Next SAT Test Date: Oct 10, 2009

Here we review the Top Ten SAT Test Prep books available for students hoping to get into Ivy League schools. SAT preparation can really be as simple as reading a good SAT study guide. But which one? And is an SAT test prep book the best choice for you?

SAT study guides and test prep books are a cost-effective alternative to SAT prep courses (like Kaplan test prep), but of course they lack the rigor of a classroom or one-on-one tutoring environment. As a general rule, if your initial SAT/ACT scores are on the low side, you’ll likely need SAT prep courses to get you into shape. Or, for more personalized instruction, you might be better off with an SAT tutor.

SAT study guides and test prep books are ideal for the student with good self-discipline and initially high test scores; with some extra self-directed study, you should be able to push yourself to even higher test scores.

Click on the left and right arrows below to scroll through our top-rated SAT test prep books. Click on a book to read up-to-the-minute reviews. Or read on for our thoughts about each title.

1. 11 Practice Tests for the SAT & PSAT, 2010 Edition

In terms of self-directed study, nothing beats an SAT practice test for developing the mental muscles to tackle SAT preparation. Make sure that whatever book you select has a minimum of two SAT practice tests. You should always begin your studies by taking a practice test, so you know your baseline score. That’s the best way to measure your growth as you continue with SAT test prep. Take the other practice test after you’ve finished with your SAT study guide to see how far you’ve come.

It’s for this reason that the Top Two SAT Test Prep Books on our list consist of nothing but practice tests. Since you’re reading this, we’re assuming you’re gearing up to get into an Ivy League School. We’re making an assumption that your basic skills and academics are pretty rock solid, and that you’re pretty much just angling for a perfect score. Although it’s sickening to state a cliche, it’s nonetheless true… practice makes perfect, and that’s why we think nothing could be more perfect than a book full of practice tests.

We prefer this one, as its detailed explanations for every answer are more thorough, and give you a better shot and understanding what mistakes (gasp!) you might have made. They also provide online score reports for analyzing your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Kaplan 12 Practice Tests for the SAT 2010

Pretty much the same as the previous book, this one has twelve practice SAT tests instead of eleven, and inside the book there’s also instructions for entering a contest to win $5000 to use for school. The explanations here aren’t quite as good as #1 above, but it’s still a great resource. Of course, it’s not the same as taking an actual Kaplan SAT course, which comes with solid guarantees of improving your score.

3. Barron’s SAT 2400: Aiming for the Perfect Score

Since we’re preparing this list specifically for students hoping to get into an Ivy League school, this book really deserves to be at #1 on the list – but we’re prejudiced in favor of practice tests. Still, this is the only book you’ll find that is focused not on improving your score, but on nailing a Perfect SAT Score. That chimera is indeed attainable, and this book sets out to show you how to get there.

Written just for high achievers, you won’t find the usual drills and advice here, but rather a focus on the hardest test questions, the most upper-level vocabulary, etc. This is a must read.

4. ACT or SAT?: Choosing the Right Exam For You

At the time of writing, almost all Ivy League schools let you submit either SAT or ACT scores. So which exam should you take? Before you dive into nailing a perfect SAT score, you might want to first consider whether your efforts might be better spent on the ACT. What’s the difference between the two? This book not only explains the subtle and not-so-subtle differences, but also features an assessment test to identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can determine which test you’re more likely to excel at. You’ll also find practice questions from both tests, so you can get a feel for both of them before you decide. This won’t stand in for an actual SAT/ACT study guide or test prep book, but it’s a great idea as a first read before you tackle any of the other books on this list.

5. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition

We always advise students to take private meetings with their high school teachers before tests. Who better to advise you on a test than the person who actually wrote the test. Following that same principle, as an overall SAT test prep book, there’s none better than the one created by the College Board themselves – the folks who make the SAT.

This is a big honking book. Over 1000 pages, with 10 practice tests. You won’t find the specialized advice for nailing a perfect score here, but you will find a book that covers every aspect of the test, from the folks who know best. They also have included in this edition three very recent actual SAT tests. You won’t find that anywhere else – and for that alone, this book is worth the price. Take the same SAT test that high school students took recently, and find out how you would have scored. That’s a pretty fair indication of how well you’ll do.

This book also handles the SAT essay especially well – with lots of practice essay topics, and annotated sample essays for you to review and learn from.

6. The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests

For the same reasons as #5 above, you should also definitely pick up this book by the College Board if you’re planning on taking any of the SAT Subject Tests. This book covers all 20 SAT Subject Test exams, including practice tests for all of them. You’ll even find two CDs specifically for practicing the foreign language SAT subject tests, if you intend to take those.

7. Cracking the SAT, 2010 Edition

Although this, at first glance, seems to be a very simplified book – it’s also quite shrewd – by boiling the test down to its basics. Smart kids will appreciate the no-nonsense approach. You can get through this one fast, without a lot of fuss. Its vocab word list is also an especially good one.

8. Kaplan SAT 2010 Edition: Strategies, Practice, and Review

This book tries to cover the same ground as the others, but a bit less successfully. Sure, there are four practice tests, and explanations, but they also include unnecessary fluff like, “Smart Break activities designed for students to take a fun break from studying while keeping their SAT skills sharp.” Really? You need to go out and buy a book to learn how to take a “fun break”? We think you can probably figure that one out on your own.

Don’t get us wrong. Taking a Kaplan SAT course is a fantastic investment in your future. But this book? It’s not the same as the course – not in any way, shape or form. You’re better off with one of the others.

9. Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT 2009-2010 Edition

If this weren’t being addressed specifically to you – a high-achieveing high school student looking to get into an Ivy League school – we’d recommend this book very highly. It’s easy to read, irreverent, conversational, accessible. But in our experience, if you’re a stellar student already, you should be writing a book like this, not reading one. You’ll probably hate this book, and find it cutesy and trying too hard. Like your grandma gettin’ down with a hip-hop album. (In fact, this book even comes with a free iPod download for learning vocabulary words – that’s pretty hip, huh? Forget about it.) For a future Ivy League student, this book isn’t for you.

10. How to Survive the SAT (and ACT) – by Hundreds of Happy College Students

Similarly, this book isn’t for you either. If you’re NOT intending to go to an Ivy League school – if you’re really terrified of the SAT, or you took it once and didn’t do so hot, then yes, maybe consider this book. It’s written from the point of view of students, and gives a peer perspective on how to approach the test. It’s very reassuring for students who are psyched out by standardized tests. But we’re assuming you’re not one of those students. If you are, pick this up. If you’re not, scroll back up to the top of this list.

Kaplan Test prep

While you’re buying books, you should also pick up a copy of College Unzipped. Written from the perspective of college students, it’s a true insider view of everything you’ll need to know to make the most of your first year in the Ivy League (or any other college).

And, final thought… Need some extra cash for buying SAT/ACT test prep books? What could be more ideal than getting rid of all your old high school textbooks? Sell all your used books to for top dollar. They also offer free online quotes and free shipping.