5 standardized test prep books reviewed

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By Noor Muneeb and Catherine Fang, Staff Writers

For too many high school students, standardized tests bring a certain feeling of dread and anxiety. Not only is studying for these college entry exams time consuming and stressful, it’s difficult to get started with the process. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused much uncertainty regarding these tests and how they will be administered. You might be thinking, “It’s time to start studying, but which review book should I use? Which one will best suit my learning style?” To make this process a bit easier for you, we have reviewed several reputable ACT, SAT, and PSAT workbooks that we’ve completed!

ACT® Prep Plus Kaplan (2020) & PSAT Prep Kaplan (2020) Both by Kaplan Test Prep 

Pros

  • Teaches all topics in a thorough manner with an emphasis on helpful practice problems
  • Includes short quizzes both before and at the end of each chapter with detailed explanations for the answers

Cons

  • The practice tests are not as challenging as the real exam
  • There aren’t many helpful test-taking tricks in the book, only basic strategies
  • Only one of the “5 Practice Tests” mentioned on the ACT book’s cover is in the book while the rest are online

Here’s how you should decide whether or not you should purchase either the ACT® Prep Plus Kaplan (2020) or the PSAT Prep Kaplan (2020):

  • If you want to take practice tests, these aren’t the right books for you.
  • If you’re looking to learn new strategies or just want more practice, either of these books will be perfect for you.

The Official ACT® Prep Guide (2020-2021) by ACT®

Pros

  • The guide is from the makers of the actual exam, so the practice questions are up-to-date and challenging
  • Clear explanations for answer choices and question types
  • Includes sample essays for the Writing portion for comparison when grading your work
  • English section of exam is taught well

Cons

  • Includes same general strategies as other workbooks
  • The explaining style is quite dull—very few graphics are used
  • Not many practice questions or skill development because the book focuses more on practice tests

Here’s how you should decide whether or not you should purchase The Official ACT Prep Guide (2020-2021):

  • If you want to take practice tests, the second half of this book would be very helpful.
  • If you’re looking to develop your skills, I suggest getting a different workbook first (ACT Prep Plus 2020 Kaplan or subject-specific workbooks).

Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT® by Richard F. Corn

Pros

  • Practice questions reflect those on the actual test
  • Goes over all the math content you’ll need to know with useful calculator tips included throughout the book

Cons

  • Answer explanations are not detailed and might not be helpful for some
  • No practice tests in the book

Here’s how you should decide whether or not you should purchase Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT®:

  • If you want a workbook to take practice tests, this book isn’t the one for you.
  • If you’re looking to learn math topics and skills, this workbook is for you, but you may find it hard to understand why you got certain practice questions incorrect.

Official SAT® Study Guide 2020 Edition By College Board

Pros

  • It’s official—the questions are the most similar in difficulty to the actual SAT
  • 8 official practice tests with answers and explanations

Cons

  • Some answer explanations are not as in-depth as others and explanations use repetitive formulas and textbook methods
  • A really high understanding of the math section is needed to use this book to the fullest
  • Many practice tests are reused from previous editions of the “Official SAT Study Guide”

Here’s how you should decide whether or not you should purchase the Official SAT Guide 2020 Edition:

  • If you’ve already done the College Board exams listed on Khan Academy, get a different book.
  • If you’re new to SAT prep and want an insightful understanding of the SAT and what it tests (concepts), buy it.

Barron’s SAT® Premium Study Guide (Thirteenth Edition) By Sharon Weiner Green, Ira K. Wolf, & Brian W. Stewart

Pros

  • Similar to the difficulty of the College Board’s English and grammar sections 
  • 7 practice tests (including 1 diagnostic test)
  • Great for assessing your strengths and weaknesses on different types of questions
  • Math section covers a wide range of topics

Cons

  • English section answers do not give you the key concept of each story
  • Math explanations for unfamiliar concepts are hard to follow 
  • The difficulty of math questions varies dramatically

Here’s how you should decide whether or not you should purchase Barron’s SAT® Premium Study Guide:

  • If you have a good grasp of Algebra/Geometry topics, buy it to solidify weaker areas.
  • If you’re already a high scorer, practice tests are repeated from previous editions of the book.
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