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Princeton Review SAT Prep Review
Our in-depth review of the Princeton Review SAT prep course and books
Parents of college-bound high schoolers have relied on the SAT prep services of Princeton Review for decades, and for good reason. Princeton Review has one of the longest track records of success in preparing students for the SAT and produces hundreds of top 1% scorers each year. But does a history of successful results and a storied name necessarily mean this course is right for you? We closely examine the Princeton Review SAT prep course and books in this detailed review.
Princeton Review offers a whopping 5 different course options from which to choose with respect to their SAT prep. This gives students a healthy variety of course formats to select from, but can also make choosing the right one a little overwhelming. Fortunately, the core course components are more or less the same across the course options and each is only marginally different based on guarantees or number of instruction hours.
The five course options are as follows:
The Self-Paced course is entirely online and has no accompanying live class component (in-person, live online or otherwise). This is Princeton Review’s most basic offering and provides just the necessities to prepare for the SAT. It includes video lessons, practice questions and drills, and practice tests, but that is about it. There is no tutoring, textbooks or live instruction. This package runs right around $200, but can also be combined with Princeton’s ACT prep option for another $100 or so.
The Ultimate course is Princeton Review’s most popular option and generally regarded as their standard course. This package includes the same materials as the Self-Paced course, but adds in 18 hours of live instruction, hard copy books and additional practice tests (including proctored exams). This package runs right around $900, but can often be found on sale for less.
At the next level up, Princeton Review offers two special courses – their SAT 1400+ and SAT 1500+. Each course guarantees a score based on their namesake – that is, a score of 1400+ or 1500+, respectively. While there are some requirements to get the benefit of this promise (such as baseline scores of 1200 and 1400, respectively), this is a unique product that you just can’t get with other prep providers. To get you this extra point boost, Princeton offers 36 hours of live instruction for their 1400+ course and 28 hours of personalized, small group instruction for their 1500+ course. To be clear, the 1500+ course does offer less total hours; however, the classes are capped at 8 total students, providing much more personalized attention.
If you’re seeking a top end score (whether to get into a top 25-type university or for merit-based aid), you will want to give these programs a good look. They do not come cheap though, as the two packages cost approximately $1,600 and $2,300.
Lastly, for students on a tight timeline, Princeton offers an intensive 2-week Summer Camp. For 5 days per week over two weeks you do nothing but study for the SAT. This includes 18 hours of classroom instruction and 30 hours of guided practice and review, for a total of 48 hours (with other study resources mixed in). This is short course, but is not for the faint of heart. This program costs right around $1,500.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Princeton Review SAT Coursework and Prep Materials
Princeton Review provides one of the most extensive and thorough curriculums in SAT prep. Though some test prep providers claim you only need 40 hours of study to prepare for the SAT, Princeton Review goes well beyond this level. To put things in perspective, they provide 140+ video lessons, 240+ drills, 2,000+ practice questions, dozens of practice tests, and depending on which course option you go with, likely some level of class-based instruction.
But it is not just the sheer quantity of prep resources that impressed me with Princeton’s curriculum. More so than anything, I really like the structure of the Princeton Review SAT course. At the outset, Princeton prompts you to enter which days of the week you can study and for how long. You also enter your long term SAT (and college) goals, and take a diagnostic practice test. From this information, they design a personalized study schedule for you based on your baseline skill level, time availability, and goals. This custom study schedule also adjusts later on as you progress you through your work.
Within your personalized study plan, which is accessed from the dashboard of your online portal, you are directed to work on study units covering specific SAT topics. Each of these study units takes approximately 30 minutes or so to complete. So if you tell Princeton you can study for 30 minutes on Thursdays, you’ll be assigned one study block for that day. And if you tell them you can study 1.5 hours on Sundays, they’ll assign you three blocks for that day. You get the idea. Your study plan establishes your path through the course work, and is constantly updating based on your schedule and performance throughout the course.
It is these study units that form the foundation of your prep course. Specifically, each study unit consists of two elements – a “Learn” component and a “Practice” component. The Learn portion of the unit handles the instructional work and teaches you the material you need to know. This component generally takes the form of a module consisting of slides, a video lesson and drills. You open the module from your dashboard and it pops up right in the same window.
At the heart of this this Learn module are Princeton’s video lessons, which in my opinion are a highlight of this course. The video lessons are short, engaging and deliver exactly what you need to know with nothing more. Princeton understands it can be difficult to hold a 17-year-old’s attention for too long, so they keep it short and sweet.
As for the delivery of the video lessons, the production quality is off the charts. Your instructor appears onscreen before a white screen and delivers your lesson. As they speak, practice problems and notes appear on screen – but this is not static text. Your instructor actually pulls out a marker and makes their own notes right on the onscreen text. It is a very cool visual. Essentially, there is a plate of glass between you and the teacher, and they write on it, keeping the onscreen notes between you. This way the instructor never has to turn their back to you and write on a whiteboard. The entire delivery is very cool.
Additionally, the instructors keep things lively and short. They give a quick hit overview of the main concepts and then work just one or two practice problems. This results in videos that are just 3 to 10 minutes in length, which in my opinion is just right.
From the video lesson, you dive into a series of drills. These consist of a wide range of exercises, including fill-in-the-blank, true/false, grouping like elements and more. The idea is to test what you just learned in a wide variety of ways, ensuring the material is effectively retained.
In total, the Learn component takes just about 15 minutes to complete before moving on to the Practice portion of the unit. The Practice section is very straightforward, usually just 5 to 15 practice questions. Though sometimes you are assigned 2 or even 3 practice sets per study unit. In any case, the questions go fast and generally speaking it feels like you have it done before you can even get into a groove.
The quality of these practice questions is also generally very good. They closely resemble official SAT questions, and in fact, felt a little more difficult than the real thing at times. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. By practicing with slightly tougher questions, when you see the real thing on exam day, it will give you confidence that you’re prepared and you will fly through the test. But the downside is that during your practice you can feel a little frustrated and overwhelmed. Overall though, the Princeton Review questions didn’t feel significantly more difficult than real ones, and I really liked the content and style.
Once you have answered all questions, your practice set is scored and you review your answers. This is just as important as the actual exercise of answering the questions, and Princeton provides some excellent written solutions. Their text explanations of the problems provide in-depth analysis of the reasoning behind the question and describe in detail why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect. I really liked these text explanations.
But if there was one thing I would put on my wish list with this course, it would be video solutions. SAT prep competitors Magoosh and Testive each provide some excellent video explanations for their practice questions. And Princeton’s crazy quantity of practice questions (2,000+) can’t be an excuse here, as Magoosh and Testive each offer thousands of practice problems themselves, each with an accompanied video solution. So if I had one request, that would be it.
Once you finish your review of the practice questions, that wraps up the study unit. If you have more than one unit to do in a day, you move on to it. Otherwise, that is all you need to do for the day. Princeton generally tries to stretch your studies out with short, but frequent sessions to keep you motivated and productive.
Between daily assignments you are encouraged to review your performance under the “reports” tab of the online portal. This page contains numerous score reports and progress trackers that give you a detailed look at your progress. Princeton’s reports boast some powerful analytics that can give you helpful insights into your studies and where you need work. I didn’t lean on these reports too hard, but they are definitely interesting and useful in keeping you focused on your weak areas.
All things considered, I was super impressed with the Princeton Review SAT prep curriculum. My expectations were pretty high given their reputation and the price point for the course, and they exceeded them. The curriculum is extremely thorough and the coursework is very high quality. It is clear from the moment that you open your materials that you are going to have more than enough to keep yourself busy. They give you everything you need to fully prep.
Princeton Review Live SAT Classes
One of the key components of every Princeton Review course option (other than the Self-Paced course) is the live classroom instruction. Depending on which course format you select, you will get somewhere between 18 and 36 hours of live class time. These classes can be taken live online or in-person. But no matter how many hours you get or which format you select, the Princeton classwork is first-rate, and generally rivaled only by Kaplan’s classes.
I took the Ultimate version of the course live online and had a great experience. My instructor was what made the course. He was an older gentleman and I was a little nervous he may not be up to speed with the new SAT format, but he was all over it. He was insanely knowledgeable (with decades of experience teaching to the SAT) and just plain likable. He tied funny stories and jokes into his lectures and kept things very light.
The class sessions are 3 hours long, which can be a drag, but he did an excellent job breaking the time up and mixing up topics and approaches throughout. I mean 3 hours is a long time to watch a livestream of an SAT class, so I kind of wish Princeton would reduce this to 2-hour sessions, but my instructor made it as engaging as he possibly could. I could not have been more satisfied with his expertise or communication skills.
When hunting down the best SAT prep course, many students and their parents focus on the number of practice exams offered. Luckily, in addition to the 2,000+ practice problems across the coursework, Princeton students also get access to somewhere between 15 and 28 full-length practice exams. This is a crazy amount of practice tests and I doubt most students will complete all of them. At roughly 3 hours long per exam, that is around 75 hours of practice testing for the main course options. That is more practice work than most other prep provides give in total.
More important than the volume of practice exams you get is the fact that Princeton delivers students proctored exams. This is a very valuable benefit that allows students to practice under exam-like conditions. These 3 or 4 proctored exams (depending on your course) are sprinkled in throughout your study schedule. Though stressful, they are a huge advantage, as you will feel much more comfortable on exam day after having taken a number of simulated tests. To me personally, this is a bigger benefit to Princeton students than the crazy number of overall practice tests.
Also worth noting is that in addition to the full-length practice tests, Princeton Review also gives students single subject practice tests. If you are particularly weak in math or verbal, it would be a good idea to hit a few of these on your own. These provide a nice opportunity for some targeted practice.
Princeton Review SAT Prep Books
As a further complement to their already robust course, Princeton Review provides students with a set of high-quality textbooks. These books come in print form, which is a particularly nice for kinesthetic learners like myself who prefer paperbacks. The Ultimate, 1400+ and Summer Camp students get 3 titles, while the 1500+ students get a total of 6 books.
I found these prep books to be absolutely top notch. The three books I received included the “SAT Manual,” “10 SAT Practice Tests” and “The Official SAT Study Guide.” The SAT Manual serves as your main coursebook and it tracks with your classroom lesson work. It contains testing strategies, key concepts to learn and example problems to demonstrate points. I really like this book and got the the most use out of it.
The “10 SAT Practice Tests” book was just that – a bundle of practice exams. This was useful for taking practice tests, but didn’t provide any real substantive content value. Lastly, “The Official SAT Study Guide” was very useful as well. It contains a handful of practice tests, as well as instructional material and testing strategies. In my opinion though, the Princeton Review SAT Manual is more valuable. The Official Guide is from the College Board, the makers of the exam, so they don’t give away too many secrets. As such, I found the Princeton Review books to provide a deeper and better analysis of problem types and strategies for attacking them, including shortcuts.
The Princeton Review interface is pretty much exactly what you would expect, which is to say, first-rate. Given their higher price points and that the course is almost entirely online (particularly if you take live online classes) there is no room for error with their digital platform. And fortunately, Princeton delivers.
The online portal is clean, simple and for the most part, easy to use. After logging in, you land on the dashboard. The Princeton dashboard shows your goals, daily assignments, weekly planner and monthly review. For the most part I really like this set up. You can quickly track your progress towards your goals and see what you have on the docket of the day. But that one thing I didn’t like is that daily, weekly and monthly views are all under separate tabs. Maneuvering back-and-forth between the views is slow and clunky. I would actually prefer everything be shown in one place so I could quickly reference my daily assignment against what else is coming down the pipeline, but this is a relatively minor complaint.
From the dashboard, the navigation bar at the top of the screen directs you to your practice tests, reports, coursework, resources or SAT advantage sessions. While these tabs are simple and nicely laid out, you will actually spend most of your time in your study unit modules, watching video lessons and working practice problems. These components offer very clear layouts and simple, easy-to-use functionality. You can quickly maneuver through the learning component of the study unit, and the practice sessions have a very appealing interface.
Overall, I had very little to complain about with Princeton’s user experience. As I expected, it was easy to use and very visually appealing.
In addition to the core components of your course, Princeton offers a few resources, some valuable and some not. Of these extra add-ons the most worthwhile by far are the SAT Advantage sessions. These extra lectures can be watched live online or after the fact in recorded form. These lessons a take a deeper dive into substantive review and testing strategies, covering very specific topics. Your instructor gets into the nitty gritty of a particular issue and you are free to ask questions. It just one more opportunity to interact with a Princeton Review expert and get some deeper understanding.
In my opinion, if you are weak on a particular issue that is being covered in the class, it is well worth it to watch, but if the Advantage session covers something you are strong on, your time may be better spent elsewhere.
In addition to the SAT Advantage sessions, it also worth mentioning that you get access to Princeton’s PSAT and ACT prep materials. If you plan to take these exams, this is a fantastic resource. But if you are only taking the SAT, they won’t have much value for you.
SAT Tutoring from Princeton Review
While a few of the Princeton Review course formats come with a few hours of 1:1 attention from Princeton SAT experts, you can always purchase tutoring hours through them directly. If you need special attention because of a particular weak area, or perhaps need some next level guidance because you’re shooting for a top tier score, tutoring may not be a bad option.
While I didn’t personally utilize any Princeton tutoring, if the Princeton tutors are anything like the instructor I had for my Ultimate course, you will be in good hands. He was extremely knowledgeable on all things SAT and a great communicator. So while I can’t speak from personal experience, my strong suspicion is that the Princeton tutoring would be very good.
Online Content Access Period
Though Princeton Review’s courses vary widely in price and level of instruction, one thing is constant – your content access period. No matter which course type you go with, you will get 1 year of access to their prep materials. For most students, this should be more than enough to get the job done. In fact, it’s probably enough time that you study take, the exam, and if you don’t like you score, study and re-take. But let’s hope that isn’t you.
Princeton Review’s Mobile App
Princeton review does come with a mobile app, but beware, it is not great. When you read the description of the app it sounds fantastic on paper – giving you access to your video lessons, practice problems and progress trackers. But the reality is that the app is clunky and makes studying difficult on a 4-inch screen. Perhaps it is just my personal opinion (and bias), but studying on a laptop was way easier with Princeton’s materials. I think the app is nice if you’re traveling or in a bind, but I wouldn’t count on it being the primary means of your prep work.
Princeton Review’s Score Increase Guarantee
One very cool feature wrapped around the Princeton review SAT prep course is their score increase promise. Every course format carries a score increase guarantee, or your money back. I know, everyone loves a money back guarantee if something doesn’t work. Now there is some legal fine print and requirements around this (particularly around the base score it is measured from), so read that, but this is a nice guarantee.
Closely related to this topic is the promise of a 1400+ score or 1500+ score associated with the courses of the same name. Now this is a fantastic, and frankly unique, promise among prep providers. But this doesn’t mean you can be an 1,100-type scorer and by taking the 1500+ course Princeton will promise you a score of 1500 or better. Not at all. Both courses have baseline thresholds that must be met. In order to be guaranteed that score of 1400+, you must start with a base score of at least 1200. And for the 1500+ score, you must start with a score north of 1400. So these are not wide-open guarantees, but still very reassuring if you meet the requirements.
Princeton Review Refund Policy
Princeton also boasts a very generous refund policy. If you purchase one of their prep products and are not satisfied with it, you can generally return it within 7 days for a full refund (minus shipping costs).
Verdict: Princeton Review SAT Prep Course & Books
To put it simply, the Princeton Review SAT prep package thoroughly impresses. Led by some first-rate live instruction and quality video lessons, they boast a very strong instructional package. The Princeton Review live classwork is handled by some incredibly adept SAT experts, who have incredible subject matter expertise and are even better communicators. The video lessons are likely the highlight of this prep package, with short, engaging clips and crazy high production value. Add in their content-rich textbooks, and the course as a whole touches just about every testable point imaginable on the SAT.
On the practice side, Princeton also offers some valuable practice materials, but this is where my two biggest grievances come in. For one, while I really like their text explanations of problems (finding them very thorough), I would like to see some video solutions here. That is the direction other prep courses are going, as video solutions are generally more effective at breaking down problems. Second, the practice question quality is almost too hard at times, though this can make test day feel lot easier if you’ve been training in material that is a hair on the difficult side. But apart from these two minor complaints, the Princeton practice materials are very worth it in terms of both quantity and quality. Overall, the Princeton Review SAT prep course is a first-class prep package that is worthy of its high price tag and would be beneficial to any type of learner.
How much does the Princeton Review SAT prep course cost?
The Princeton Review SAT prep options range widely in price, from around $200 for their basic Self-paced course up to nearly $2,300 for their top end 1500+ course.
Does Princeton Review have live classes?
Yes. All Princeton Review SAT course options, except for the Self-Paced course, offer a live class component which can be taken live online or in-person.
Is Princeton Review SAT prep worth it?
In our team’s opinion, the Princeton Review SAT prep package is well worth the price. Their instructional materials are some of the best in the SAT prep space and they offer boatloads of realistic practice work.