Keep Your Standards High: Finding the Best College Prep Books

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Laura Marie

Staff Writer

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She reads one or two audiobooks every week, loves falling into a good cooking memoir, and debates feasibility of tech from sci-fi books with her husband.

Laura Marie

Staff Writer

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She reads one or two audiobooks every week, loves falling into a good cooking memoir, and debates feasibility of tech from sci-fi books with her husband.

It’s more important than you might think to find the best college prep books as they’ll help you prep for both the life of college and the many standardized tests that will get you there. The best college prep books will give you the chance to focus intensely on the tests that will then prove that you are ready for the college you are most excited to attend.

Book Riot readers are already at an advantage as avid readers, but these books can fill in the gaps and make you feel like you understand the tests that are coming. Most of the tests that you take to prepare for college or graduate school are actually motivated by different goals, so knowing what those goals are will help you get into the right headspace to succeed at them.

While there are many helpful books out there, we want to introduce you to a few of the very best college prep books for your upcoming college or graduate school standardized test. Whether the book you choose helps you find the perfect school for you or gives you a chance to practice for the math section you don’t really want to take, these texts will help you really get into the mindset for your upcoming college experience and make sure that you are as prepared as possible for the high-stakes days to come.

Best General College Prep Books

Colleges that Change Lives

This book introduces a selection of colleges that might or might not already be on your radar; even if you don’t select one of these colleges for your education, you can learn more about what you really want from the experience by reading about the distinctives of these unique offerings that might be a bit off the beaten path

Where You’ll Go Is Not Who You’ll Be

An impassioned explanation of how college admissions processes can be brutal but don’t have to make you feel rotten, this book is a great dose of reality. It reminds high schoolers that their ambition, drive, and hard work are more important than exactly which school they attend, which can be really helpful when also trying to make standardized test scores that one is happy with.

Get it Together for College

This book is more of a planner than a traditional book, but it demystifies the process of college applications and gives you a timeline, which can be a lifesaver. Many of us aren’t quite sure how early we should begin preparing for college, or what kinds of deadlines we might want to try, like Early Action or Early Decision, that increase our chances at our dream schools. This planner allows you to make sure you fit in all the steps to have a successful experience without missing important deadlines or getting hung up on sections of the application that you don’t understand. This also includes making sure that you schedule and take the required standardized tests, so you can check off another part of the puzzle in this planner. 

Best SAT Prep Books

SAT Prep Black Book

Rather than focusing on practice questions, which are available online at various sources, this book is written by a long-time SAT prep tutor who focuses more on study strategies, day-of-test strategies, and the attitude you need to bring to a test like the SAT. He has had proven success, and he can give strategies for people who want to score reasonably in every category as well as those who are aiming for perfect scores and need to finesse the last few questions they need to get that 100%.

Barron’s SAT Prep

This resource includes a diagnostic test that can help you figure out what your struggle areas are. If you don’t have time for a full practice test in a particular study session, you can focus on your more problematic sections for your practice and rely on your strengths for the actual day of the test. There is also an included CD where you can take practice tests that automatically check your answers rather than making you do the scoring yourself by hand.

Best ACT Prep Books

The Official ACT Prep Guide

It only makes sense to work with the preparation book that has “official” in the title, but this is even more true when the official mark means that the company that makes the ACT also makes this guide. Further, it includes actual ACTs from the past for you to practice with, not just similar questions, and for that reason alone you can get a better feel for the test itself than you might with another guide. It also includes the logic behind the test, since the way you read questions might be substantially different from the way the questions were designed. This guide will help you think like an ACT test writer!

Cracking the ACT

This text is a hybrid text. You can use the book itself for practice tests and reading up on the different sections of the ACT, but you can also get grading online through the companion website, especially for your essay practice. There are some practical tips as well on how to pace oneself in a test with so many sections, as well as how to make sure you prioritize the parts of the test that can most affect your scores.

Best GMAT Prep Books

GMAT Premier 2017

This book gives you all the basics you need to understand the mechanics of the test and practice with adaptive test samples. With a month or two for studying, this text will keep you plenty busy and make sure you aren’t surprised on the day of the exam. Most people won’t be able to complete the whole book, but will instead focus on each section until they feel confident using it.

The Official Guide to the GMAT Review 2017

This resource gives both sample questions and explanations that allow you to learn what makes the GMAT difficult as well as how the test makers are expecting you to think; while it is important to test oneself to learn anything well, you can also get a better idea of how to process questions by reading the thorough explanations.

Best LSAT Prep Books

10 New Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests

Testing yourself is one of the best ways to see what sections of the LSAT you already can manage and which you are likely to struggle with. This book is helpful for pinpointing those areas. One small critique is that the solutions don’t give explanations of why your answer is correct or incorrect, so you may need to reach for another book if you are stumped after correcting your work.

Powerscore LSAT Series

Powerscore has a variety of books, including the Logic Games Bible, that are seen as a great method for approaching the LSAT’s more unconventional sections. They allow you to practice but they are also teaching you strategies that can be applied to any problem, which makes you feel more prepared and react faster when you see a topic you haven’t covered before.

Best MCAT Prep Books

Kaplan Book Set

While this book set may seem expensive, it is the resource that many MCAT studiers swear by; 7 slim volumes and multiple practice tests set it apart. Like other texts, it has an online “companion site” which can help you ace the stunningly comprehensive MCAT test.

Online Prep at Khan Academy

While not technically a book, this is one of the resources that is repeatedly cited as the most helpful resources for MCAT preparation, and given how competitive medical school is, it is worth mentioning. Khan Academy offers a prep website that divides the subjects you need to learn into manageable exercises that are easier to study for in chunks, which can be necessary during a busy semester.

Best GRE Prep Books

5 Lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems

This book is just what it claims to be: tons and tons of practice problems! You will learn more about what you already know by working through practice problems than just by reviewing what will be on the test, so I always recommend finding a reliable, well-reviewed collection of practice problems to make sure you are on track to succeed. Practice problems also improve your speed, which is an ever-present concern as a GRE test taker.

Official GRE Super Power Pack

These texts are made by the same company, ETS, that makes the GRE, so they are considered the gold standard for preparation. They also allow you to focus on the section you are most worried about, so you can either get the whole power pack or focus in on one section by picking a single book. The test itself may seem unfamiliar, so reading the sections explaining the way the test works can be integral to making your testing appointment stress-free and surprise-free!

Do you have any more recommendations for the best college prep books? 

Are you done with your college prep tests and ready to prepare for the upcoming season of being in college? Read here for more great books to read before the first semester arrives!