Best PSAT Prep Books 2020-2021

If you’re a student, you’ve likely heard about the PSAT/NMSQT test. Depending on the school you attend, this exam is compulsory for many high school students.

The PSAT may seem like just another test to take, but did you know that the PSAT can help you qualify for a National Merit Scholarship program and get into a great college for free? (Even better, colleges might even pay you to go there!) 

How can you accomplish such a crazy feat?

Simple: you study for the PSAT and get a score that qualifies you to become a national merit semifinalist. After that, you’ll have to write an essay to become a national merit finalist. 

If you don’t want to finish college with nearly $40,000 worth of debt, then the PSAT might be your way out. But getting a good mark on the PSAT test and receiving a National Merit Scholarship requires study and dedication.

Here are the best PSAT prep books you can use to get a high score and have a college pay you to go there.

​PSAT Prep Books Comparison Table

Rank

Name

# of Pages

# of practice Tests

Price

1

Barron’s Strategies and Practice

264

2

$

2

Cracking the PSAT /NMSQT

512

2

$

3

Barron’s Aiming for National Merit

400

1 + 1 online

$$

Our Ultimate Prep List

This list is updated for the current school year. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns ​about the exam or the prep materials.

When deciding on the best PSAT NMSQT prep book to go with, think about what study materials will suit you best. We recommend purchasing a book with full-length practice tests and exam questions. Hone your math and language skills with ease. All the books we’ve included has up to date information.

1. ​Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT

​Barron’s PSAT NMSQT is hands down the best PSAT prep book to use for the exam.

It’s not nearly as thick as the Princeton Review, but it doesn’t need to be any bigger. You wouldn’t want to spend more time on things you already know, right?

​Like most test-prep books, this one features the usual tips, tricks, and test-taking strategies for each specific section of the exam, including Math, Critical Reading, Writing, and Language Skills. But while these tips are useful, you’ll probably know most of them by now. 

The 2 full length practice tests with detailed explanations are the truly outstanding part of this book. These 2 exams let you truly understand the feel of the real thing. If you practice using real test timing (which we recommend), you’ll know how fast or slow you should work on each section to get a great score.

You will also get bonus online practice tests to help you prepare for test day.

The practice questions also resemble the real PSAT better than Princeton Review’s books, which is important.

Many of the students we work with finish the math section quickly but struggle with the reading sections. However, everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different. Taking a practice exam is a great way to figure out what you need to improve on for the actual test.

Before doing the practice tests, we recommend going through the sample questions and practice passages the book provides. After that, move on to the practice exams. It has been scientifically proven that the best way to learn and improve test scores is to test yourself as often and rigorously as possible.

2. Cracking the PSAT/NMSQT by Princeton Review

​This Princeton Review PSAT prep book is pretty hefty, with nearly double the number of pages of Barron’s PSAT NMSQT, but it isn’t as effective for getting a high score on the exam.

This PSAT prep book features 2 practice tests, but the questions are of mixed difficulty. Some practice questions are easier than the real exam, while others are much harder. You also get an additional full-length practice test online.

This means you don’t get a good baseline of how long each section will take you, and you might end up running out of time during the actual exam.

This test prep book also includes useful tips for each section, general problem-solving tactics, and time-management tips, which might or might not be useful depending on who you are. They’re a good way to brush up on your test-taking skills.

This PSAT prep book also features key information about National Merit Scholarships and College Board Scholarships. 

There’s a specific group of test-takers who might benefit from the Princeton Review over the Barron one: those who don’t like math, haven’t been taught math well, or aren’t far enough in the math curriculum yet to get a good score on the exam.

​The book has math drills that target specific parts of the math section, so if you need help with geometry but are fine with algebra, this book has everything you need to ace your test prep!

3. Barron’s 1520: Aiming for National Merit

​While this PSAT NMSQT book was specifically created by Barron to help you get a perfect score on the PSAT, this might be a better option for more advanced students.

It has hundreds of PSAT practice questions for you to work through.

​The biggest disadvantage of this book is that most of the questions are a bit harder than what they would be on the real exam. This might be good if you can finish these harder questions in the allotted amount of time, but it might lead you to misjudge the timing of the actual PSAT.

It also only has 1 full-length practice exam, and while they did add an online exam recently, the difficulty level is still a bit too high.

The book is also a bit on the long side compared to the original Barron book, which is great if you have time. But if you’re like most high school students, the less time you need to spend to get results, the better off you are.

If you know you’ll struggle with the harder questions on the PSAT NMSQT test, you may benefit from the practice exercises in this book.

Books to Avoid

Many other websites recommend PSAT prep books simply for the sake of recommending them. Here at Exam Genius, we don’t want to recommend something that won’t actually help you on exam day. That’s why we’ve included this section in our article.

PSAT Prep Book by the PSAT Prep Team

The biggest issue with this PSAT NMSQT prep book is that it hasn’t been updated for the new PSAT exam.

The book states that it’s for the most recent exam when, in reality, it was written with the older exam in mind. 

It also has terrible formatting, many typos, numerous errors, mistakes, and issues.

Here are a couple of examples of the errors we found:

  • The writing and language section only has choices A-D, but the answer key marks E as the correct answer for some of the questions.
  • One of the reading sections asks questions about a completely different passage from the one that’s given to you.
  • The answer key and the questions don’t always match up. A question might ask about a specific number, but the answer explanation might talk about probability percentages.​

Don’t be fooled by the glowing Amazon reviews. Most of those people received the book for free and haven’t actually had to take the PSAT NMSQT. 

Kaplan PSAT/NMSQT 2017

This Kaplan PSAT NMSQT prep book looks good based on the cover but is terrible in reality.

​Some of the questions and answers don’t match up. They also have blatant editing errors, and answers that don’t match up to any of the questions in the book. Overall,  the book feels like a mess.

Kaplan do offer a free online test, but you have to give them quite a bit of information when registering. This might not be an issue for some, but a lot of people don’t like giving out our information unless they absolutely have to.

All in all, this book wasn’t what we expected from a great publisher like Kaplan.​ They offer a great many different books for different tests that are super helpful.

PSAT FAQ

​Taking the PSAT NMSQT is no small feat. This exam can help you secure a National  Merit Scholarship and get into your dream college for free. We know that you might have many questions about the PSAT, so here are the answers to some of them!

How long is the exam?

​The new PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes, which is 35 minutes longer than the old exam. You also get two breaks.

How is the PSAT scored?

There are 2 section scores of 160-760, which means your total score will be between 320 and 1520. Your final PSAT is based on two scores – the score you get for the Writing and Reading section and the Math section.

How many times can you take the PSAT?

You can take the PSAT NMSQT exam in the 10th and 11th grade. Your junior year scores count towards National Merit qualifications, and for many schools, you are forced to take it your junior year. Most people don’t take it their sophomore year, so it’s up to you whether you want to see what it’s like or if you’d rather use books to study. 

We’ve compiled some of the best PSAT prep books above to help you ace the test. 

How many hours should you study for the PSAT?

Depending on how well you already know the material, you should study anywhere between 2-20 hours should be enough.

If you have to learn new material, the hours you spend studying will increase greatly, but if you’re just reviewing material you already know, about 10 hours should be fine.

When you’re ​looking into study materials, choose a prep book that comes with full-length practice tests, as these will help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Many books will offer realistic practice questions, at least. Some may offer mixed practice quizzes with detailed answer explanations. Others will include proven strategies, tips, tricks, and techniques to help you prepare for test day.

What is the National Merit Cutoff Score?​

Each state has a specific cutoff score that changes year to year. For very competitive states like California, the cutoff might be 1470, while for less competitive states like Alaska, the cutoff might be 1400.

We hope this article has helped you make a decision about which book you should buy for your upcoming PSAT exam. 

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