
The #1 SAT Prep Book to AVOID Buying
Unlike every other section in this guide, I'm making one specific recommendation against buying an SAT book. This is particularly unusual because, prior to 2015, this was the #1 SAT prep book to get!
So what book is it? None other than The Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 Edition.
It feels really weird to recommend notbuying this book because, for years and years, this was the book to use to study for the SAT. This guide used to contain 10 full-length practice tests you could only get by buying the book.
Here's the problem today, though: everything in this book is available for free online. You just go to the College Board website and download PDFs for every section of the book. (The practice tests contained in it are my #1 recommendation at the beginning of this article.)
So why release this guide for free? This is all part of the College Board's move to make the SAT more accessible to test takers and to reduce educational inequality.
Such an endeavor is admirable, and I support them—but it also means that The Official SAT Study Guide is now a waste of money. What's more, the material outside the practice tests is superficial and overall unhelpful (we've written far better guides on the Reading, Math, and Writing sections, all of which are available on our blog for free).
- The guide has eight official SAT practice tests pre-printed for you, so you don't need to print them out yourself.
- It can be ripped apart for fire kindling or birdcage lining.
- Everything in this guide is available for free through the College Board website.
- The book doesn’t provide any instructional material, so don't expect to actually learn skills and content here. If you’re bad at algebra, you can’t rely on this book alone. Most test takers buy it for the tests, and the College Board knows this.
- Taking practice tests without a system for learning isn’t going to improve your score, and the book doesn’t provide any guidance on how to do this.
Other Free Resources to Help You Plan Your SAT Prep
More important than buying SAT books is knowing how to use them effectively. The more prep books you have, the more important it is to build a unified study system. We've written thorough guides to help guide you through your SAT studies.
Before you buy any books, though, take a realistic SAT practice test to assess what areas you're weak in. Check out our guide on how to set up a diagnostic practice test if you aren't sure where to start.
After taking this first practice test, you'll need to go over your results in detail to pinpoint your weaknesses; this will determine where you should spend your SAT prep time and money. For instance, if you did fine on the Reading and Writing sections but bombed Math, you'll want to focus your prep on Math and potentially invest in the SAT Math books recommended above.
It's also important to set a target SAT score so you know what your end goal is for your SAT prep. Students aiming for around 1200 (600 on Math and 600 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) should use different strategies and prep books than students shooting for 1600. If you're aiming for a top score, check out my comprehensive guide detailing how I got a perfect SAT score.
Finally, you'll need to build a study plan that works well with your schedule and lets you figure out the best time to take the SAT. We offer a free guide explaining the five essential components of an SAT study program guaranteed to improve your score by 160+ points.
Use these free resources to guide yourself through the maze that is SAT prep. (FutUndBeidl/Flickr)
Is Using SAT Prep Books the Best Option for You?
There are a lot of prep methods available, and book studying is just one of them. To explore all our options, let's quickly examine whether using SAT prep books is right for you.
Students who choose to study for the SAT with books do so for different reasons. Some use books because they're cheaper than other options like prep programs and tutors. That said, the best SAT books can get expensive: if you buy all top books, you'll be spending around $200. This is close to the cost of our online SAT prep program, which goes beyond books by guiding your studies step by step and motivating you to put in study time.
Other students use SAT prep books because they're self-motivated and like teaching themselves. If this isn't you, books can be a disappointing way for you to spend your time prepping. Without a solid study strategy, you can put in dozens of hours yet make zero improvement since you're not understanding your weaknesses and how to fix them.
By far one of the most important ways to improve your SAT score is to study and learn from your mistakes. If you can't do this reliably, you'll need extra help to get you started. We've written a free guide comparing various methods of SAT prep. Download this to see which methods are best for you.
Recap: The Best SAT Book in Every Category
Here's our shortlist of the best SAT prep books for 2018, complete with links:
Best Critical SAT Books
Best SAT Subject-Specific Books
Best SAT Book for Top Scorers
Best SAT Book for Low Scorers and Low Motivation
We've given you an excellent array of SAT books to choose from. Now, it's time to start looking for the ones you think will help you the most and get studying!
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or more? We've put our best advice into a single guide. These are the 5 strategies you MUST be using to have a shot at improving your score.
Download this free SAT guide now:
Understanding your SAT target score is critical for success. Read our step-by-step guide to help you figure out what exact SAT score you need to aim for on test day.
Want to score a super high SAT score? Get all the tips and expert advice you need in my guide to getting a perfect SAT score.
Looking for additional SAT prep help? Check out our picks for the top SAT prep websites and apps you should be using in your studies.
Check out our industry-leading online SAT program. We've designed it to cover all the advantages of books and tutors at an affordable price. Featuring in-depth strategy lessons and thousands of practice questions, we have the content from the leading books. We include the critical Official SAT Study Guide above.
Beyond that, the program acts like your personal tutor. It guides you step-by-step through what you should be working on at every moment to best improve your score. It customizes to your strengths and weaknesses, then gives you focused practice so you learn the patterns on the SAT. Furthermore, it motivates you to study so that you put in enough time.
There's a 160 point guarantee—if you don't improve your score by 160 points, you get all your money back.