Are you paying twice for the same SAT prep book?

March 20, 2018, 8:56 p.m.

For me, buying SAT prep books is like buying toothpaste: there are so many varieties to choose from and they all seem to tackle different problems, but you really don’t know what you’re getting because you’re not an expert (in toothpaste or in standardized tests). We don’t know what the ingredients mean anyways so to be safe, we go for the popular brands. For toothpaste, we go for Colgate, Crest, or Oral-B. For prep books, we go for Barron’s, Princeton Review, Kaplan, and the like. They seem like experts in what they do, especially because they have the same product but with slight variations. Do I get Colgate Total, Optic White, MaxFresh? Should I choose Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT or their SAT Premier with 5 Practice Tests? I suppose if you’re willing to buy all the different test prep books, you won’t have this dilemma.

But before you drop any money on books, here’s the truth: if you go to your local bookstore, you can easily find a single shelf dominated by a single publisher with what appear to be different books with different practice tests. But do not be fooled. There might not be any difference between a standard SAT prep book and its “premium” counterpart.

Take Princeton Review, for instance. In 2016, PR released two books in 2016:

Princeton Review Cracking the New SAT 2016 Edition (ISBN: 978-0804126007)

Princeton Review Cracking the New SAT 2016 Premium Edition (ISBN: 978-0804125994)


But if you look inside, they are almost identical. They have the same three practice tests, with the premium edition having only one additional test that is new.

This is not only the case with books published in the same year, but over time as well. Let’s look at the same book published in three different years:

Princeton Review Cracking the New SAT 2016 Premium Edition (ISBN: 978-0804125994)

Princeton Review Cracking the New SAT 2017 Premium Edition (ISBN: 978-1101920480)

Princeton Review Cracking the New SAT 2018 Premium Edition (ISBN: 978-0451487605)

You would think that these would be entirely new books but they are actually 75% identical. Here’s how the practice tests inside line up:

You’re paying THREE times the amount for the SAME set of practice tests. And this isn’t just with Princeton Review; most of the big-named publishers use this trick and most parents won’t notice because they’re just the cardholders, not the content-checkers. Knowing this can help you get the biggest bang for your buck and be a savvy consumer. If you plan on buying anything by Princeton Review, Barron’s, Kaplan, McGraw-Hill, or even College Board, check the ingredients before buying the same product twice.