- Read different types and categories of books to be best prepared for SAT reading.
- There’s no need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on prep courses if you make good use of free resources.
- Refer to our article on the best SAT prep books for book recommendations.
Are you struggling to decide which SAT books to buy? After all, how can you tell which are the most authoritative and SAT-like? The fact is, books do not always provide the customizable, accurate, and credible SAT prep that students deserve. Many major test prep companies are under pressure to publish a one-size-fits-all book that encompasses all SAT topics (while maintaining a reasonable page count, at that!), when the fact is that prep book writers don’t always have equal expertise in each topic, and all test-takers don’t need the same amount of prep for each subject.
Using internet resources to guide your study gives you an advantage specific to the medium: it is vast and malleable, providing you with a constant stream of links which you may or may not opt to follow according to your evaluation of your needs.
If you use nothing else, you should exhaust all of the official free SAT resources provided online by the College Board (8 full-length real SAT practice exams, with 2 extra if you buy the older version of the book) and Khan Academy (customized course with videos, practice, and data-driven scoring).
This SAT preparation guide is divided into the following sections.
Preparing for the SAT
Preparing for SAT Math
The amazingly comprehensive and knowledgeable people at the PrepScholar site have put together an online curriculum for SAT math which effectively walks you through each content topic (scroll to the bottom of the PrepScholar page for the list of topics). This site also contains links to SAT math problems of varying difficulty as well as astute recommendations as to which sites are more SAT-like than others. These tips will help you avoid careening down the rabbit-hole of online SAT content that is supposedly written for the current exam but is actually recycled material from the old SAT, or worse, from other exams entirely.
Outside the PrepScholar site, you can access an incredibly helpful worksheet on identifying Linear vs. Exponential equations created by a high school teacher. Though this may seem like a minor, standalone topic, understanding these equations is foundational to several algebra, geometry, research methods, and advanced math questions on the SAT. This worksheet in particular has clarified this topic for high-scoring students in a way that other materials have not.
Lastly, you may identify a certain type of question that you tend to miss, or a certain process you need to drill. Do you get stuck “completing the square” every time you try to apply the circle equation? Do you remember how to divide polynomials? Do you want to do 50 FOIL problems in a row to build up speed? The Kuta software site generates free sheets on dozens of topics in Algebra and Geometry. We highly recommend doing repeated problems in each of your problem areas until you can do them with machine-like efficiency. (Note: The downside to this site is that while it provides answers, it does not provide explanations; it is merely a worksheet generator.)
Preparing for SAT Reading
The sad reality is that accurate SAT prep reading material is scarce; there are a few books that come close to approximating the College Board’s style, but since we are focusing on online resources, let’s pivot our approach to something even more intensive. Consider this: The new SAT was designed to teach you to regard your reading critically, and to regard it differently, depending on the passage type.
You are meant to glean very distinct types of information based on whether you are reading fiction, primary source documents, social science, or science. You certainly would not want to read a fiction passage for its balanced experiments or social science for its personable dramatized narrative–you will end up going in circles and will not find what you seek. There is a reason the SAT spans different passage types; they are testing entirely different reading skills! You’ll even notice this emphasis on passage type reflected in the score reports. This must mean it is important for our pre-test reading strategy.
So how can you use online resources to exploit this knowledge? On the new SAT, passages are not written especially for the SAT. Actually, they are adapted from published stories and articles. Based on our distillation of where these articles seem to come from, we have compiled the following list of links. Just as the test-maker would, make it your task to read the works that are interesting to you and imagine what the SAT would ask (trying a few College Board practice tests should help you become familiar with the style). The more comfortable you become with the format and flow of these works, the easier you will be able to decipher similar logical structures when they appear on the SAT. And who knows–the real SAT may end up adapting one of the articles you happen to read!
Students tend to have less trouble with the more contemporary works, so we recommend that you familiarize yourself with classic literature instead. Even though this is less likely to appear directly on the exam, the idea is that if you can wade through something with denser language and a more unfamiliar tone, you will find it much easier to handle any range of fiction that you’d encounter on the test. Most classic works of literature published before 1930 are in the public domain and available for free online. Some examples of authors you might want to check out are Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, and Herman Melville.
Primary Source Documents
You will have at least one reading passage that is based on an actual historical document that was somehow politically pivotal (that is, after all, why they have survived). Ivy Global has created a nice compendium of links to primary source documents in the Great Global Conversation. We highly recommend delving into Edmund Burke’s political writings–if you can read those and understand them, it’s likely you can read anything else the SAT confronts you with!
Long-form journalism is not the bite-size, consumable news that the majority of the public reads on a daily basis, so practicing with a simple newspaper will likely not be enough. Essays and longer articles allow for a depth and an analysis that shorter articles often do not have the bandwidth to provide. We can recommend two resources that feel highly similar to SAT Social Science passage style and intensity.
For academic essays written for a popular audience, try Aeon magazine and explore the variety of topics at your leisure. These are not only supremely interesting, but incredibly SAT-like in every aspect except for their length.
For more free social science reading, try the acclaimed aggregator Arts & Letters Daily. These articles are less like essays and more like timely “news”, but they are still some of the most excellent SAT reading prep out there (arguably more helpful than actual clunky SAT passages you will find in most practice books).
Both websites offer newsletters that will come directly to your inbox, so you can plan to read one article each morning or every night before bed.
The Frontiers website contains academic papers in numerous subject categories, like Psychology, Social Science, Neuroscience, Economics, etc. These are written with an SAT “science” bent in that they rely heavily on the description of hypotheses, experiments, results, and analysis. Each paper is long, so our recommendation is that you read the introduction or abstract for each paper closely and then skim for the main point under each subheading. And have some fun with this; scroll to topics that are most interesting to you. There are hundreds, if not thousands (and growing each day).
Preparing for SAT Writing
Here, we have laid out a potential order for you to use these excellent grammar sources from the internet.
Begin with PrepScholar’s list of essential grammar rules. Note that they have several articles on this topic, but start with this one that includes sample College Board SAT questions of each type to illustrate the style.
Then, read through PrepScholar’s more extensive description of each grammar rule. See if you can do the exercises sprinkled within each section.
The best hardcopy book on grammar, in our opinion, is Erica Meltzer’s The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar. Thankfully, Meltzer has made some of this wisdom available online in her blog. She has isolated the grammar rules that are specifically applicable, and you can find them, along with exceedingly clever examples, free online. The page is long, so don’t try to slog through all of it at once.
After you have read through the above resources, you can start topic-by-topic practice. The College Panda website separates writing exercises by question type in an easy-to-read interface. Click on each topic for an explanation and then click on the adjoining tab for sample exercises.
Once you have completed this and the above material, you will have (hopefully) done enough topic-specific practice. You can then practice your mixed skills on official sample tests from the College Board.
If you run out of College Board tests, you can try the two available Ivy Global full-length practice exams (scroll down a bit on the Ivy Global page to find these). Take these tests with a certain amount of caution, however, understanding that they are not perfectly SAT-like. Still, more so than some other online/book practice tests, these are fairly useful (and chances are, if you have completed all 10 of the College Board’s released SAT exams, you’ll be able to spot the stylistic dissimilarities by yourself and incorporate this understanding into your analysis of the real test!).
Preparing for the SAT Essay (Optional)
For the SAT Essay, the first thing you should absolutely do is read the two sample essays and score explanations on the College Board site.
Then, for an overview of rhetorical devices, consult Khan Academy’s SAT essay resource.
Prepscholar has an article that walks you through how to frame and phrase different pieces of evidence when you write the essay, as well as an additional article that provides a template for structuring the essay.
Finally, use this list from Love The SAT (which includes more specifics) as a refresher. You’ll find dozens of lists of rhetorical devices if you search online, but do not become overwhelmed (unless you’re taking the AP English Language and Composition test, in which case, have at it!). The few resources we have isolated above should give you plenty of fodder for the SAT essay.
Once you have exhausted these free resources and are considering buying SAT prep books, check out our article with specific recommendations of books for your Tier 1 and Tier 2 studying.