The 20 Best Self-Guided SAT Prep Resources
| Beth Rich
Are you ready to discover your college program?
Are you headed to college soon? If so, chances are you are thinking (or stressing!) about the SAT. Most colleges and universities require a standardized test for admission, and it can be a good bit different and often more difficult than the tests you have likely encountered in high school.
Studying for the SAT can help you figure out what the test looks like, develop skills and strategies, and ultimately earn a higher score. Though tutors, teachers, courses, and prep centers can be very helpful, there's lots you can do on your own to improve your ACT score.
This article lists the 20 best self-guided SAT prep resources, and offers information to help you decide which ones to add to your bookshelf, phone, or bookmarks tab. Below is all you need to start studying for the SAT—from official guides, to flashcards, to mobile games, to study timers, to meditations; but first, some information about the SAT itself.
What is the SAT?
When you apply to college, you send off an application, alongside transcripts, essays, lists of extracurricular activities, and college admissions officers look at this information, as well as your SAT scores to decide whether or not to admit you to their school. Scores on the SAT range from 400-1600, and the test is made up of Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections, in addition to an optional Essay section.
Should I take the SAT or ACT?
Many colleges will look at scores from both the SAT and ACT. Whether or not to take both is up to you. Though ultimately similar, the tests vary in a few important ways. The SAT has three sections—Reading, Writing and Language, and Math—while the ACT has an additional section—English, Math, Reading, and Science. The SAT tests you explicitly on vocabulary, and gives you more time per question. The ACT Science section tests you on analyzing experiments and data, something that is not as heavily tested on the SAT. In the end, what test you should take comes down to you: your personal preferences and goals. Every student should spend time researching the tests, browsing sample questions, and considering personal skills and needs.
What are the benefits of a high SAT score?
Lots of colleges and universities specify a minimum SAT score for admissions. Depending on the schools you are looking to attend, you likely need to take the SAT (or ACT) to be accepted to college. SAT scores can also affect the courses you take when you get to school. Students with low scores may need to take remedial courses. Conversely, if you score high enough, you can earn credit for certain core college classes, without actually taking (or paying for!) the class. SAT scores can also play a large role in determining who gets merit based scholarships, as well as scholarships from schools and other organizations. There are lots of benefits to achieving a high SAT score, and working to earn a higher score now—no matter where you are—can be a great choice in the long run.
How do I prepare for the SAT?
You might feel like you are swimming (or drowning…) in options for SAT prep—from books to online courses to in-person tutors. Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. Becoming familiar with the SAT, picking up skills and strategies relevant to the test, and then applying all of that by practicing are the main ways you can prepare for the SAT. Self-guided SAT prep is a great way to begin studying for the test; it's the most flexible and least expensive type of test preparation. Even if you do end up taking a class or hiring a tutor, you will have knowledge and skills from your self-study that will make guided SAT prep easier and more productive. The books, apps, and other resources on this list are an excellent way to start preparing for the SAT.
The Official SAT Study Guide
The College Board
What's so special about The Official SAT Study Guide? Well, it's in the title. It's an official publication of The College Board, who just happens to be the organization that writes and administers the SAT. This book is the only guide put out by the makers of the exam, and it includes eight official practice tests, written in the exact same process and by the same team of authors as the actual exam. The College Board is committed to transparency and increasing access, so each of the tests in this book is available as a free, downloadable PDF on their website. However, this book is the only place to find the tests in print, and it includes an additional 250 pages of instruction, guidance, and test information.
This book is a great place to start your self-guided SAT studying. In this book, the test makers themselves tell you what to look for, what to know, and what to do, and then you can put all of that knowledge to the test with the official practice exams. One thing to note is that The Official SAT Study Guide doesn't include scoring tables. The quickest ways to score your practice tests are to look at the SAT scoring resources on The College Board website or scan your answer sheet with College Board's app, Daily Practice for the New SAT. Though this might be a slight inconvenience, it's worth practicing with official SAT exams, and the book does include answer explanations for each question.
Recap: Curious what the SAT test makers have to say about prepping for their exam? If you are looking to get familiar with the test and practice with official tests, grab a copy of The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide.
SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective SAT Strategies Ever Published
Mike Barrett and Patrick Barrett
SAT Prep Black Book deserves a spot on your bookshelf right next to The Official SAT Study Guide. Written by an SAT tutor who has worked with students all over the world to prepare for this exam, SAT Prep Black Book teaches you the ins and outs of the SAT (and how to use those for your advantage) and also includes a walkthrough of 600+ official SAT questions from The College Board's The Official SAT Study Guide. The book is written in a conversational style, and is full of understandable, concrete advice for doing well on the SAT.
Though SAT Prep Black Book is packed with advice that will help you on the SAT, the second section of the book is called “You Probably Don't Need To Read This Whole Crazy Long Book To Increase Your Score Significantly.” Whether you work your way through the entire book, or flip through to the sections that seem most helpful to you, this book is a great tool in your self-guided study kit. The author walks you through how to know which parts of the book you need to focus on, and his main advice is 1) Keep an Open Mind and 2) Stick With It.
Recap: If you are looking for a comprehensive, encouraging, and at times even entertaining SAT prep book, pick up a copy of SAT Prep Black Book.
The Complete Guide to SAT Reading
The Complete Guide to SAT Reading is a comprehensive review of the reading skills tested on the redesigned SAT test for students who are serious about raising their scores. This book, written by Erica Meltzer, an experienced SAT tutor, includes chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of SAT Reading question types, with in-depth explanations and numerous examples demonstrating how to work through each type. The Complete Guide to SAT Reading pairs perfectly with The Official SAT Study Guide, since Meltzer's book includes an index of Reading questions from The Official SAT Study Guide, organized by both category and test.
The Complete Guide to SAT Reading is a helpful tool for your SAT prep, no matter what your Reading skills are. With lots of explanations and strategies, this book is ideal for self-guided study, whether you are a student who struggles with reading, or someone who's aiming for a perfect score on the SAT Reading section. You can work straight through the book, or use sections of it to improve particular reading skills and strategies.
Recap: If you want to work specifically on the Reading section of the SAT, The Complete Guide to SAT Reading has what you need.
SAT Vocabulary: A New Approach
Erica Meltzer and Larry Krieger
If you are planning to take the SAT, chances are, someone has advised you to study vocabulary as you prepare for the exam. SAT Vocabulary covers key vocabulary for the Reading, Writing and Language, and Essay sections of the SAT. This book approaches SAT vocabulary in a way that is aligned with the new SAT's focus on vocabulary in context. Rather than giving you long lists of words and definitions to memorize, SAT Vocabulary gives thorough explanations of the various contexts in which vocabulary is tested, and then offers you the opportunity to practice applying knowledge with practice exercises.
At only 134 pages, SAT Vocabulary is a fairly short read. With five chapters—covering vocabulary in the Reading, Writing & Language, and Essay sections of the exam—it's easy to work your way through the book's instruction and exercises. You will likely see improvement on each section of the SAT as you go. Be sure to take advantage of the exercises in the book, and apply what you learn from Meltzer and Krieger as you take SAT practice exams.
Recap: Vocabulary may be tested differently on the SAT (some are even saying it's harder), but SAT Vocabulary: A New Approach addresses those challenges and will help you approach SAT vocabulary in a new way—with understanding and confidence.
The College Panda's SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT
The College Panda's SAT Math is a comprehensive guide to the SAT Math section written by a teacher and perfect SAT scorer. Unlike many prep books, it is geared towards the student aiming for the perfect score. It leaves no stones unturned. The book includes clear explanations of the math concepts tested on the SAT, from the simplest to the most obscure, as well as 100s of examples, 500+ practice questions and explanations to help you master each topic, and lists of the most common mistakes students make (so you won't make the same mistakes!).
As you might expect from an advanced math guide, The College Panda's SAT Math is full of rules, problems, and formulas. Chapter one jumps right in by teaching you everything you need to know about exponents on the exam, and the book works up to more advanced topics like statistics and trigonometry. Even if you aren't aiming for a perfect SAT score, the lessons in this book will help you develop the math skills needed to do well on this section of the SAT. It's also worth checking out Phu's other SAT Math book, The College Panda's 10 Practice Tests for the SAT Math, so you can practice what you learn in The College Panda's SAT Math.
Recap: If you are looking to brush up your math skills, The College Panda's SAT Math has everything you need to ace the Math section of the SAT.
The College Panda's SAT Writing: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT
Like perfect-scorer Nielson Phu's other books, The College Panda's SAT Writing is written to help you achieve a perfect score. However, don't let that intimidate you. The College Panda's SAT Writing covers everything you need to know for the SAT Writing and Language section, from the simplest to the most advanced grammar rules. The book includes clear explanations of all grammar rules tested on the SAT, from the simplest to the most obscure, as well as 100s of examples, drills, and practice questions. The book also has three practice tests, and fun illustrations (just in case grammar and writing sound boring).
It's worth reading what the beginning of The College Panda's SAT Writing has to say about the Writing and Language section of the exam, and from there you can dive into whatever topics you need the most help with. Reviews of the book say that the author has taken the time to personally respond to their questions about the contents of the book, so if you are working through The College Panda's SAT Writing and have a question, try reaching out the Nielson Phu.
Recap: Whether you are looking to improve on basics or pick up every point on the Writing and Language section of the SAT, The College Panda's SAT Writing has everything you need.
The College Panda's SAT Essay: The Battle-tested Guide for the New 2016 Essay
It might feel like SAT tutors are way up there, and you are way down here. How can you be sure your teachers can prepare you for what it feels like to sit down and actually write an SAT essay on test day? Well, Nielson Phu did just that: sat down and wrote an SAT essay on test day. The teacher and perfect SAT scorer took the new SAT in May 2016, and has included his insights (and a copy of his high scoring essay) in The College Panda's SAT Essay. Chapter titles include:
- How the SAT Essay is Graded
- The 7 Things Every Perfect Essay Must Have
- All the Rhetorical and Persuasive Elements You Need to Know
- The Essay Template You Can Use to Analyze Any Prompt
- How to Quote, Eight Fatal Mistakes Students Make on the Essay
- Sample Essays to Official Prompts
At just 70 pages, The College Panda's SAT Essay is a short and sweet addition to your bookshelf. Don't be intimidated by this book; Phu shares that, although he's a perfect SAT scorer, he's not naturally gifted at SAT writing. In this book, he gives you the tips, strategies, and resources to score well on the SAT essay, even if you don't feel like a “good” writer. This book is worth reading cover-to-cover and referencing often as you practice writing for the Essay section of the SAT.
Recap: If you are planning to take the optional Essay section of the exam, you need a copy of The College Panda's SAT Essay to learn exactly what the SAT wants to see in your writing.
Bring Home the Score: A Private Tutor's Guide to Scoring in the Highest Echelons of the SAT, ACT, SHSAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, NCLEX, MCAT, or Any Other Standardized Test
W. Walter Tinsley
Don't let the long subtitle of Bring Home the Score scare you off. Even if you don't know what “echelon” means (though it might be worth learning for the SAT!), this book is packed with tips, tricks, and strategies to land you among the highest scorers on any standardized exam, including the SAT. From mental strategies to advice on taking on an aggressive study schedule without burning out, Bring Home the Score can help you rethink your approach to studying for the exam and bring home the SAT score you want.
For a book with a long title, Bring Home the Score is surprisingly short. At just under 100 pages, you can quickly read this book as you begin (or rethink) your self-guided SAT study. Tinsley shares in the first chapter of the book that his goal in writing this guide was to level the playing field and provide affordable, effective help to improve standardized test scores. He encourages you to “stand on your own two feet” as you prepare for the standardized test that you are facing, and Bring Home the Score gives you the strategies and motivation to do so confidently.
Recap: If you are looking for help to create an intense but manageable study schedule, need motivation for your SAT prep, or are just curious WHY this test matters in the first place, Bring Home the Score has advice, encouragement, and answers.
Reason. Solve. Create.: The Insider's Guide to the ACT and SAT
Creativity and standardized tests? Those don't usually go together. Nor do the ACT and SAT. But, Reason. Solve. Create. is a comprehensive guide to both standardized college entrance exams. The author of this book, a successful private test prep tutor, states that his model for SAT and ACT success is based on individualization and process. Rather than focus on rote memorization or quick tips, Reason. Solve. Create. focuses on applicable knowledge that will help you become a better thinker. That's how creativity ties into SAT prep: the same reasoning and solving skills that you use to write a poem or come up with an innovative solution can help you solve a math problem or correct a grammar mistake with ease and confidence.
Though Reason. Solve. Create. covers both the SAT and ACT, you can easily use the book to prep solely for the SAT. Information pertaining to only one of the tests is clearly marked, so that you can focus on only what you need. The book is structured like a textbook, with a clear progression of ideas in each chapter, usually moving from basic to advanced topics. Each chapter contains exercises, questions, assessments, and practice passages so that you can test your idea of a lesson, concept, or idea immediately.
Recap: Whether or not you are planning on taking the ACT in addition to the SAT, Reason. Solve. Create. contains helpful study rules, lessons, and practice content to help you build strong, applicable knowledge that's sure to improve your test performance.
The Perfect Score Project: One Mother's Journey to Uncover the Secrets of the SAT
By no means a traditional SAT prep book, The Perfect Score Project is an interesting, insightful read for parents and students alike. Debbie Stier, a single mother of two teenagers and a publisher, author, and speaker, wanted to find ways to help her son as he prepared to take the SAT. She decided to take the test herself, and did so seven times in one year. She didn't just take the test, but studied in all the ways you can think of: she tried Kaplan, Kumon, and Khan Academy; she met with a premier grammar coach; took a battery of intelligence tests; and studied with the world's most prestigious (and expensive) test prep company. This book offers tried-and-tested answers to all the SAT questions you might be asking yourself: When do I start? Do I need big-name test prep? Do I need a tutor, a class, or can I self-study? What's the one thing I need to know?
In an interview with the author, Stier's son, Ethan, says of his mom's project: “Looking back, I can see that the project was a great idea because I wouldn't have done nearly as well as I did if you hadn't taken the test all those times before me. I learned so much more from you than if I'd gone through The Official SAT Study Guide on my own.” Though it might feel weird to read a memoir-esque book written by a high school parent as part of your SAT book, you, like Ethan, can benefit from The Perfect Score Project. Full of answers and insights into SAT prep, this book can help inspire, motivate, and prepare you in your own SAT prep journey. And, if you have a parent who's involved in your college application process, they might appreciate you lending them your copy when you are done.
Recap: If you are looking for relatable, personal insights about the SAT and the test prep process, The Perfect Score Project is worth picking up.
Khan Academy's partnership with The College Board is all about providing accessible, equitable SAT prep, so that the doors to college can be opened for anyone, and their app goes a long way in accomplishing that. The Khan Academy app is free to use and download, and you don't even need an account to get started. Simply download the app, find the SAT course, and you are ready to go! The SAT course available on the app is the same program offered on Khan Academy's website, just easier to work through on the go.
The app's SAT course includes links to online and printable full-length SAT practice tests, as well as practice for the Math, Reading, and Writing and Language sections of the exam. Modules include videos that teach concepts and explain basic and harder examples of the concept. You can bookmark modules, and even download them for offline viewing. Whether you use the Khan Academy app to work through all of the SAT content or as a resource to brush up on various topics, Khan Academy is a must have resource if you are going to do any SAT prep on your phone.
Recap: With 100s of videos covering all sections of the SAT, the Khan Academy app gives you anytime, anywhere access to the class created together with The College Board.
Daily Practice for the New SAT
The College Board
In addition to the official SAT practice course accessible through the Khan Academy app, The College Board has created another SAT prep app: Daily Practice for the New SAT. The app includes an SAT Question of the Day, with optional hints and explanations to help you improve your understanding of the test. You can also use the “Scan and Score” feature to score your practice exams (you have to use The College Board's practice tests and grids, available for free on their website). The app also has an option to connect to your Khan Academy course for personalized practice.
Making SAT prep part of your daily routine is important for sustained success. Daily Practice for the New SAT makes it easy to progress in your SAT studies every day, whether you are looking to find the registration deadline for an upcoming exam, quickly answer a practice question, or score a full-length practice test you have taken. If you have questions about the app and its features that connect to The College Board website and the Official SAT Practice at Khan Academy, check out the app store reviews or The College Board website for more info and troubleshooting help.
Recap: Whether you are looking to start a daily SAT practice, want to score a test you took in The Official SAT Study Guide, or need to know when the next SAT is offered, Daily Practice for the New SAT gives you official resources that make mobile SAT a breeze.
Study Timer: Test Prep Focus
There are loads of study resources for the ACT, and loads of questions on the actual test. Time management is super important, both on the test itself and as you study for the SAT. Magoosh's Study Timer app is a test prep stopwatch that helps you make time to study in the middle of a busy schedule, and to stay focused when you do sit down to study. The concept for Study Timer is based on the Pomodoro Technique, a decades-old productivity technique. (FYI: In Italian, “pomodoro” means “tomato,” and this technique was created by an Italian student who used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time himself in 25-minute increments while he studied.)
When you first open Study Timer, the app asks what test you are studying for. The SAT Timer allows you to practice a section for as long as that section lasts on the actual SAT exam. The app will prompt you to study Reading for 65 minutes, Writing and Language for 35 minutes, Math for 25 or 55 minutes, and Essay for 50 minutes. At the end of a session, the app offers a friendly reminder to take a break. If you don't have time for a full practice session or want to use the timer for something other than a practice test section, you can choose General Study for a 25-minute session.
Recap: Good time management is essential to improving your SAT score. If you need help focusing during your study sessions, or just need a mobile exam proctor, check out Magoosh's Study Timer.
Ready4's SAT Prep app is a comprehensive prep program that makes it easy to study whenever you have a little free time. The app includes practice questions, flashcards, lessons, answer explanations, and more. You can bookmark flashcards that you are working to learn and easily access them for focused practice. The app also includes a list of 400+ colleges and universities and allows you to compare your estimated SAT score with the average scores of your favorite schools. Aren't sure where you want to go to school? SAT Prep can match you with schools that might be a good fit based on your SAT score, goals, and preferences.
The SAT Prep app is a good home base for your mobile studying. You can see your estimated score, do some practice problems, brush up on a topic you are struggling with, and browse for colleges. Most of all, this is a good app to help you set goals, track your progress, and work towards a higher SAT score.
Price: Free, or $19.99 one-time purchase for Premium access
Recap: If you want to see where you are, plan where you want to go, and work your way to your goals, Ready4's SAT Prep app has all of the tools you need.
Applying to colleges and prepping for the SAT can sometimes feel like an overwhelming, lonely endeavor. SATFlash brings some fun to your SAT prep by allowing you to challenge friends and compete with them on a leaderboard. The app also includes 100s of practice questions, detailed answer explanations, progress tracking, personalized practice, and a score estimator.
If you are struggling to study on your own, ask a friend who's planning to take the SAT to practice with you using SATFlash. After all, don't we all push a little harder when we know there are points to pick up and someone to compete with? In the end, everyone's score will go up, so it's a win-win for you and your friends who study with you. This is a good app to use to track your progress, get in regular practice, and improve as you go by studying the answer explanations.
Recap: Feeling bored? Challenge a friend to practice SAT questions with you in Palmsonntag's SATFlash app.
The College Board
Though it might feel like whoever wrote the SAT was trying their hardest to keep you out of college, they actually weren't. We promise. The College Board, the makers of the SAT exam, have a number of helpful resources on their website. They're all about transparency and helping open the doors of colleges and universities to all. The SAT section of their website has tons of articles, links, and downloads to help you prepare for the SAT.
You can read Inside the Test for insights into what questions you will see on the exam, and what they're trying to measure by asking you those questions. Practice links to the Khan Academy SAT Practice course, The College Board's Daily Practice for the New SAT app, as well as practice tests and resources to help you start your own SAT study group. The College Board site also includes information about registering for the SAT, how the exam is scored, and what you need to do on and before test day.
Recap: Bookmark The College Board's website, and visit their SAT page often! With resources, information, downloads, and more, this site is where to go first with your SAT questions.
Essential SAT Vocabulary
The Princeton ReviewMaking your own flashcards for the SAT sounds like a lot of work. Even if you decided to only focus on vocabulary, where would you even start? With The Princeton Review's Essential SAT Vocabulary flashcards, you don't have to. The deck includes 500 flashcards with frequently-used and need-to-know terms from the exam. The deck also comes with 50 bonus cards that cover important terms, formulas, and practice question prompts from the Reading, Writing and Language, Math, and Essay sections of the exam.
The Essential SAT Vocabulary flashcards can help you get familiar with words, terms, formulas, and prompts you may see on the SAT. The vocabulary cards include the word, part of speech, and pronunciation on the front of the card, with the definition, contextual sentences, and synonyms on the back. By studying more than just the words themselves, you can be sure to easily understand and remember each word. This set of flashcards also includes access to a digital version of the cards, so that you can practice from your computer as well.
Recap: Want to study on the go, without your phone? The Princeton Review's Essential SAT Vocabulary flashcards give you access to hundreds of portable study aids.
The Critical Reader
You have seen Erica Meltzer's name before, earlier on this list! In addition to writing helpful test prep books like The Complete Guide to SAT Reading and SAT Vocabulary: A New Approach, Meltzer manages a blog with tons of SAT advice, tips, tricks, and resources. The Critical Reader is searchable and you can also view posts by category. The blog focuses on the Reading, Writing and Language, and Essay portions of the SAT, as well as general test taking advice and SAT information.
You can browse posts by topic, check out the most popular, or search the for The Critical Reader posts that are most relevant to you. Meltzer's blog can be a good place to find answers to specific English and grammar questions you are asking, but it's also a good database to browse as part of your SAT prep. Whether it's “10 Tips to Ace SAT Reading,” thoughts on SAT scores and score inflation, or advice for test morning, The Critical Reader has information that can help you feel more prepared and confident about the SAT.
Recap: If you have a question about standardized tests in general, SAT strategies and advice, or language-related SAT content, head on over to The Critical Reader. Chances are, there's a post that will help.
Erik the Red
No, this isn't a website about Vikings. Well, not really. Erik Jacobsen is a private math and physics tutor specializing in SAT and ACT math, ACT science, calculus, and physics. (If you are wondering why his website is named after a medieval Norwegian Viking, his hair gets a bit of red in it in the summer, he's half Norwegian, and my first name is Erik. So it kind of makes sense.) His website includes a number of guides, quizzes, FAQs, and factsheets to help you improve on the Math section of the SAT.
Erik the Red is simple and organized, so it's easy to work through all of Jacobsen's SAT resources. He encourages you to print the guides, take notes on them, and share them with others. If you are wondering where to start, check out the “SAT Math Must-Know Facts & Formulas” guide for an overview of everything you need to know for the Math section of the SAT.
Recap: If you are looking for free, simple, well-organized SAT math resources, Erik the Red is the place to go.
Stop, Breathe, Think: College Collection
Tools for Peace
Meditation might seem like it has nothing to do with SAT prep, but Tools for Peace—a non-profit that seeks to inspire people of all ages to develop kindness and compassion in everyday life—has created a tool that can be very helpful as your study for your upcoming exam. Their app, Stop, Breathe, Think, has a number of meditations and mindfulness exercises available on the web, iOS, and Android apps. It's especially worth checking out the Stop, Breathe, Think: College Collection. These recordings are designed to help you tame your stress, stay focused and on task, and bounce back from setbacks as you study.
Incorporating meditation into your self-guided SAT study is simple. Stop, Breathe, Think's College Collection—designed to help college students tame stress, strengthen focus, and navigate the ups and downs of student life—is a perfect tool for you, the soon-to-be college student, as well. With Stop, Breathe, Think, you can choose a meditation with a particular focus, ranging from 1-10+ minutes, to help you be and feel your best as you prepare for the SAT.
Price: Free, or $9.99/month for Premium access
Recap: Stop, Breathe, Think can help you...well, stop, breathe, and think...as you prepare for the SAT. Their student-focused meditations in particular are ideal if you need to relieve stress, strengthen focus, or stay on track as you work hard towards your goals.
Each of us has different learning styles and preferences, but these SAT prep resources offer a wide variety of books, apps, websites, and options to help you master the SAT test. If you are preparing for the SAT, but need an in-person or online class or tutor, we have lists of the best online and in-person SAT prep programs. If the ACT test is more your style, take a look at our list of The 20 Best Self-Guided ACT Prep Resources. And if you are searching for colleges, be sure to check out our 50 Best Online Colleges for 2019.
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