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Review of The Official SAT Study Guide (pre-March-2016 edition) by the College Board

AND: How to best use this book!

Update: SAT Format is Changing in March 2016

Just a quick update for readers: as you may know, the format of the SAT test is changing beginning with the March 2016 test date.

All students who plan to take the SAT in March 2016 or afterwards will need a copy of the NEW “new” Official SAT Study Guide for the March 2016 and after SAT.

The rest of this article will deal primarily with the Official SAT Study Guide as designed for the pre-March 016 SAT test format.

About the Official SAT Study Guide or “Blue Book”:

This SAT study guide is “required reading;” the best SAT prep book on the market, and the only one produced by the same people who write the actual test. (Specifically, I’m talking about the 2nd edition of this fine book, and the edition intended for pre-March 2016 SAT testing.)

It’s known by students everywhere as “the Blue Book,” for reasons which are immediately apparent; it’s a big, blue book.

The price of the book is about $21.99 retail (in a Barnes and Noble, for example) or $12.95 or so on and it’s worth every penny.

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What’s so valuable about this book? It’s not the handsome picture of Gaston Caperton (Diabolical President of the Evil College Board), and it’s not the questionable prep advice that makes up the first third of the text…

How to use the Official SAT Study Guide:

The reason the Official SAT Study Guide is so valuable to students is that it offers realistic, high-quality, full-length SAT practice tests that other prep books can’t compete with.

10 of them, in fact. And since “practice makes perfect,” let’s look at the numbers:

That’s a total of 670 Critical Reading practice questions, 540 SAT Math practice questions, 490 multiple-choice Writing questions, and 10 practice SAT essay topics. These totals are not counting the several dozen practice questions you can dig up in the first section of the book to supplement the full-length practice tests or the included DVD of practice materials.

If you (like me) want a perfect score on the SAT, you’re going to do all of them. And you might need to ration them, because realistic SAT practice questions are hard to come by.

Plan on taking about three to five of the tests in full-length, sit-down situations with a timer. Use these sittings as a chance to honestly evaluate where you stand; take them seriously, and don’t get distracted or take long breaks. Take them exactly like the real thing, at 8 am on a Saturday morning (ok, ok, you can start at 9 am if you really want to)

Spread these practice tests out – there should be at least a month between each one, so you have time to study and improve your score in between. As a general rule, you should be seeing progress and score improvement each time you take a practice test, as long as you’ve been studying in-between.

It’s alright, even expected, that your score will backslide occasionally, and some sections will probably be easier to improve than others. However, if your score drops significantly from one practice test to the next, you probably lost concentration; work on your focus and endurance. Or, you aren’t doing enough prep work – keep building vocabulary and doing practice sections, and read and study my website!

If you want to work on focus, try practicing in a public space like a Starbucks or a restaurant.

If you want to work on endurance, start doing back-to-back practice sections as a regular habit – instead of one twenty-five minute section a day, try doing three sections, one after another, but only twice a week.

Use the rest of your practice tests to work on specific sections and topics. I suggest doing anywhere from 2 sections a week (if you have about a year to get ready) to 10 sections a week (if you have a month to get ready).

If you really want to get in-depth practice and tips on specific SAT prep topics and raise your score, then check out the SAT prep books in my online bookstore, which go deeper into the Writing and Math sections of the test.

Free Bonus: Online SAT Resources

The Official SAT Study Guide provides some free online SAT prep resources that come along for the ride. Namely, you can access in-depth answer explanations for all of the practice test questions.

You can also take the tests online (although they are just the same 10 tests as the paper version of the book provides) and receive free online score reports (minus the essay), which will help a little bit in terms of evaluating your strong and weak areas.

Finally, you can get a $10 discount on The Official SAT Online Course, which provides 10 more official practice tests, essay scoring, and a few more extras. Usually the course is $69.95, but if you purchase a copy of the Blue Book, the price drops to $59.95. (Recently though I think it’s out of print so the price seems to have gone up)

I haven’t taken a look at this course yet, but I’m thinking about covering it in the near future. I think the extra practice problems could be really valuable for the long-term SAT students. The more practice you do, the more your score will improve. This will always be true!

Once you purchase the Blue Book, you can access all these online resources at the College Board website: SAT Study Guide Online Resources

Downside to the Official SAT Study Guide:

My only real objections about this book come in the first third of the text, the part that’s not so much about practice problems as it is about trying to coach the SAT.

The problem is that the prep material is really dry and boring; there’s no way to really learn the material from this book, except for the most incredibly focused and self-motivated students. You’re better off finding an interesting and lively local SAT tutor to help guide you.

All of the topics tested on the SAT are covered, to some degree, but they arranged in a haphazard feeling structure and the way things are broken down actually confused me more than it clarified anything.

Finally, the example essays (intended to show what the College Board wants – and doesn’t want – in an SAT essay) are available online for free elsewhere. While I occasionally refer back to the Blue Book for help with the essay, it’s a case in which the advice they give is not the same as the advice I would give.

It won’t hurt your SAT essay score, by any means, to read the essay info they provide in this book, but I think you’re better off with an experienced tutor, who can evaluate and help you improve your SAT essay.

Final Thoughts on the “Blue Book”:

The Official SAT Study Guide is the most essential tool in your personal SAT Prep toolbox. It gets a rating of 10/10 for realism and accuracy (these are real SATs, written by the makers of the test, after all). It’s packed with a vast selection of practice problems and provides a source for months of SAT practice.

Although the first section of the book is dry and not very helpful, it still contains additional practice problems, and some useful guidelines for the SAT essay.

In addition, the online bonuses are the icing on the cake. I regularly use the answer explanations to make sense of difficult problems and to help get myself inside the mind of the test writers.

The Official SAT Study Guides (pre-March 2016 edition and March 2016 and after edition) are THE single-best prep resource that I recommend to my students for the SAT! By the way, for more great recommendations and SAT-related content, be sure to join my SAT email list before you leave!

Update: SAT Testing in March 2016 and after:

Just a quick update for readers: as you may know, the format of the SAT test is changing beginning with the March 2016 test date.

All students who plan to take the SAT in March 2016 or afterwards need a copy of the NEW “new” Official SAT Study Guide for the March 2016 and after SAT.

For the record, I still believe it is beneficial to study the old format of the SAT (many interesting and relevant grammar and math concepts carry over between the old and new formats of the test, for example), although the majority of your time should be spent focused on New SAT practice materials.

Further Reading:
The 2016 SAT: In-Depth Impressions
Why SAT Practice Tests Drive Real Score Improvements
How to Take A Free Practice SAT from Home and Score It

Additional Resources:
The Official SAT Study Guide (pre-March 2016 test format)
The Official SAT Study Guide (March 2016 and after test format)
SAT Grammar Crammer
SAT Math Level 1 and SAT Math Level 2

The Official SAT Study Guide is a great source of practice problems, but if you also want in-depth explanations of topics from a professional tutor and perfect-scorer, then check out my online SAT Prep bookstore for helpful SAT Prep books and special reports that you can’t find anywhere else!