SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The 10 Best SAT Books Recommended for SAT Prep

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Jun 24, 2015 9:30:00 PM

SAT Strategies

 

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With so many SAT prep books to choose from, how can you tell the good ones from the bad? Not to worry - we've evaluated the books for you. This fully updated guide gives you our recommendations for the top 10 new SAT preparation books to help you achieve the scores you seek.

To best outline the differences, I've divided the books into three sections: the best overall books, the best books for SAT Math, and the best books for SAT Reading and Writing. Before jumping into the recommendations, a word about my perspective.

 

Disclaimer: Why Am I Recommending Books?

You might be wondering why PrepScholar, known for its online SAT prep program, is going old school and recommending an SAT book list. As SAT experts who have made it our mission to understand the test and help students succeed, we are dedicated to providing you with the best resources to achieve your academic and personal goals. If you're self-motivated and prefer to have SAT books to read to prep, then they can be a great way to learn content, practice strategies, and try sample questions.

That being said, all of the books recommended below have strengths and weaknesses. Several of them seem as if they were rushed to publication to get ahead of the new SAT, and many unfortunately don't offer the same level of quality that they did in previous versions (more on this below). 

I believe PrepScholar has managed to integrate the best parts of these books into its online prep program while adding the helpful element of accountability. We help you plan out and stick to your study schedule, keep track of your progress, and focus on the specific skills and practice problems that you most need to improve your scores.

With books, you can try to customize your study plan to your specific needs too - but with PrepScholar, we do all that heavy lifting for you. Plus, considering the huge gains you can get from it, it's much more cost effective than buying all these books.

Since we're not necessarily benefiting from these book recommendations, you can trust that our advice is neutral, objective, and based on our and students' real experiences with these SAT preparation books. Before delving into the list, there's one more important thing for you to keep in mind about this list of best SAT prep books.

 

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In the race to publish new SAT prep books, some companies chose to offer a mediocre version now instead of a better version later.

 

A Note On Prep Books for the New SAT 

If you’re taking the new SAT in March or after, you’re probably well aware that you don’t have as much practice material as did students in years past. Unlike your predecessors, you don’t have years of previously administered tests to practice with. Instead, you have exactly four official new SAT practice tests - better than nothing, but a small number compared to all the practice tests for the old SAT.

Your limited official material makes it all the more important to find high quality, realistic practice questions for the SAT. As I mentioned above, I’m confident that PrepScholar offers these high-quality questions in its online program. Some of the books I recommend below also offer realistic problems, but not all of them have been fully updated for the new SAT.

These books are produced at the ultra-competitive intersection of publishing and SAT prep, so some of them may have been slapped together in a rush. Many have complained that Barron’s, for instance, recycled way too many old SAT Math problems, and Princeton Review has come under fire for using now obsolete, abstract wording rather than the straightforward style of the redesigned test. Rather than treat the new SAT as its own test and build material from the ground up, as PrepScholar did in its materials, these companies tried to reuse questions that are no longer relevant.

To give you variety in your book choices, I’ve included the top 10 SAT prep books that are available at this time. Unfortunately, some of the books on this list have significant weaknesses, so you should make sure to be discerning as you select your study materials. You can also check back over the year for updates, as books like the SAT Prep Black Book (great for strategy) and PWN the SAT are set to be updated and republished soon.

Since the best representation of SAT questions always come from the test makers themselves, I'll start this list with College Board's The Official SAT Study Guide. Usually, I would always recommend College Board's book as the best source of official practice questions. In this case, though, I don't necessarily think you should buy this book! Read on to find out why.

 

College Board's Official SAT Study Guide 

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Amazon price: $16.80

In past years, I told students that College Board’s book was the number one, critical book they had to have in their study arsenal. Now, I’m saying pretty much the opposite - don’t bother. Why? Because you can find all of its material for free online!

In a pretty decent move, College Board has stated its commitment to transparency and provided free online practice materials (they’re also strongly promoting their partnership with Khan Academy, which has useful video explanations to go along with the official questions).

Some students and educators were disappointed to buy The Official Study Guide book only to find that its four tests were the same exact ones offered online. Since the book doesn’t have scoring charts, you’ll need to go online anyway to score your practice tests.

So does the book offer anything beyond the practice tests? It does dedicate a bunch of pages to explaining the test structure, basic strategies, and answer explanations. Since you can find the majority of this info online, though, I wouldn’t recommend buying the book unless you really want all the material printed out for you. If you have access to a printer and a working internet connection, I’d say to take advantage of the free online material and learn about the SAT that way.

As a bonus, there are actually more official practice tests available online. The total bumber of tests is still limited, though, so you might space out these official tests throughout your prep as a way to gauge your progress and determine what concepts you need to study most.

In between these tests, you can supplement with questions from other books on this list. Read on for the pros and cons of the best overall books, along with the best books by section.

 

Best Overall SAT Prep Book 

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KALLIS' Redesigned SAT Pattern Strategy + 6 Full Length Practice Tests

Amazon price: $30.67

 

Pros

Students and educators alike have reported having great experiences with Kallis’ Redesigned SAT Pattern Strategy book. It provides six full-length practice tests, which add up to about 24 hours of practice testing. The questions are realistic and closely patterned after official College Board questions.

Kallis goes beyond College Board’s simple explanations to give step-by-step answer explanations for each question. These in-depth descriptions help you understand any mistakes and fix them for next time, a key practice for improving your scores.

Kallis discusses 101 topics that you’ll find on the new SAT and gives a clear and focused presentation of fundamental concepts in grammar, literature, and math. Beyond reviewing content, this book gives some analysis of the various question types, allowing you to take a more strategic approach as you test.

Finally, Kallis goes over the structure, format, and topics covered on the SAT in detail, so you’ll have a strong grasp of logistics before test day. This review will save you time in reading any instructions or understanding timing since you’ll know exactly what to expect when you take the SAT.

 

Cons

While Kallis has done a good job with realistic practice questions and content review, it’s less helpful for SAT strategies, like time management or process of elimination. Kallis emphasizes a “learning by doing” approach, so it doesn’t spend a lot of time going over mindset or strategies.

The Kallis book is relatively expensive, and it requires a lot of independence and self-discipline from you. You’ll need to take responsibility for dividing up the material in the most effective way and for designing and sticking to a productive study plan. The practice questions are there, but it’s up to you to put in the work and make the most out of them.

While Kallis is one of the best books out there right now for SAT prep, there are some others that offer comprehensive review for the SAT. Read on for three more suggestions for instruction and practice problems. 

 

Best Traditional Prep Books for Instruction and Practice Questions

The following books are of decent quality, but they have some serious weaknesses too. Since there are a limited number of prep books for the new SAT, these three are the best currently available for content review and practice problems. Let's go over the pros and cons of each.

 

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McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2016

Amazon price: $12.87

 

Pros

If you’re looking for an informative overview of the structure and content of the SAT, then McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2016 is a decent choice. It goes over the test in detail, from the number of questions to the time limits of each section, so you know exactly what to expect.

The practice questions, especially those in math, are realistic and resemble official College Board questions. For instance, the math questions feature real-world scenarios with problems about temperature and selling tickets for a performance. All the writing questions are based on passages, and the Reading questions feature tables and graphs to reflect the SAT’s emphasis on data interpretation.

While this book reviews content, it’s strongest in its presentation of math concepts. The book breaks down the topics in detail, including Heart of Algebra concepts - expressions, linear systems, inequalities, etc; Passport to Advanced Math - functions, quadratics, etc; Problem Solving and Data Analysis - rates, ratios, percentages, table, etc; and Additional Topics - geometry, basic trig, complex numbers.

Finally, this book gives you some helpful guidance when it comes to mapping out your study plan. Like PrepScholar’s program, it suggests that you begin with a diagnostic practice test and use it to shape your study plan. It also offers a few basic strategies, like improving your calculator fluency so you know when using a calculator is useful and when it might just slow you down.

 

Cons

There are a few cons to this book, and one is its limited number of practice tests. It only has three full-length tests, meaning your practice testing time would be rather limited if you only used this book.

The other major con is its weakness in reviewing Reading and Writing. While it goes over the Math section in detail, its presentation of the verbal sections is more limited and somewhat unusual. It only discusses “ten essential rules” for Reading and Writing, and its review of the verbal sections is more conceptual and experimental than it is specific to the SAT. For instance, it features chapters with titles like the “Language of Truth, Truthfulness, and Beauty” and the “Language of Dissent, Criticism, and Rebellion.”

While these sections may be interesting to book lovers, they aren’t super specific to the SAT - a feature that I consider to be critical when prepping for this unique, idiosyncratic test. Perhaps these sections reflect the rush to get published that I mentioned above. Since the Math section isn’t changing all that much, McGraw-Hill was able to adapt and produce math problems pretty well. But since the Reading and Writing sections were dramatically revamped for the new SAT, they proved a greater challenge to capture in time for the new edition.

Students have cited a similar problem with Barron’s New SAT, 28th Edition. Read on for the pros and cons of Barron’s guide to the SAT in 2016 and beyond.

 

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Barron's New SAT

Amazon price: $12.20

 

Pros

Barron's New SAT is another thorough prep book that offers content review, sample questions, and practice tests. Barron’s 28th Edition has four full-length practice tests, meaning you’ll get about 16 hours of testing. It also offers a diagnostic test, a helpful tool to get you familiarized with the SAT, in a testing mindset, and aware of any weaknesses you need to address moving forward.

Barron’s is very comprehensive and covers most of the topics you need to know. Because of its dense format, it’s typically more effective for high scorers who are able to engage quickly with the content and maintain focus throughout. If you can divide up and scaffold the material in a manageable way, then you'll be able to gain some valuable practice with this book.

 

Cons

Barron’s has been criticized for recycling practice questions from its old books, rather than creating new SAT content. There are a lot more changes to the SAT than having four answer choices instead of five, so simply re-using old questions won’t give you a realistic sense of the question types and concepts on the SAT. This book appears especially guilty of this in its math sections, and it lacks a sufficient focus on algebra - a major component of the new SAT.

In addition to not being as realistic as they should be, some of the questions are overly confusing and have complicated wording. While the SAT will feature multi-step problems that call for in-depth reasoning skills, its problems will have relatively straightforward wording - much like its counterpart, the ACT. Therefore, the questions you’ll get in Barron’s, while helpful, may be too hard and not as useful as they could be for your SAT prep.

Finally, Barron’s offers a CD-Rom with additional practice questions. With all the online material available for the new SAT, using a CD-Rom makes it seem like it’s 2016 going on 1998. Way too old school, in my personal opinion!

 

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Princeton Review's Cracking the New SAT

Amazon price: $21.59

 

Pros

Like Barron's, Princeton Review's Cracking the New SAT prep book provides a comprehensive review of the three sections of the SAT. It has four full length practice tests, as well as two additional practice tests that you can access online (no CD-Roms here, phew). Princeton Review covers concepts you need to know, like grammar rules and algebraic functions, along with strategies for approaching the questions and managing your time.

It also gives thorough answer explanations which help you think about how you can approach similar questions in the future. Along with the book, there's an online component that helps you with scoring your practice tests. Given that this book is similar to Barron's in many ways, does it have the same drawbacks?

 

Cons

Princeton Review shares some of Barron’s drawbacks, mainly that some of its questions have overly elaborate wording and don’t match the straightforward style of official SAT questions as well as they should. The practice tests, while helpful, are not the best representation of SAT sample questions.

Unlike Barron's though, some of Princeton Review's content review and questions err on the side of being too easy conceptually, rather than too difficult. While Barron's might be better for especially motivated students aiming for top scores, Princeton Review is more appropriate for students scoring around 600 or below. It probably won't help you break out of that range and score much beyond that, especially since it doesn’t break each content area down into as many subtopics as it could.

The other potential downside of Princeton Review is its style. Like Barron's, it's a big, traditional test prep book with a straightforward approach. Some students appreciate this; others find it boring. If you're looking for a more personable or entertaining type of writing to keep you focused, these books are not the ones to break the mold. Unfortunately, books that used a more entertaining approach for the old SAT haven’t yet been updated for the new SAT.

All the books mentioned have strengths and weaknesses, but combined provide relatively comprehensive prep in all the important areas: practice questions, content review, and strategies. If you're looking to focus even more on a particular section, then you would benefit from a subject-specific test prep book. The following are my recommendations for SAT Math, Reading, and Writing.

 

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Unlike his couches, this frog prefers his SAT prep one section at a time.

 

Best Books for SAT Math

Books that focus on a single subject often provide especially in-depth prep. Plus, they can be easier to approach than the huge comprehensive test prep books. If you need more prep in one section than the others or are taking advantage of your colleges' superscoring policies by building up your SAT scores one section at a time, then these books could be a great resource.

Below are my recommendations for math prep books, starting with Dr. Steve Warner's New SAT Math Problems.

 

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Dr. Steve Warner's New SAT Math Problems

Amazon price: $25.68 

 

Pros

Steve Warner’s New SAT Math Problems is his most recent in SAT math preparation. Just like with his last series, Steve Warner offers comprehensive and clear content review and instruction. He discusses each area on the test: Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Geometry and Trigonometry (College Board calls this last section, Additional Topics).

This book helpfully arranges concepts by level of difficulty, with the easiest being Level 1 and the most advanced classified as Level 4. This organization ensures that math problems from all the different content areas are integrated, and it allows you to focus on certain chapters depending on your own level. Students already aiming in the 700s, for instance, will be helped most by studying Level 4 and 5 concepts and problems.

Each lesson in this book is carefully crafted, and practice problems are realistic and reinforce your understanding. The answer explanations are also useful, as they go over a few different approaches. As mentioned above, these kinds of multifaceted explanations appeal to different kinds of learners and allow you to carefully understand your mistakes and fix them for next time.

 

Cons

While it’s perhaps unfair to compare this book to its predecessors for the old version of the SAT, I can’t help but find it limited next to the previous Steve Warner series of math books. As more are updated and published, the Steve Warner books will be able to break down each content area into smaller and more specific subtopics. It will also be able to offer even more individualized customization to students at all different scoring levels and time to commit to prep.

The other downside of this book is its limited number of practice problems. While it’s helpful for instruction, you’ll want to supplement it with other practice materials for more hours of practice testing. The next two books offer many more practice problems for you to try as you study for the SAT Math section.

 

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Dr. Jang's SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT

 

Pros

Dr. Jang’s SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT's major and impressive strength lies in its sheer number of practice problems - over 1,500 of them! This book definitely allows for a “learning by doing” approach, as you can time yourself and answer practice questions for days.

The question types are arranged by difficulty level, so you can break them up and customize them for your needs. You may start out with Dr. Jang’s diagnostic test and space out the book’s 10 sample tests as you prep.

Of course, having a lot of practice problems isn’t so useful unless the questions are good. Fortunately, Dr. Jang’s SAT math problems are realistic samples of what you’ll see on the SAT. The book emphasizes algebra, includes basic trigonometry, and divides questions into non-calculator and calculator sections, just like the test. It offers a strong representation of the concepts, format, and rules you’ll encounter on the math section of the SAT.

 

Cons

Dr. Jang’s SAT 800 Math Workbook is like the flipped version of Steve Warner’s book - lots of practice problems, but not a ton of content review. For more instruction, as well as strategies and detailed explanations, you’d probably want to supplement this workbook with another book.

You’ll also want to look elsewhere for test-taking strategies, like time management. This book has lots of practice problems appealing to students at all levels, but it’s probably not sufficient on its own to prep you for all aspects of SAT Math.

 

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Dr. John Chung's SAT Math: 54 Perfect Tips and 10 Complete Tests

 

Pros

Like Dr. Jang’s Workbook, Dr. John Chung’s SAT Math book features numerous practice questions, all of which are realistic, high quality questions. It has 10 practice tests for you to use. The book also gives example questions after each of its 54 “tips,” or concepts, to reinforce your understanding of a concept like linear function, exponents, transformations, or calculating rates.

This book states that it’s “designed for students to get a perfect score.” With this as its underlying mission, the book does not provide detailed content review and instruction. Instead, it’s meant for students who already have a strong foundation in math concepts and could benefit from the brief tips, rather than need full-fledged explanations. This could be a pro or a con, depending on what kind of math student you are.

 

Cons

As mentioned above, this book is relatively spare when it comes to lessons. It’s a “no-frills” kind of book formatted like a list. There isn’t much narrative or description, so if you need that to hold your attention as you get through SAT prep, then this book might not be the best resource for you.

Since it doesn’t have a lot of content review, this book probably isn’t the best one to start out your SAT studying. Instead, it’d be better to use once you have a strong conceptual foundation and familiarity with the structure, topics, and format of the SAT.

Some students have also noticed some typos in the book, as if it were another one rushed to publication without proofreading for all the errors. While Dr. Chung’s book has a lot of practice questions, there may be some mistakes throughout the material.

While there are works by several different authors to choose from to maximize your math score, I just have one author recommendation to boost your reading and writing scores: Erica Meltzer.

 

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Quick coffee break, and then it's on to SAT Reading and Writing.

 

Best Books for SAT Reading and Writing

If you're looking to brush up your reading comprehension skills or knowledge of grammar rules, I recommend Erica Meltzer's books on the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT.

 

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The Complete Guide to SAT Reading by Erica Meltzer

Amazon price: $33.20

 

Pros

While studying for the Reading section might seem hard to break down into specific parts, The Complete Guide to SAT Reading does a good job of outlining the skills you'll need. It also has helpful strategies for answering questions. While your English class may leave more room for subjective interpretation, the SAT Reading section does not. This book helps you locate the one unambiguously correct answer on reading comprehension questions.

In addition to time management and reading comprehension techniques, this book teaches you how to locate and identify key information quickly and efficiency. It discusses useful strategies for approaching paired supporting evidence and data interpretation questions, many of which require you to read tables or graphs. Additionally, this book has a list of common, multiple-meaning words with their various definitions alongside strategies for how to use context clues to uncover meaning. 

This book also discusses question type, so you gain a sense of what kind of questions appear on Reading, like main point, interpretation of detail, and vocabulary in context. Finally, it's full of high quality passages that resemble what you'll see on the SAT, including passages from U.S. or world literature, history or social studies, and science. In addition to its own realistic practice questions, The Complete Guide to SAT Reading incorporates questions from College Board and Khan Academy so that you can match up concepts with relevant official sample questions.

 

Cons

Overall, students are highly satisfied with the content and strategies provided by Erica Meltzer. However, not all are a fan of the overall layout and formatting, which has small, crowded font and is not very creative. 

Similarly, the writing style is all to the point. Some people appreciate this for its directness; other students find it dry. You can learn more about it at Erica Meltzer's blog, The Critical Reader, and see how it suits you. It's also relatively expensive for a book that only covers one section of the SAT.

In addition to her guide to SAT Reading, Erica Meltzer provides a high quality book for the SAT Writing and Language section.

 

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The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer

Amazon price: $27.40

 

Pros

The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar clearly articulates the important grammar rules you need to know for the SAT Writing section. The questions are realistic and resemble the Writing section, as they all are connected to the context of a longer passage.

This book breaks down skills and grammar rules so you can study them individually. By learning the rules of grammar and usage, you can then apply them to practice problems. Rather than just choosing an answer that "sounds right," Meltzer's book will teach you all the rules of grammar and usage that you need to know. 

 

Cons

While this book is helpful in the way it breaks the section down by skill and grammar rule, the questions on the real SAT will be in random order. This book is useful for learning and drilling the rules, but then you want to take practice tests to make sure you can still identify the grammar rule when it's not clearly laid out for you. There also isn't a frequency guide, so it's hard to know which rules to prioritize over others.

It is written in a similar style to her Critical Reading book, which some students find dry. These two books together, furthermore, are relatively expensive at a combined $60.

As this guide is meant to help you streamline your studying, let's discuss how you can best use these books to prep for the SAT and achieve your target scores.

 

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How to Best Study from Books

There are a lot of options when it comes to studying for the SAT from books. Rather than reading them cover to cover, you would be better served coming up with a plan and breaking each book down into smaller, manageable goals. 

I would recommend using an official College Board practice test to give yourself a pre-test and gain a sense of your starting level. Take the time to score it and analyze your results to determine what areas you need to focus on. You could also save one of the tests to take right before you take the official SAT, to gain a sense of how much you've improved. As mentioned above, the other tests could be used as benchmarks along the way to gauge your progress and readjust your study plan if need be.  

A comprehensive book like Kallis' or Barron's could be used alongside a subject-specific book, like Steve Warner's math book and Erica Meltzer's guides. Depending on your goals and needs, you can decide how much time you devote to each subject to get the most out of your studying. 

There's a lot of room here to customize your study plan for your own particular strengths, weaknesses, and goals. This requires a good deal of planning, as well as self-discipline to actually stick to your plan. You also will benefit from reflecting on what works best for you in terms of maintaining interest, retaining information, and staying organized.

If this sounds like a lot of "study prep" before you even get to your test prep, you might benefit from exploring SAT prep options beyond using an SAT book list.


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Explore Your SAT Prep Options

The SAT is a unique test. Doing well in math and English class doesn't necessarily guarantee you a high score on SAT Math or Reading. Prep is a critical component of getting a high score for most students, which College Board is finally acknowledging with its efforts to provide free online practice material. Since you probably don't have time to waste, you want to make the most of your prep time. If you're taking time out of your schedule to study, you should see results. 

PrepScholar's online test program was developed with these goals in mind. It retains the quality of content review, practical strategies, and SAT practice questions while adding those elements of accountability and customization. It ensures that you're getting the most out of your prep time, rather than wasting time on material you already know or that won't help you on the SAT. 

With that same goal in mind, we've made available a number of in-depth strategy guides for the SAT, which we're adding to all the time. These are some of the most popular:

 

The above recommended SAT prep books can be very useful in getting you ready, but they can also feel overwhelming and repetitive, not to mention expensive (unfortunately there aren't too many options when you search for "SAT preparation books PDF free download").

Take the time to explore your options, while also learning about the SAT from high quality online resources and our detailed guides. If you're putting in the time to prep for the SAT, make sure that you're seeing results and enjoying the process along the way.

 

What's Next?

Before delving into content and strategies, you should familiarize yourself with exactly what's on the SAT. Learn all about the Reading, Writing, and Math sections individually and in our Complete Guide to the SAT, fully updated for 2016.

An important part of your study schedule is knowing exactly when you plan to take the SAT. Read all about how to choose your test dates.

Did you know that a lot of colleges superscore the SAT, or take your highest section scores across all dates? Learn how you can use this policy to your advantage and build up your scores across different test dates.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

SAT Free Signup

 

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.



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