Cracking the SAT, 2012 Edition Paperback – Jun 7 2011
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Since 2005 when they revamped their textbook for the new SAT, they have annually produced a new edition. Every year a shiny new cover with a new student of different ethnicity. And every year they managed to adjust the layout a wee bit: change a word or two here or there, but keep essentially the EXACT SAME TEXT from year to year! As a test prep tutor who uses this otherwise helpful book for her students, it is infuriating to be forced to buy a new book every year - rewriting all my notes - just to match the new page numbers.
In 2010, they added another practice test into the book, the only real, if small, improvement, since the rest of the text either stayed the same or lost some of its punch. It is well known that as one edits something repeatedly, it tends to lose energy, as any student working on his or her college application essay is aware. This certainly happened to The Princeton Review SAT text: The Critical Reading section in particular lost a lot when they chose, in 2007, to merge the Long and Short Reading Passages techniques, resulting in a confused and less effective approach to these passage types which require very different techniques and focus.
But this year -or rather, next year, since the 2012 model arrives with almost a half year to go- they gave up all pretense at creating new value. Shamelessly, they radically changed the cover to a dull black and white with a single student smiling in the void. (At least I'll be able to differentiate it from the army of their 2005-2011 editions on my bookshelves!) But the interior of the book is absolutely identical to 2011! I have compared the two texts side by side and flipped at random to dozens of pages in both books and they are the same, totally.
So, pick up a good second-hand copy of 2011 or 2010 if you like and save some money. The Princeton Review is a good course and their basic test-beating techniques are definitely helpful. This text in conjunction with the SAT 'bible' ("The CollegeBoard's Official Guide to the SAT") used for its practice tests, accompanied by "Tutor Ted's SAT Solutions Manual" are the best study trio I have found. For students seeking extra math help, Barrons dedicated "SAT Math Workbook" is terrific, as is the collection of free lessons and CollegeBoard math questions explanations available for free online at Khan Academy.
Princeton Review's Cracking the SAT is the Anti-SAT book. This book, 2007 edition appears to be the preeminent strategy book for SAT preparation. Indeed, the entire book appears to be designed in order to demystify the SAT and it is strategy or "trick" focused. Many efficient test-taking strategies are presented for each subject area and question type.
However, one of the strategies has had its share of issues. Many students have reported that they were flummoxed by the pervasive "Joe Bloggs" method. While the method is not being called into question, we do question Princeton Review's constant usage of the method throughout the text. The "Joe Bloggs" method has been endemic to Princeton Review preparation books since the mid-90s, if not earlier, but we have seen many students who have improved their scores, sometimes dramatically, by relinquishing this method and focusing only on how to complete the questions efficiently. Hence, while we appreciate this method, we remain dubious of Princeton Review's recommendation of pervasive usage.
This book also features 3, extremely accurate, practice SATs. Moreover, each test has an Equating section (no other book does), and explanations are provided to every question on the exams. There are 7 tests, but only 3 of them are in the book. Although The Official SAT Study Guide has 8 exams and they are made by the College Board, this book features accurate practice exams that have full explanations and Equating sections. Hence, some have concluded that the tests in this book are preferable to those in The Official SAT Study Guide.
Finally, this book as well as more than 20 other SAT prep books are reviewed and ranked on CEEAE dot org. Every book review has a direct link to its page on Amazon, so you can read the reviews, view the rankings and then purchase your selections from Amazon.
It demystifies the SAT and takes a "student friendly" approach. That is, it helps convince the reader that the SAT doesn't measure intelligence, self-worth, etc. While this may or may not be true, it relieves one of a significant burden by believing that the test doesn't test anything innate, which prevents the formation of artificial mental barriers or blocks.
The vocabulary list is quite good, as it consists of a short, but sweet list of 200 words that are likely to show up on the SAT (either in passages or in the sentence completions). For such a short list, it sure does get a good number of "hits" on the real thing.
The math refresher is good -- it's not a math textbook in the sense that it will, in vivid detail, teach you the fundamentals of mathematics beginning with "2 + 2 = 4", but it does give you a great refresher of all the topics you (should) have learned. If you're shaky about performing basic algebra, then you don't need an SAT prep book -- you need a basic mathematics book. It also shows how these basic math tools can be applied to the SAT, by showing how to solve several "famous" or "representative" problems to give you a feel of the kinds of problems you'll likely encounter.
The grammar/essay sections are good, too. It goes over the fundamental errrors that you'll likely encounter without attempting to write the next great treatise in English grammar. So with the rules in here, you'll feel comfortable answering the questions on the real test. I went from a 650 (62 MC, 10E) to an 800 (80 MC, 12 E) simply by learning the rules given in this book's grammar section.
The best part, by far, of this book is the set of three very accurate, very SAT-ish practice tests. They're slightly more difficult than what you'll encounter on the SAT, but not by any significant margin. The math questions are sufficiently convoluted in wording and the content is great. The passages are of SAT level and the questions are very much in the flavor of the test. The writing/grammar questions are also superb -- any error that you can find on the real test, you'll find in this book on these practice tests. So, all in all, good practice that will demystify the content/format/questions on the test.
Now, for the bad:
Firstly, the reading comprehensions "tips and strategies" are just god-awful. This book explicitly states to "not read the passage and just skim it for the gist". Are you kidding me? That's how you miss out on big points on the reading comprehensions, especially the tone/overall meaning/theme questions. In fact, I was so naive as to follow their advice and got a lower score than I'd deserved (the first time I tried their method and scored 680CR, but when I retook and read through the passages without skimming, I scored a 760.) It's for this that I dock a star -- the section's called "critical reading", not "skim through and hunt for factoids which will invariably be out of context".
The book also doesn't have enough practice tests. The SAT is very much like any intellectual or artistic pursuit -- one's skill is directly proportional to the amount of practice that one has. And if you're using this book as your sole source of preparation, the three tests, while well designed, will run out quickly, and you'll very soon need to buy some more. For this, you can either buy PR's 11 practice tests or the Official SAT Study Guide which has 8 tests created by the ETS (guys who write the SAT). In this case, I'd go with the Official Guide -- no test can be as accurate as one written by the guys at the ETS. Not a huge downfall, especially since most people won't take that many tests, but it's nonetheless a caveat for those aiming for relatively high scores.
All in all, a very light and fairly entertaining read that will get you familiar with the SAT and help you raise your score. But if you're really serious, you're going to need to pair this with another book to provide an alternate perspective (I'd reccomend Barron's), as well as with the (New) Official Guide for practice tests.
Let me explain why these books can bring success in ways other books can't.
I used this book in high school, which was over 10 years ago, but I've used other Princeton Review 'Cracking' Books since then, and they feel just as sharp and poignant today as they did in the 90's.. The main benefit of these books is the change in mindset from "you are being measured" to "you can beat this system". That change in mindset, if really adopted, can easily improve a person's motivation to study, and keep them feeling confident and eager on exam day. Those reviewers who point out grammatical errors in the book are missing the point- it is critical to learn how to do well under pressure, and the biggest part of that is having the confidence that the thing measuring you is a thing you have the power to affect. All of a sudden you are not a piece of meat to be sized up, you are the one seeing if the test measures up to you.
Obviously your milage may vary, and some people may prefer to focus on actual test questions and fundamentals. But I doubt that will take them to the highest scores they can achieve. In life, it is both knowledge of the material and of the system which enable success. Let's not bow to the ETS and agree to be measured solely on knowledge. Let their weakness be our gain and use every tool at our disposal, and I believe the 'Cracking' series is an essential tool for standardized test mastery.
Whether or not you get the book, get the mindset, and stop agonizing about 'knowing enough', and start taking your best possible test. Good luck - and you'll wish you'd done this earlier !
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