The College Board recently published a new version of The Official SAT Study Guide (2020 edition). What’s the book like? Is it helpful? In this review, I’ll break down the strengths and weaknesses of this newest edition of the official guide, discuss how students feel about it, and tell you whether it’s ultimately worth buying.
Should You Buy the Official SAT Study Guide?
While the Blue Book (as it was called by students) used to be the must-have source for SAT prep, The Official SAT Study Guide, 2020 Edition, is mostly not worth purchasing. The book in its entirety—including its eight practice tests—is available for free online, so don't waste your money buying the book.
Why did the College Board release this edition for free? It’s part of the College Board's attempts to make the SAT more accessible and to reduce SAT inequality based on socioeconomic background. This is a wonderful move by the College Board, but it now means buying the book is a complete waste of money.
If you have the time, is it worth reading The Official SAT Study Guide, 2020 Edition, free online? Yes and no. The eight practice tests from the book (which are all available online for free) are absolutely crucial to your SAT prep. However, the book doesn’t provide you with details of how to score your practice test; you have to go online to do that, rendering the book useless. If you can’t even score your tests using the book, why buy it?
Also, the educational material other than the practice tests doesn’t give much helpful test insight or strategy. The educational material just provides surface-level details about the test. It doesn’t teach you the content needed for the SAT. There are far better, more in-depth SAT study guides out there including the free ones that we’ve written: check out our Reading, Math, and Writing study guides.
The educational material also mostly just tells you to go learn more on the Khan Academy SAT prep site, which is free for anyone to access, regardless of whether you purchased the book.
The strengths of the books are very limited:
- Eight College Board practice tests are pre-printed for you, so you don't need to spend money printing them yourself
- You can recycle the book (AKA use it for kindling in your bonfire or use it for a paper maché project).
Unfortunately, there are many:
- The entire book is available for free online (including two extra practice tests not included in the book!)
- The book doesn’t provide you with scoring information for your practice tests; you have to go online to get the information.
- The book only provides surface-level descriptions of each section and doesn’t offer instructional material, so you can’t actually learn skills and content from the book. There are no content lessons, so if you’re, say, struggling with geometry questions, you won’t get any assistance from this book; you’d need to seek additional help.
- Just taking SAT practice tests without a method of learning from your mistakes will not help you improve. The book sadly offers no guidance on how to learn from your mistakes or how to study content.
How Students Feel About the Official SAT Study Guide 2020
If you don’t believe me, check out how other people feel about it. On Amazon, the book is currently rated 4.3 out of 5 stars, with 69% percent of raters giving it 4 or 5 stars (remember, it's still full of official practice problems!).
That said, the 2016 edition of the book (which contained fewer practice tests and was also available for free online) has several hundred more reviewers. Of these reviewers, 82 percent gave it 4 or 5 stars, and 7 percent gave it 1 star:
The 1-star reviewers of both editions of the official guide generally agreed with my feeling that the book was a waste of money, noting that everything in the book is available online for free. The 5-star reviewers, on the other hand, generally felt that although the material is available for free online, the book was worth the money since it’s a hassle to print out the practice tests.
How You Should Use the Official SAT Guide
I recommend that no students buy the book, but all students should be using the free practice tests available online.
I don’t think any student needs to read the additional information included in this guide. The information is superficial yet difficult to parse: it discusses the types of question and content covered without giving many, if any, examples. We’ve created better free guides for Reading, Math, and Writing.
If you’re a worrywart (like me) and are stressed that you don’t know everything you can about the test, then go ahead and read the extra material for free online. You should be able to read all of it fairly quickly. As I said, it’s pretty sparse and superficial.
However, reading this book alone will not prepare you for SAT success. You need to review your SAT practice tests to learn from your mistakes. You should also do in-depth content review of subjects you don’t know well or might've forgotten, such as systems of equations or semicolons.
You still need to study!
What SAT Prep Material Should You Use?
Now that you know not to buy this book and to print the free practice tests from the College Board website, what other resources should you use to help you prep for the SAT?
If you find yourself still struggling to improve after taking a few practice tests and using our free guides, consider using a highly rated SAT prep book, hiring a tutor, or enrolling in an online program.
Whatever option you choose, make sure the program is specialized to you. You want a program that will identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can improve your weak areas as well as your SAT score.
Getting ready to apply to college? Unsure of where you want to go? Check out our guide to finding your target school and how to find out what your target SAT score should be.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.