You may have heard of a new trend in test prep: games. That’s right—studying for your SAT by playing computer (and even phone) games!
If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Most of the SAT prep games out there are pretty bad. However, there are a few games that may genuinely help you with some aspects of your test prep experience—although they won’t do much other than supplement your more typical studying activities like taking practice tests and doing practice problems.
In this article I’ll break down the SAT prep game trend, explain why most prep games won’t help you, describe what makes a good prep game, offer some recommendations for games that will help you, and offer some advice on how to use them.
SAT Prep Games: An Overview
The past few years have seen a rise in “gamification,” or the attempt to make regular, tedious life tasks more game-like and thus more fun and exciting. There are apps for gamifying exercise, productivity, household chores, finance, and even shopping.
Given the ever-increasing circle of things that have been gamified, it’s no surprise that SAT games have proliferated in the past few years. Lots of test-prep companies have gotten on the train. Kaplan, the Princeton Review, the Idiot’s Guide—they all have created or helped create SAT practice games.
The general idea behind SAT games is that if preparing for the test is fun, you will want to do it. If you want to do it, you’ll spend more time preparing. But is this true? And even if it is, is the preparation you get from playing games comparable to that from less fun modes of studying?
Can you game your way to SAT success?
Why Most SAT Prep Games Are Bad
The truth is that there are very few test-prep games that will actually provide substantial help on the SAT. In fact, they may even be detrimental, because you may play them thinking you are getting in some valuable preparation when you really aren’t.
The problem with most SAT prep games is that they are mostly just glorified multiple-choice quizzes. However, the questions are generally of low quality and don’t resemble real SAT questions very much. Answers are sometimes truly ambiguous or unclear, and explanations are often lacking or nonexistent. Further limiting the utility of many of these games is that they haven’t been updated for the revised SAT. So you’ll be hit with outdated question styles that aren’t even on the SAT anymore, like Sentence Completion and Sentence Error.
If a game just asks you “SAT-style” multiple choice questions, I advise you to stay away from it unless you can thoroughly vet that the questions actually resemble real SAT questions. You are much better off using genuine College Board SAT practice tests or even ACT tests if you need more sample questions to prep for the SAT. It might be marginally more fun to see yourself get points for correct questions in an app or on a website, but you’ll be much happier in the long run if you spend that time answering well-written sample questions that will actually help you. Also, the College Board has now partnered with Khan Academy to create SAT prep resources online, which has both gamified aspects like earnable badges and College-Board official practice questions. You are better off using Khan Academy than any other multiple-choice-based SAT prep game.
There are also many SAT games that are very focused on vocab. While a diverse vocab is still important for the SAT, the revised test places much less emphasis on knowing arcane words out-of-context. So exclusively “SAT Vocab” focused games may not have much utility for you.
STOP before you play bad SAT games!
What Makes a Good SAT Prep Game
There are, in general, three things that make for a good prep game.
#1: It Targets a Specific SAT Skill or Content Area
A game aimed at a specific concept that’s tested on the SAT—trigonometry, modelling, punctuation, etc—will be much more useful than something that just offers half-baked multiple choice questions on vocab words. This means that the best SAT prep games may not even be designed specifically for the SAT! They just need to work on building a skill or reviewing material that is covered on the SAT.
#2: It’s Engaging
If the game is boring, you might as well just take practice tests. A prep game doesn’t have to be the most fun you’ve ever had, but it should break up your practice routine a little bit.
#3: The Content Is Accurate
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s very important to make sure that the game is actually presenting content accurately. Otherwise you could be studying incorrect material! I would include in this that multiple-choice questions need to actually resemble real SAT questions.
Keep your SAT ducks in a row!
6 Solid SAT Prep Games
If you want to incorporate some academic and SAT-prep games into your studying, there are several sources where you might look for actually useful games.
This site has a variety of simple, educational flash games for pre-K through 12th grade. The math page has games for probability, algebra, geometry, and several other topics that appear the SAT. There are also word games in the Language Arts section that test your skill with punctuation and parts of speech. This is a solid resource if you find yourself getting stuck on a particular concept in math or language arts and you just need to drill recall in a non-boring way.
FreeRice is an online game in which you answer questions to fill up your bowl of rice; every correct question answered actually provides rice to someone in need. FreeRice has an SAT prep category, but I don’t advise using it as the questions are based on the old SAT. I think the English grammar mode is much more useful; you’ll pick the grammatically correct sentence and move through progressively harder levels as you keep choosing the right answer. This is good practice for your wrong-answer elimination skills on the Writing portion of the SAT!
This page has printable crosswords (and answer keys) in a variety of academic subjects, including several that are relevant to the SAT, like grammar, geometry, and algebra. These could function as a fun review of some key subject-matter concepts for the SAT.
With a free account on Quizlet, you can access thousands of flashcard sets that others have uploaded to the site, including a variety of SAT prep sets. Of course, you’ll want to check out a set before you use it to study to make sure it actually has useful (and correct) information. What’s even better is that you can make a set yourself with the things you really need to drill down on. Once you make or choose a set, you can play with it in two game modes. There’s a matching game and a game where you prevent asteroids from hitting the planet by typing the correct answer.
#5: Word Dynamo
This 99-cent app by Dictionary.com has a variety of useful term sets that you can explore in flashcard or matching mode. They aren’t just “SAT vocab” type sets, either; you can also find sets on parts of speech, literary terms, SAT Writing words, SAT Reading words, and so on. This could be a useful resource if you want to be able to do a little bit of light studying while you wait for the bus and so on.
This is one of the less gamelike options out there, but it is an official College Board app. It offers you an official practice SAT question every day; once you answer the question you can compare how you did with other students. A solid option simply because all of the questions are College Board-approved.
Make your SAT prep arsenal a full deck.
How to Use SAT Prep Games in Your Own Studies
While SAT games won’t replace the majority of your regular, unglamorous studying, they can supplement it in a few key ways.
#1: To Target Specific Skills/Concepts
SAT prep games can be helpful in targeting specific skills or concepts that you have trouble with. If commas stump you, try a punctuation game; if triangles trouble you, play a trigonometry or geometry game. Games can be a fun way to learn or reinforce an underlying concept you need to know for the SAT.
#2: Keep Material Fresh Between Study Sessions
A quick SAT game can be a good way to keep things fresh between dedicated preparation sessions. A few grammar questions on FreeRice will help keep your grammar brain fresh when you go a day or two without any serious prep time.
#3: As Warm-ups, Breaks, and Rewards
SAT practice games are also a great way to warm up your brain at the beginning of a study session, and a good way to re-energize yourself during a quick break. Playing an SAT game you like for a few minutes before you take a practice test will help turn on your brain and get the gears moving before the main event. You can also use prep games as a reward after you finish a study session to help wrap things up on a low-stress note!
The judicious use of prep games can help you hit an SAT home run!
Key TakeawaysDo I think you could do all of your studying with prep games and do well? No, especially because most prep games are just poorly-written SAT quizzes.
That said, here’s what does make a solid SAT prep game:
- It presents skills and content that are tested on the SAT
- It’s engaging
- It presents accurate information
- Sheppards Software - Simple flash games for math and English concepts.
- FreeRice - Has an English grammar mode that’s useful for the Writing section.
- NYTimes Student Crosswords - A fun way to review fundamental concepts in a subject.
- Quizlet - Make your own flashcards and then play games with them!
- Word Dynamo - An app to help with Writing and Reading sections.
- Daily SAT Practice - this College Board official app offers a question a day and lets you see how others did.
- To target specific skills/concept areas you are weak in
- Keeping material fresh between study sessions
- Warm-ups, breaks, and rewards during studying
With these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to be able to get the most out of your SAT prep games instead of being played by them!
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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.