Studying For Studying: What Book is For You
Disclaimer: This is a review of three different test prep companies, not a guide. This is solely my opinion and if you have the means, try each of the companies out to form your own opinion.
Studying for a test is hard. Students put many hours into preparing for the dreaded math test or history test on their least favorite topic. But even harder are standardized tests. Huge behemoth challenges which require students to prepare months or even years in advance, the very end featuring a three-hour long trudge through dozens of questions about math and grammar and English. But it isn’t just a one man odyssey. There are plenty of resources available providing assistance to students overcoming a massive hurdle in their academic life. Free resources such as Khan Academy are great and help students learn concepts and practice them. But one of the most common studying methods is to get a prep book. There are many prep book companies, so this review can help reduce confusion.
Let’s start with The Princeton Review. Although their names sound similar, this company is not associated with Princeton University. The Princeton Review was founded in 1981 by John Katzman and Adam Robinson and provides college admissions services including test prep, tutoring, online courses, and of course prep books. They have resources for a multitude of standardized tests from the high school level ACT and SAT all the way to the LSAT, MCAT, and even the medical license exam. But enough of the explanation, let’s get on with the review.
The Princeton Review is very good as an introduction to the test and the topics on it. Prep books are written with language choice that sounds conversational, making it easy to understand. A few questions are given with each topic, allowing the student to practice what they learned and then learn from their mistakes with the detailed explanations that are given with the questions. Along with review content, The Princeton Review provides numerous practice tests along with detailed explanations for each answer. These practice tests are very good and are comparable to the ones provided by the College Board. However, this is about the limit of their books. If you are aiming for a higher score, such as a 1300+ on the SAT or a 30+ on the ACT, I would recommend a different book. While The Princeton Review is good for an introduction to the test, it lacks a lot of material. For example, the reading section on the SAT prep book is fairly short at 100 pages and doesn’t go too in depth. Descriptions of different types of questions are provided with examples, but not too much help is provided with solving them outside of a few tips to analyze the content and choose the answer that is most relevant. Their math section is much better and is quite solid, but some of the strategies provided may be suspect and contradict what is covered in class. Another example is the book covering the now retired SAT Biology subject test. While the book covered a lot of general information, it lacked information on specific topics such as the types of biomes. Overall, The Princeton Review is a very good book for students to use to begin studying for a test or to review in the weeks before, but I would not recommend it for those aiming higher.
Founded in 1939, Barron’s Educational Services provides mainly college entrance exam resources but has since expanded out to AP examinations, NYS Regents exams, and many other fields. In the world of test prep, Barron’s is a household name and a powerhouse.
Barron’s books are solid. They are pretty much all you need in order to get a decent score on any exam. Their SAT books are very solid and would guarantee a 1300+ if you consistently study for a decent amount of time. Compared to The Princeton Review, Barron’s goes much more into detail in different subjects. Going back to the SAT book reading sections, Barron’s provides 15 different tactics to readers, giving step by step instructions for each tactic. Barron’s AP test books are also the same, going very in depth with detailed help provided. Even better are Barron's online resources. For the SAT, you have access to online practice tests with many helpful features as well as flashcards to help improve your vocabulary. While the content of Barron’s is very good, their practice tests are not quite as good as those of The Princeton Review. Barron’s tests tend to be easier and are not as reflective of the actual test. Barron’s may also be harder to understand than The Princeton Review as their language is more to the point and less casual. I would recommend Barron’s for students learning the material as the content is good, but the tests are a bit lacking.
Finally, I will review Kaplan. Kaplan is a brand established in 1938 by Stanley Kaplan who first began tutoring students in his basement in preparation for the New York State Regents. Later on, the brand expanded and became what it is today, a giant providing both test prep books and classes. Kaplan most notably bought Barron’s in 2018, obtaining all of their test materials.
For me, Kaplan holds a spot between Princeton Review and Barron’s. Let’s begin with the usual SAT book review. Kaplan provides a brief description of the subject being explained and some methods to answer questions followed by a decent number of practice questions. In my opinion, this structure is very helpful as students are given numerous opportunities to apply and practice their skills and can identify what skills they are lacking in as the answer keys provide a difficulty level and category such as vocabulary or command of evidence. However, this may only help some students. The explanations can be inadequate for some students, especially those who favor explanations overpractice. Furthermore, their online classes should be avoided as many sources have claimed that Kaplan’s courses are sketchy. In the end, Kaplan is a good book for those who want to speed study as well as those who want to do some last minute practice without taking practice tests.
In the end, you should do your own research as well. This is just my own personal opinion that hopefully can inform others about which prep books are fit for them. The Princeton Review has very easy to learn content with very well made practice tests but their content may not cover all the bases necessary. Barron’s has superb content but is lacking in practice tests and may be hard to read for some. Kaplan is excellent for last minute as well as speed studying with its numerous practice questions for all subjects.