Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

If you’re tired of the same old prep books staring you down when it comes time to study for a standardized test, maybe it’s time to try something new. Although few books can beat your trust copy of Kaplan or Barron’s when it comes down to straight informational delivery, there are dozens of other books that are just as helpful and far more interesting. More importantly, these books will do a better job of teaching you how to think, which is what truly matters. The benefits of these books will extend far beyond the day of the test.

So without further ado, here are a number of helpful books that will help you not only rock your next standardized test, but also carry you far into the future


So assuming you have a basic understanding of how angles work and more or less get subtraction, there doesn’t seem to be a lot you can do to radically boost your SAT score. Enter Arthur Benjamin, a self-described “mathemagician” who could easily pass himself off as a human calculator. His book
Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks lets you in on all his secrets – proving him to be a lousy magician, however excellent he may be at math.

His book can read like a series of parlor tricks, but it’s far more than that – it’s shortcut after shortcut that allows you to easily solve more complicated equations. On a timed multiple-choice test, these approximations can come in handy. While other kids may have to resort to pecking at their calculators, you may be able to solve a question with a quick glance.


As unhelpful as this is, the best way to prepare for the reading section is simply to read. Unsure where to start? As pretentious as it is, this list is not half-bad. Finding a way to squeeze even fifteen minutes of reading into your day (over breakfast? on the bus? before bed?) will go a long way toward helping you increase your reading comprehension.


Let me sing the praises of Grammar Girl. I first encountered the genius of Mignon Fogarty through The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar GirlIt’s quick, it’s witty, and above else, it’s helpful. In fact, the original Grammar Girl is also on the syllabus of a course at my college required for tutors interested in working for the Writing Center.

In my opinion, prep books’ takes on grammar can be incredibly dry. Fogarty explains English’s convoluted mechanics with impressive lucidity, and includes dozens of memorable mnemonic devices that help you retain information as quickly as you learn it. (To this day, I still think about her hairdryer example when determining how to wade through compound possession.)

Bonus: APs

Advanced Placement courses are a little harder to prep for with random books, as unlike the SAT or ACT, they are designed to test a semester’s worth of college-level knowledge. That being said, I often find that complex ideas are easier to understand when I get the basic stuff, so two of Charles Wheelan’s books deserve an honorable mention. For those taking AP Economics or AP Statistics, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science and Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data are both clear, engaging looks at some traditionally underappreciated subjects. Wheelan makes economics and statistics funnier than they have any right to be and includes insightful real-world examples to show just how relevant these two fields are.

I can’t speak for the AP classes, but I can say these two books provided me with enough information to get me through the majority of my intro-level microeconomics and statistics courses. College classes are a breeze when you already understand almost three-quarters of the material.

Will these books guarantee you a perfect score? Of course note, but in contrast to the more traditional SAT/ACT-prep books, these books will help transform the way you think. Long-term benefits aside, you’ll do better on the test as well – and if you’re already thinking better, you’ll have one less thing to worry about as you dedicate yourself to what you actually need to study for the test.

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