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for boys:

Deliverance by James Dickey (in "The Official SAT Study Guide" )
Treasure Island​ or 
                Robinson Crusoe
The House on Mango Street or 
                The Joy Luck Club (in "The Official SAT Study Guide")
anything by Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath for instance  
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
anything by Hemingway 
From Here to Eternity by James Jones (a true novel but for mature audiences only)
Robinson Crusoe or Moby Dick
​magazine articles (Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, etc.)

for girls:

The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy (in "The Official SAT Study Guide")
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (the sentence structures are amazing)
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan ( in "The Official SAT Study Guide")
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros 
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
anything by Hemingway
anything by Steinbeck, such as The Grapes of Wrath
anything by Emily or Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen
​magazine articles (see below)

The reading passages on tests are dense and short, just like good magazine articles! Realistically, I think kids should read MAGAZINES such as TimeNewsweekThe EconomistThe Atlantic MonthlyThe New Yorker, etc. If the nuances of a good magazine article are beyond your present capacity, then try starting with 
The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.


Compare my short reading list to the College Board's very long list​

People who read a lot tend to read well. It's probably too late to have your child start on a reading list, but here is the one I recommend for students who have some time until their final SAT or ACT test.​ If you are running out of time, read just the first 70 to 100 pages of each novel. You need to get used to reading different styles of writing.

The College Board's very long Recommended Reading List​

​I give my own reading list, because I have seen dozens of reading lists from schools and teachers and I consider those lists inferior. Although most of the books I chose are very entertaining, my list's primary intent is  to increase reading comprehension for the SAT Critical Reading section.  The novels I chose have complex and unusual sentence structures, as well as complicated descriptions and themes.  What's more, these novels don't spoon feed the ideas to the reader as if the reader is a moron (like so many novels do).  Most of the books high school kids read are comic books compared to the novels and other books listed here.

Secrets of the SAT revealed by top College Board official:​

Late last year, in a talk at the Brookings Institution, Coleman was more critical of the SAT, and in particular of the writing test. He endorsed the addition of that portion of the SAT but questioned the way the current test rewards any argument, without requiring test-takers to use facts or material.

"I have a problem with the SAT writing. So if you look at the way the SAT assessment is designed, when you write an essay even if it’s an opinion piece, there’s no source information given to you. So in other words, you write like what your opinion is on a subject, but there’s no fact on the table. So a friend of mine tutors in Hong Kong, and she was asked by her Hong Kong students, where do you get the examples for the essay? She said, you know, it’s the American way, you make them up," Coleman said. "Now I’m all for creativity and innovation, but I don’t think that’s quite the creativity we want to inspire in a generation of youth. That is, if writing is to be ready for the demands of career and college, it must be precise, it must be accurate, it must draw upon evidence. Now I think that is warranted by tons of information we see from surveys of college professors, from evidence we have from other sources, so I think there is good reason to think about a design of SAT where rather than kids just writing an essay, there’s source material that they’re analyzing."

Coleman's letter pledged that there would be many opportunities for educators to provide ideas on how to improve the SAT. For now, however, College Board officials declined to discuss the process.

Read the entire article


Since critical reading and writing make up 2/3 of one's possible SAT score, 2/3 of the SAT is obviously language related.  Furthermore, the math section is chock full of word problems, and the hardest part for most kids is understanding the wording of the math word problems.  So reading and writing are of the utmost importance if you want a good SAT score.

All of the SAT reading passages are fairly modern, so reading Shakespeare isn't going to help one bit.​

What's not on the test?  The reading section does not test poetry.  If a poem is included, which is a rarity, the content of the poem matters little.  And around 99% of the sentences in the writing section are statements (ending in a period), not questions(?) or exclamations (!).

The SAT Writing section is not that difficult if you know the basics of grammar.  The SAT Writing section tests only a dozen or so grammar rules; you just have to know which ones those are and look for them on the test. There are lots of grammar rules I don't know, but I know the ones that are on the test. You also have to know some of the most common idioms, which I do.  I have a list that can help students, but there is no way to study all of the idioms that could be on the test.  I know enough, though.  Thus, I got every multiple-choice writing question correct. And as far as the essay goes, the SAT graders are looking for certain things on the essay. Follow a few simple rules and you can get a great essay score.

The SAT Critical Reading tests your ability to read critically and your vocabulary. Unfortunately, most kids have lousy vocabularies (most adults have lousy vocabularies, too). The good news is that I can predict which words are going to be on the test. There are about only a couple of  thousand words that keep popping up on the test. Know those, and you'll do swell. Like the other sections of the test, the reading comprehension section can be subdued by knowing only a dozen or so simple techniques and facts, but I will admit, every person has his or her limit as to how well and how fast he or she can read and understand dense material.  Generations of English teachers and elementary teachers have ruined kids by telling them to "infer" far more than they have any right to.  The makers of the SAT know this and set traps for kids.

The first SAT prep book that I recommend is by  The College Board  (the maker of the SAT) and is called "The Official SAT Study Guide" (2nd edition). There are only two editions, and both are good, but the 2nd ed. is the best because it is more up-to-date and has more practice tests.
  
I also recommend a book or flashcards for vocabulary.   The Barron's SAT book has 3500 words defined and around 200 flashcards.  "Hot Words for the SAT" has words grouped by synonyms and near synonyms.  The GRE tests vocabulary, so many students will be tested on vocabulary again.

If you don't have a tutor, then you need books and flashcards by Kaplan and/or Princeton Review. Their books will cover math test-taking strategies and tricks, but this information will do you good only if you read those chapters.  All too often the kids jump into the practice tests or read some other chapter that is not nearly as useful.   As I said before, no practice tests are as much like the real ones as the practice tests in "The Official SAT Study Guide."  But The Official Guide contains no answer explanations, only answers. The Official Guide to the SAT (2nd ed.) has 10 practice tests and answer keys. However, it does NOT contain answer explanations (the book is 1100 pages as it is).  

The SAT I Math Section is full of tricky questions that test basic concepts found in fractions, ratio and proportions, percents, algebra, and geometry.  Although some of the math questions can be very difficult, none of them require any knowledge of trig or calculus.​  Almost all of the formulas necessary for the math section are provided (slope formula is not given and neither is (n-2)180, which finds the number of degrees in a polygon of n sides).  Even the formula 180(n-2) is superfluous if you know a triangle has 180 degrees and you can divide a polgon into triangles.

The ACT contains very few tough vocabulary words, so the SAT tests vocabulary much more than the ACT does.  The ACT Math section requires many formulas, few of which are given.  But the ACT Math section does not require an understanding of the mathematical concepts, so some students find the ACT Math much easier than the SAT Math.  The ACT Science is very challenging, given the time constraints (a 36 in Science impresses the heck out of me).  Many people think both the SAT and the ACT measure a student's IQ.
This is undoubtedly the best SAT and PSAT Prep book.
(Left) 500 Vocabulary Flashcards     
(Right) Barron's SAT book with 3500 words defined
"Hot Words for the SAT" is a very good vocabulary book.  It groups words by meanings (synonyms and antonyms, for instance),  which is the easiest way to learn words.
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The College Board's online SAT prep course is a great way to start if you don't have enough money to spend $100+ per hour for a great tutor.
With enough diligence, a kid could get a great SAT score just by completing the course.