Full Expert Review: The Official SAT Study Guide

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The Official SAT Study Guide is the most important book to have in your prep program. Nearly every student who's serious about SAT prep has this in his or her library.

Even despite its obvious strengths, the book has its major drawbacks, and it will not be enough for most students. Read this detailed review to find out what the cons of this book are, and how you should integrate it as part of your prep.

Note: This review is for the Official Study Guide to the Old, pre-March-2016 SAT. Read our review of the Official Study Guide to the New SAT here!


Why trust this review?

When you get advice on the internet, it's important to understand why you should believe the advice you're receiving. Because your SAT score is important, follow the wrong advice, and it might be too late to improve your score.

To be transparent, here’s why you might be able to trust this review more than others:

  • I like to think that I know what I’m talking about. I scored two perfect scores on the SAT and have worked personally with thousands of students prepping for the SAT. I’ve worked with students at all levels, from people at a 1200 level to people aiming for a 2300+. Other writers often don't have the expertise to differentiate between books, and they recommend books as an afterthought (and you can probably tell).
  • I don’t get paid for these recommendations, and I don’t get paid if you buy these books. I’ve studied dozens of books for SAT prep, and I review the books that I come across. Other sites, especially about.com and reviews.com, get paid for featuring books and get a kickback when you buy a book they recommend.

One disclaimer: I’m co-founder of PrepScholar, an online SAT/ACT prep program. I believe we’ve built the best prep program available right now. It diagnoses your strengths and weaknesses and gives you a structured all-in-one program, combining the best aspects of the books below, so you know exactly what you need to study at every point.

But I want to stress that you don’t need a program to excel at the SAT. In fact, writing this guide may lose us some customers, since you might decide that you don’t need a program at all. But if you decide that you don’t want to manage 10 books and want an integrated complete program that customizes to your learning, check PrepScholar SAT out.


Official SAT Study Guide Review

When I consider the quality of a book, I think about a few important questions:

  • Who's the author, and what is his or her experience with the subject matter?
  • How effective is the book, and why?
  • What are the book's main pros and cons?

We'll consider each question below.


About the Author: The College Board

It doesn't get much better than this. The book is the official book published by the creators and administrators of the SAT, the College Board. They've put in 10 full-length practice tests, and because they're official questions from previous administrations of the SAT, they're the best set of questions available anywhere.


How effective is this book?

We’ve written at length about the importance of official SAT practice questions. The SAT test is weird and tests concepts in ways that you’ve never seen in school before. This means that you need to train with realistic questions so you learn the patterns of the SAT.

Official SAT tests released by the College Board are the gold standard for SAT practice questions. This book contains 10 such tests. Each test released by the College Board contains real questions given to real students at previous administrations of the SAT. The quality of official questions is far better than questions written by unofficial sources like Kaplan and Barron's.

With that said, this book will not be a complete prep program for most students. It doesn't go into detail on test strategy and tricks - after all, the College Board has maintained since the beginning of the SAT that the SAT is not able to be prepped for (which we know is factually false).

It also doesn't provide focused practice on specific strengths and weaknesses, which we believe is critical to an effective prep program. Its answer explanations are also quite poor, as they don't teach you how to solve the problem - they just tell you why the correct answer is correct, and why the incorrect answers are incorrect. The book also doesn't tell you how to use it - it's important that you reflect on your mistakes, for example, and space out your prep. 

In the end, this book is great for what it is - 10 practice tests - but not for more than that.


The Official SAT Guide's Pros and Cons


  • The best set of practice tests you can get anywhere, period.
  • 10 full-length tests should cover all but the most ambitious students. Since each one takes at least 4 hours to complete and review, this is already 40 hours of material.
  • Answers for each question are available online.


  • Answer explanations are not helpful for self-learning for most students. Most of the explanations read like this: “A is wrong because A is wrong. B is correct for these reasons” rather than showing you how to solve the question from step 1. You need to understand yourself well to learn from your mistakes.
  • Answers are available only online and through a clunky web interface that’s annoying to use.
  • Book doesn’t provide other instructional material. If you’re bad at algebra, you can’t rely on this book alone. People are buying it purely for the tests, and the College Board knows this.
  • Taking practice tests without a system for learning isn’t going to improve your score, and the book doesn’t provide guidance on how to do this.


Overall Rating

This book is a critical piece of any student's prep program. There simply is no better source of official prep questions. It's so important that we've integrated it as a central part of our online SAT prep program.

To use this book effectively, you'll definitely need advice on how best to use it, and balance it with other materials.

You can also get all free official practice tests here, but they don’t have answer explanations.

Overall Rating: 90/100


What's next?

Read our detailed guide to the Best SAT Prep Books to put together your own study program based on the best SAT books available now.

What's a good SAT score for you? Figure it out with our step by step guide based on the colleges you're applying to.

Aiming for a high score? Read our guide to scoring a perfect SAT score, written by me, a perfect SAT scorer.




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About the Author
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Allen Cheng

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.

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