on August 6, 2009
The big name test prep companies such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Sparknotes, to name a few, tend to focus on "tricks" to try to beat the test. What these tricks really are, unfortunately, is just a collection of common sense strategies such as Princeton Review's vaunted "Joe Bloggs" stragegy which is just "cross off answers that the average student will pick." They do give a review of the material -- and don't get me wrong, these books are good -- but they're not aimed toward someone who wants to master the material. They simply aim to allow you to maximize your score as painlessly as possible. Okay, there is a valid reason to publish books with that aim -- most students don't want more than that.
Barron's How to Prepare for the SAT, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis of the standard preparation book. Written in true textbook style, it's the ultimate guide to the SAT. It's all here and if you're really, really dedicated to that high score to get into that shiny, prestigious university, then Barron's is just what you need.
The first section, strategies, just goes over a bunch of test taking strategies -- much like the ones found in the aforementioned books. Then, the subject matter begins.
Critical reading, widely considered the hardest section to study for, is given just the right treatment here. First, the book gives a myriad of general reading strategies (luckily, the book advocates reading the passages unlike, *ahem*, other companies). Then, as any good book on how to read would do, it gives the reader a multitude of practice passages that are much harder than the real thing (excerpts from great literary works, such as Dickens' "Great Expectations", are present) with many SAT-like questions. Don't be discouraged if you find the passages and questions difficult and you get some wrong -- answers and explanations give you a good understanding of each question and you'll find yourself applying what you learned from your mistakes to other SAT practice tests (Barron's or otherwise). After working diligently through the exercises, your skill in SAT reading should go up considerably (but you must do the practice tests as well to get the full benefit).
The sentence completion section is also well done. There's not much you can teach about sentence completions other than the usual strategies that are in every book. What Barron's does do, however, is give you two sets of 50 questions each to work on, so that you become extremely comfortable with the format of the questions and how questions may be worded.
On the topic of critical reading, Barron's includes a list of 3500 words. Yes, that's three thousand five hundred words. According to the book, it's an eclectic bunch drawn from a vast multitude of sources -- past SATs, great literary works, essays, etc.
Clearly, most people have neither the time nor the inclination to go through every one of the 3500 words (and, quite frankly, it's unnecessary). So, what this book does is give you a list of "High Frequency" words (words that have appeared on several SATs) and a list of "Hot Prospects" which are words that Barron's feels are likely to appear soon. These much shorter lists are worth memorizing and have proven extremely helpful to me and others who have taken the SAT. But if you're ambitious (or your vocabulary is severely lacking), then going through the 3500 word list WILL remedy any vocabulary weakness on your part. I find that going through the list not only helps my performance on practice tests, but it makes me seem much more eloquent in every day life and in my writing. Who can go wrong here?
Anyway, the next section is the writing/grammar section. As a student, I've never really been exposed to grammar taught formally. Before I'd taken the SAT (and before I'd read this book), I picked up enough grammar to be able to identify errors well (I scored an 800 on the writing portion in December), but I still didn't know proper terminology and couldn't guarantee that I'd get an 800 again, so I've found that going through the writing section, although it's a bit dense, to have significantly increased my grammatical erudition and I am confident that I'll get an 800 again.
Finally, the math section is a great refresher of the basics. In fact, it's much better than all of the other "refreshers" in other books to the point that it'd pass as a decent elementary mathematical textbook. It covers the entire gamut of mathematics, from the essential, but oft forgotten, arithmetic to the (relatively) advanced algebra 2 and geometry concepts. The nice thing, though, is that at the end of every review section, there's a whole slew of extremely well designed practice questions that require no more than elementary skills, but force the reader to truly think and apply what he or she has learned. While the questions are MUCH harder than the SAT, the questions are great for building mental tenacity and will make you think the real test is a "breeze".
The practice tests -- 7 in all, including the diagnostic -- are really, really difficult. The reading passages are denser than those on the SAT and the mathematics questions require a fair bit more insight and ingenuity than those found on the SAT. However, don't be discouraged when your scores aren't stratospheric if you're aiming for such a score on the real thing -- just try to build your skills so you can solve the Barron's problems then you'll have no difficulty on the real thing. As a wise man once said, "You cannot see heaven unless you've gone through hell" (paraphrasing, of course).
In short, this large, but inexpensive book is an all-in-one guide for the SAT (the Blue Book, of course, for real tests is highly useful, too). If you diligently work through this book, learn a bunch of new words, practice your reading skill on the passages, work through the writing and math questions, and truly extract every last bit that this book has to offer, you will do your ultimate personal best. Which, as you may find, is not as bounded as the College Board would have you believe.
on April 7, 2009
I am very thankful to have purchased this book - it has helped me a ton! My first score on the SAT was a 2080. I used Barron's to study for my second SAT. Today, my score is 2250 - that's a 170 point score improvement for a score that was already excellent.
--The book explains certain "tactics". These "tactics" are like strategies for test taking and for each individual subject. Some of them are common sense, but many of them - especially in the math portion - are incredibly helpful.
--The book stresses guessing. There's an entire chapter devoted to why students should guess on the SAT. I was one of those students that would omit a question rather than risk a quarter point reduction. This book had some eye-opening, cold, hard statistics to show why students should guess.
--The math is pretty straight forward and well-divided. I had McGraw-Hill's SAT 2009 for the first SAT. The math was strong, but it was not nearly as relevant as Barron's. Barron's didn't even bother to teach students what types of math you'll see on the SAT; it gives students just enough background information as well as test-taking strategies.
--The practice tests are realistic in both scoring and content. I'm not sure whether or not Barron's used SAT licensed questions, but you probably wouldn't know, either way.
--The vocabulary section is useless. It's one massive list of words. There are hundreds of words. The pull out vocabulary cards are kind of useful, but the entire vocabulary section did not seem to stress vocabulary in context or word parts.
--The writing section was comprehensive and helpful, but I very much preferred McGraw-Hill's in-depth, worksheet method for writing.
My suggestion is that if you need to raise your overall score, your math score, and your critical reading score, you'll love Barron's. On the other hand, if you are focusing on your writing score or you need to work on your vocabulary, you won't find Barron's as helpful.