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 Nov 03, 2021
5 Tips for Using Third-Party Prep Books!

Third-party prep books can be super helpful along your test-taking journey, but we want you to be strategic in how you utilize these resources. By third-party prep books, we mean any practice material made for the SAT, ACT, or other tests that is not made by the College Board or ACT Inc. This means books by companies like the Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Kaplan, etc. This even means resources you could get here at Brilliant Prep! 

So, we have compiled 5 tips for using these resources to help you along in your test prep!  

Tip #1: Use real SATs & ACTs as the core of your prep.  

Real practice tests from the College Board and ACT, Inc. are gold mines and should be excavated to their fullest extent. You can use them for timed sections and full-timed tests to get an accurate measure of your current “range of possibilities” on your SAT or ACT. As we have said before, make sure that you review each question after you take the test to ensure that you understand them!  

Tip #2: Don’t use third-party tests as full, timed practice.  

The College Board and ACT, Inc. spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to make each test both valid and reliable. Third-party tests just do not go through the same rigorous process, as they are made more for targeting specific content and working on test-taking strategies. This means that while they are good resources for these things, they are not a reliable way to measure how you would fare on a real test.  

Tip #3: Use third-party practice problems and tests for targeted practice.  

As we mentioned earlier, third-party resources are made for targeting specific content and honing your test-taking strategies! You can and should use these resources to help you review your weak areas in Math and Writing/English. They can even help you practice certain skills that are useful in Reading or ACT Science sections.  

Tip #4: Not all practice material is made equally.  

Even though third-party test prep material can be useful to you, it is important to remember that it isn’t all equally good! We’ve broken down the sections so that you can see what we find to be the most helpful (and the least).  

Math: These resources are usually pretty good. It’s easy to change numbers and words around for these sections and still test the core concepts.  

Writing: These sections can be a bit trickier to get right, but practice Grammar questions are usually pretty good. Just watch out for questions testing you on rules that won’t appear on the tests or questions with ambiguous/too-close-to-call choices.   

ACT Science: The quality of these materials heavily depends on passage quality. While it is not terribly difficult to create similar question types to those you’ll see on the ACT, third-party tests will never be able to balance the time pressure and difficulty equation that the ACT balances so carefully. So, we suggest using ACT Science materials sparingly to reinforce your understanding of the scientific method and/or practice data analysis skills.  

Reading: Be VERY careful with these. Creating reading passages and questions is hard to get right. There are far too many resources filled with bad passages, ambiguous questions, and choices that are impossible to differentiate.  

Tip #5: Use third-party books as sources of strategy!  

This is where third-party resources shine! The College Board and ACT, Inc. are never going to tell you the weaknesses of their tests and how to exploit them. That’s our job! It is important to remember that no book, course, or tutor will have that one “magic bullet” that will increase your score by 700 (or even 10) points without any effort on your part. Improvement will always require work!