on July 26, 2011
The Princeton Review has finally achieved a remarkable goal: A radically new cover design around zero changes from last year's text!
Since 2005 when they revamped their textbook for the new SAT, they have annually produced a new edition. Every year a shiny new cover with a new student of different ethnicity. And every year they managed to adjust the layout a wee bit: change a word or two here or there, but keep essentially the EXACT SAME TEXT from year to year! As a test prep tutor who uses this otherwise helpful book for her students, it is infuriating to be forced to buy a new book every year - rewriting all my notes - just to match the new page numbers.
In 2010, they added another practice test into the book, the only real, if small, improvement, since the rest of the text either stayed the same or lost some of its punch. It is well known that as one edits something repeatedly, it tends to lose energy, as any student working on his or her college application essay is aware. This certainly happened to The Princeton Review SAT text: The Critical Reading section in particular lost a lot when they chose, in 2007, to merge the Long and Short Reading Passages techniques, resulting in a confused and less effective approach to these passage types which require very different techniques and focus.
But this year -or rather, next year, since the 2012 model arrives with almost a half year to go- they gave up all pretense at creating new value. Shamelessly, they radically changed the cover to a dull black and white with a single student smiling in the void. (At least I'll be able to differentiate it from the army of their 2005-2011 editions on my bookshelves!) But the interior of the book is absolutely identical to 2011! I have compared the two texts side by side and flipped at random to dozens of pages in both books and they are the same, totally.
So, pick up a good second-hand copy of 2011 or 2010 if you like and save some money. The Princeton Review is a good course and their basic test-beating techniques are definitely helpful. This text in conjunction with the SAT 'bible' ("The CollegeBoard's Official Guide to the SAT") used for its practice tests, accompanied by "Tutor Ted's SAT Solutions Manual" are the best study trio I have found. For students seeking extra math help, Barrons dedicated "SAT Math Workbook" is terrific, as is the collection of free lessons and CollegeBoard math questions explanations available for free online at Khan Academy.
on July 16, 2006
Note: This is an abridged version of a review on CEEAE dot org.
Princeton Review's Cracking the SAT is the Anti-SAT book. This book, 2007 edition appears to be the preeminent strategy book for SAT preparation. Indeed, the entire book appears to be designed in order to demystify the SAT and it is strategy or "trick" focused. Many efficient test-taking strategies are presented for each subject area and question type.
However, one of the strategies has had its share of issues. Many students have reported that they were flummoxed by the pervasive "Joe Bloggs" method. While the method is not being called into question, we do question Princeton Review's constant usage of the method throughout the text. The "Joe Bloggs" method has been endemic to Princeton Review preparation books since the mid-90s, if not earlier, but we have seen many students who have improved their scores, sometimes dramatically, by relinquishing this method and focusing only on how to complete the questions efficiently. Hence, while we appreciate this method, we remain dubious of Princeton Review's recommendation of pervasive usage.
This book also features 3, extremely accurate, practice SATs. Moreover, each test has an Equating section (no other book does), and explanations are provided to every question on the exams. There are 7 tests, but only 3 of them are in the book. Although The Official SAT Study Guide has 8 exams and they are made by the College Board, this book features accurate practice exams that have full explanations and Equating sections. Hence, some have concluded that the tests in this book are preferable to those in The Official SAT Study Guide.
Finally, this book as well as more than 20 other SAT prep books are reviewed and ranked on CEEAE dot org. Every book review has a direct link to its page on Amazon, so you can read the reviews, view the rankings and then purchase your selections from Amazon.
This book is definitely worth reading and studying. Princeton Review challenges College Board's party line that there are only minimal benefits (in the range of 50 points improvement for CR and for Math) from pre-test prepping and coaching for the SAT, and that there is no "trick" to doing well on the SAT because it is essentially an aptitude test that measures verbal and mathematical skills acquired over a long period of time. While not denying the benefit of basic skills acquired through conscientious schoolwork over time, Princeton Review maintains that is not the only way to improve your score, possibly dramatically. By studying patterns in the ETS answer choices and question sequences, Princeton Review has come up with what it calls the Joe Blog approach, which is a very clever strategy for making educated guesses when you are not 100% sure of an answer to a multiple-choice question. At its core, Joe Blog says that on easier questions (the earlier questions in a section), go for the obvious answer that Joe Blog (a hypothetical Joe-Average) would guess; on the harder ones (the later questions in a section), avoid the "obvious answers, because they are "tricks" to fool Joe Blog, who will jump on superficially correct, but profoundly wrong answers. Beyond the Joe Blog approach, the Princeton Review writers do provide excellent practice exercises on basic reading and mathematical content. They seem to have studied the content of the test better than most authors. If there is one flaw, it is that the explanations to the practice questions don't always explain the correct answer very well. However, along with the "official" books and online study resources put out by the College Board, using this book from Princeton Review will help you do the best you can -- -- which what test taking process is and should be all about.
on July 27, 2009
When I prepared to take my first SAT, I relied on this book to prepare. Let me first talk about the good aspects of the book:
It demystifies the SAT and takes a "student friendly" approach. That is, it helps convince the reader that the SAT doesn't measure intelligence, self-worth, etc. While this may or may not be true, it relieves one of a significant burden by believing that the test doesn't test anything innate, which prevents the formation of artificial mental barriers or blocks.
The vocabulary list is quite good, as it consists of a short, but sweet list of 200 words that are likely to show up on the SAT (either in passages or in the sentence completions). For such a short list, it sure does get a good number of "hits" on the real thing.
The math refresher is good -- it's not a math textbook in the sense that it will, in vivid detail, teach you the fundamentals of mathematics beginning with "2 + 2 = 4", but it does give you a great refresher of all the topics you (should) have learned. If you're shaky about performing basic algebra, then you don't need an SAT prep book -- you need a basic mathematics book. It also shows how these basic math tools can be applied to the SAT, by showing how to solve several "famous" or "representative" problems to give you a feel of the kinds of problems you'll likely encounter.
The grammar/essay sections are good, too. It goes over the fundamental errrors that you'll likely encounter without attempting to write the next great treatise in English grammar. So with the rules in here, you'll feel comfortable answering the questions on the real test. I went from a 650 (62 MC, 10E) to an 800 (80 MC, 12 E) simply by learning the rules given in this book's grammar section.
The best part, by far, of this book is the set of three very accurate, very SAT-ish practice tests. They're slightly more difficult than what you'll encounter on the SAT, but not by any significant margin. The math questions are sufficiently convoluted in wording and the content is great. The passages are of SAT level and the questions are very much in the flavor of the test. The writing/grammar questions are also superb -- any error that you can find on the real test, you'll find in this book on these practice tests. So, all in all, good practice that will demystify the content/format/questions on the test.
Now, for the bad:
Firstly, the reading comprehensions "tips and strategies" are just god-awful. This book explicitly states to "not read the passage and just skim it for the gist". Are you kidding me? That's how you miss out on big points on the reading comprehensions, especially the tone/overall meaning/theme questions. In fact, I was so naive as to follow their advice and got a lower score than I'd deserved (the first time I tried their method and scored 680CR, but when I retook and read through the passages without skimming, I scored a 760.) It's for this that I dock a star -- the section's called "critical reading", not "skim through and hunt for factoids which will invariably be out of context".
The book also doesn't have enough practice tests. The SAT is very much like any intellectual or artistic pursuit -- one's skill is directly proportional to the amount of practice that one has. And if you're using this book as your sole source of preparation, the three tests, while well designed, will run out quickly, and you'll very soon need to buy some more. For this, you can either buy PR's 11 practice tests or the Official SAT Study Guide which has 8 tests created by the ETS (guys who write the SAT). In this case, I'd go with the Official Guide -- no test can be as accurate as one written by the guys at the ETS. Not a huge downfall, especially since most people won't take that many tests, but it's nonetheless a caveat for those aiming for relatively high scores.
All in all, a very light and fairly entertaining read that will get you familiar with the SAT and help you raise your score. But if you're really serious, you're going to need to pair this with another book to provide an alternate perspective (I'd reccomend Barron's), as well as with the (New) Official Guide for practice tests.
on November 29, 2012
I got 99th percentile scores on the SAT and ACT in high school, and I mainly attribute my success to having been exposed to the 'cracking' series. Maybe I would have gotten 90th percentile without, it's hard to say, but the strategies involved in acing the exam (I got a total of 3 questions wrong), apply at least as much to struggling students *if not more* !
Let me explain why these books can bring success in ways other books can't.
I used this book in high school, which was over 10 years ago, but I've used other Princeton Review 'Cracking' Books since then, and they feel just as sharp and poignant today as they did in the 90's.. The main benefit of these books is the change in mindset from "you are being measured" to "you can beat this system". That change in mindset, if really adopted, can easily improve a person's motivation to study, and keep them feeling confident and eager on exam day. Those reviewers who point out grammatical errors in the book are missing the point- it is critical to learn how to do well under pressure, and the biggest part of that is having the confidence that the thing measuring you is a thing you have the power to affect. All of a sudden you are not a piece of meat to be sized up, you are the one seeing if the test measures up to you.
Obviously your milage may vary, and some people may prefer to focus on actual test questions and fundamentals. But I doubt that will take them to the highest scores they can achieve. In life, it is both knowledge of the material and of the system which enable success. Let's not bow to the ETS and agree to be measured solely on knowledge. Let their weakness be our gain and use every tool at our disposal, and I believe the 'Cracking' series is an essential tool for standardized test mastery.
Whether or not you get the book, get the mindset, and stop agonizing about 'knowing enough', and start taking your best possible test. Good luck - and you'll wish you'd done this earlier !
on August 1, 2011
The Princeton Review is a great book for what it aims to do: provide you with a decent score on the SAT's. It does not, however, prepare you to do exceptionally well on the SAT's (and by that I mean 750+ in any given section). Basically, if your goal is to break 650 or maybe hit a 700, this book is perfect, and I am sure that if you use it properly, you might be able to nail a 700 in every section.
The Math prep is not at all comprehensive or in depth. They do a nice job of laying out basic concepts, but for the most part the strategies are poor. They have this thing called the "Joe Bloggs technique," which essentially says something to the effect of, "on easy questions the tempting answers are usually right, on medium questions the tempting answers are rarely right, and on hard questions the tempting answers are never right." They aggrandize this method beyond its actual ability, which isn't much from the start. They do have very useful techniques for percentages, ratios, and averages, but they never explain strategies to help you with the harder questions.
Critical Reading was their strongest section, between the Princeton Review methodology for passage analysis and their vocabulary list. However, there were slight drawbacks, namely the method they use for passage analysis is slightly hard to swallow at first. Once you get used to it, it becomes much simpler; however the first time you read through it and apply it, it may seem ineffective. The vocabulary section was very good, but if you want a higher score, you may need vocabulary supplements.
The Writing Section was abysmal. The review of grammatical concepts was nonexistent and the strategies for writing the Essays weren't really flushed out, and as a result you do not get a sense of what the essays are like or how to write one.
So again, if your aiming for a 650-700, this book will do the job. If you want to snag a higher score, I'd look somewhere els. I'd recommend looking as SliverTurtle's guide (just google it) if you intend to reach or break a 2100. He (or she; I have no idea who wrote it) talks about everything you may need for a high score on the SAT's.
Oh and good luck!
on January 18, 2007
I am an SAT tutor and instructor (with my own company) with over 9 years' experience, and I used this book recently in a 3-session SAT refresher course that took place just before the October 2006 SAT. The students improved overall in the Critical Reading section, but they actually DROPPED in their Math scores on average (the students had fairly high Math scores at the start). I had used Math questions exclusively from this book as review, and I will never make the same mistake again. The book, and Princeton Review in general, does not have a good grasp of the style and "flavor" of actual SAT Math questions. An experienced SAT tutor who has worked with the official and real SAT questions should be able to detect small, but important, differences in the Cracking the SAT Math questions as compared to official SAT questions. For one thing, the last few questions on a section are not tough enough, and they are a bit off in the style and emphasis on "question types." The Math coverage and questions are probably good enough for a student scoring below 550 on the Math section, but I would hesitate to recommend them to any students scoring 550 or higher on Math. On the other hand, the Critical Reading and Writing sections are probably strong enough for students of almost all levels. As for the claim from one reviewer that the practice tests in this book are "extremely accurate" and preferable to those in the Official SAT Study Guide, I would have to STRONGLY disagree with that assertion. I've already stated that the Math questions are not representative, but readers should know that the Critical Reading questions, while fairly representative, contain some blatant (and sometimes subtle) errors in the answer choices and stated correct answers. For good practice alone, stick with the Official SAT Study Guide and the College Board Official SAT Online Course.
on March 13, 2008
I am an SAT tutor and instructor (with my own company) with over 9 years' experience, and I used this book in 2006 in a 3-session SAT refresher course that took place just before the October 2006 SAT. The students improved overall in the Critical Reading section, but they actually DROPPED in their Math scores on average (the students had fairly high Math scores at the start). I had used Math questions exclusively from this book as review, and I will never make the same mistake again. The book, and Princeton Review in general, does not have a good grasp of the style and "flavor" of actual SAT Math questions. An experienced SAT tutor who has worked with the official and real SAT questions should be able to detect small, but important, differences in the Cracking the SAT Math questions as compared to official SAT questions. For one thing, the last few questions on a section are not tough enough, and they are a bit off in the style and emphasis on "question types." The Math coverage and questions are probably good enough for a student scoring below 550 on the Math section, but I would hesitate to recommend them to any students scoring 550 or higher on Math. On the other hand, the Critical Reading and Writing sections are probably strong enough for students of almost all levels. As for the claim from one reviewer (for the previous edition) that the practice tests in this book are "extremely accurate" and preferable to those in the Official SAT Study Guide, I would have to STRONGLY disagree with that assertion. I've already stated that the Math questions are not representative, but readers should know that the Critical Reading questions, while fairly representative, contain some blatant (and sometimes subtle) errors in the answer choices and stated correct answers. For good practice alone, stick with the Official SAT Study Guide and the College Board Official SAT Online Course.
on October 29, 2011
As a tutor, I'm very selective about the SAT books I use with my students. When one student recently completed all the practice tests in the College Board's SAT book (the only book I ever recommend), I resorted to the Princeton Review. I was deeply disappointed with the critical reading questions; they were too easy and sometimes the wording was inaccurate (e.g. asking what was implied in a passage when the answer was explicitly stated). My student, a high school senior who has taken many advanced and AP classes, also noticed the inferiority of the content in this book. I won't be using it again and will be recycling my copy.
on September 6, 2010
This is a great study tool, but when my daughter went to take the online practice tests, we learned her code had "expired", 5 weeks after purchase. No where in the materials does it state that you need to register online immediately. Very disappointing.