Ten Great Books to Read for SAT/ACT Prep

The key to a great score on the SAT or ACT is to build a strong vocabulary base, and just as importantly, strong reading skills to guide you through the hoops of SAT or ACT passages. This can only come from building strong reading habits in diverse genres outside of your test prep sessions. If you’re stuck on what books to start with, Cardinal Education is here to help you out with this list of ten fiction and nonfiction classics.

Books To Look At

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: You might have watched the BBC show, but have you ever wondered what the original is like? When you prep for the SAT, it could be your chance to find out.
  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: Certainly you’ve heard of Darwin’s contributions in your science class. If you’ve ever wanted to explore them, this is the book for you.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: A stunning contemporary classic by one of America’s most famous African-American authors that examines the depths of how racism affects people through beauty standards.
  • Inferno by Dante: A harrowing yet simultaneously philosophical journey into the nine circles of Hell, told in epic prose.
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: An oft-maligned classic that brought to life the term “Machiavellian.” Does Machiavelli deserve all the criticism he gets? Read it and judge for yourself.
  • 1984 by George Orwell: If you’ve ever been entranced by dystopias such as The Hunger Games or Little Brother, you might be curious to explore the roots of this famous and time-tested genre.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Frankenstein‘s 19th-century prose provides a challenging read–as well as a moral conundrum for curious minds to solve.
  • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton: Old-fashioned English may feature prominently on your exam, so brush up on your English knowledge while learning more about our country’s history with this work by a Founding Father.
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: A well-loved explanation of cosmic science written by one of the most groundbreaking contemporary scientific minds.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare: Of course, no reading list would be complete without a mention of the English language’s greatest author! Shakespeare’s poetic genius and advanced vocabulary shine through in this story of a great man’s tragic, horrific fall from grace.

How To Read Them

To truly hone your reading skills, you’ll have to analyze as you are reading. Here are Cardinal Education’s tips for how to read these books:

  1. Always look up words you don’t know the meaning of–how else will you learn? Put them on flashcards, too, to review later.
  2. Every couple of pages, underline or note down a phrase that you think…
    1. Is beautifully articulated
    2. Is important to plot or character development (if fiction)
    3. Displays some common features and tropes that the writer either uses or subverts to their advantage (if fiction)
    4. Is a key insight that contributes to the work’s overall point/thesis (if nonfiction)
  3. Think about the author’s writing, and how it differs from everything else that you’ve read. What is their style? Think not only about what the writer is saying but how they are saying it.
  4. Once you finish a book, you should type up a 1-2 page document with all this information combined, ending with a few summary paragraphs of your thoughts and reflections on what you’ve read.

So what are you waiting for? Pick a book from our list and start reading. Once you’ve finished that book, pick up another. And another. And another. With each book you read and notate, your chances of improving your score increase!