How to use prep books

When you study for any standardized test, the first item you probably use is a prep book. The market for various test prep books is vast, especially when it comes to widely-taken tests, such as the SATs. That’s why it can be difficult to choose the right one. A lot of people, me included, have purchased a prep book from the most well-known publisher only to find out that it isn’t as helpful as advertised.

Prep books aren’t the thing that will get you through your test safely and successfully – that’s what study sessions are for. They can, however, give you a good foundation and make the study process much more effective. Remember that even the best prep book won’t cause miracles if you don’t put in the time to learn what’s in it.

Here’s how to get the most out of your prep books:

Recognize the official ones from third-party publishers

Prep books for standardized tests can be divided into two general categories. The first one is official books released by the maker of the test. For ACTs, that would be books released by its namesake, the ACT organization. For SATs, it’s The College Board. For GRE – the Education Testing Service. You can almost always find these prep books for purchase on the test’s official website.

Official prep books are the only way to accurately assess your skills. By practicing with these books you will find out what your overall score is likely to be and what are your strengths and weaknesses. They often contain real questions that have appeared in the test in previous years. The material in official books contains only what is within the test’s requirements and is checked multiple times to assure the quality of the questions.

Third-party books aren’t that strict. They still can give you a very rough idea of what your score would be but I wouldn’t rely on them for accuracy. However, they are very good for practicing specific sections or question types. Once you know what to target by testing yourself with an official prep book, you can start practicing these parts with a third-party book. They are designed to contain as many practice questions as possible and even if their quality isn’t up to the official publisher’s level, they are still a great way to grind through your weaknesses.

Ask other people for advice

Ask other test-takers in your life what prep book they are using, or were using, and make them explain why. This is so that you can find out what makes this particular prep book so good. Keep in mind that everyone has different study styles so one person’s choice might not be the best for you.

If you don’t have people like that in your surroundings you can always turn to the Internet. For example, read this list of best LSAT prep books or these SAT prep books reviews. Any source of information is good.

A good prep book (or preferably prep books) is just the first step in the quest to get the best score possible.