NOTE: There is an interview with Mike at the end of this book review. Check it out for tips on doing well on the SAT, the state of the SAT, and some other exciting tips, tricks, and magic
A few years ago I spend weeks trying to figure out a complicated rock climbing problem. Every weekend of grad school I went to Enchanted Rock in Texas to scale some wicked boulders. That experience not only made me a cool person, but also made me an expert problem solver.
But there was one route, the Devil’s Hang, that I could not figure out. I watched my friends climb it, yet I had nothing. I had my friends explain my handholds; nothing. I bought the book; nothing. Yet one day I watched a very cute girl dominate Devil’s Hang. See, most of my friends could do the climb, but they struggled. Legs would shake, fingers would flay, and bodies would fall. But this girl, Nicole, just moved up the rock like a gecko. I mean, it just looked so natural.
And when I asked her about the climb, she explained a handhold I hadn’t seen and a center-of-gravity trick that allows for a higher reach.
And that was my a-ha moment in rock climbing. Ever since, I’ve been able to dominate most rocks I find. It wasn’t just Devil’s Hang, it was my approach. I would brute force my way because it was the only method I had. Sure, using your biceps to pull your body up a rock will work, but it is ugly, inelegant, and inefficient.
I think the a-ha moment I had with Nicole will be the exact same a-ha moment you will have with Mike’s Pwn The SAT. This math guide is pretty much the de facto math guide on the market. You might know how to brute force your way through a complex shading problem, but your inelegance will cost you dearly in terms of time, energy, and happiness. Seriously, Chung ain’t got nothin’ on my alge-bro.
In today’s review I want to explain the good, the great, and the so-so in the Pwn The SAT Math Guide. As a special bonus, at the end of this review I am including an interview with Mike from Pwn The SAT himself. In it, we talk about the book, the SAT process, and everything you have to do to really “Pwn Your SAT”.
(1) Integration with Official Guide
It’s really important for an SAT text writer to create his own questions. But that means next to nothing if you cannot see real questions that utilize the lessons taught throughout the lesson.
For your SAT essay, tutors like to say “show, don’t tell” and “use real examples”. Real examples are the best way to prepare for your SAT.
People as awesome as Mike, Debbie, and Dobler all use and promote the use of the official guide. It’s essential for doing well, and Pwn The SAT tells you EXACTLY which questions to work on for each question type.
I’ve never really seen other texts do that. It’s a really cool feature that I know will show up in every other text in one or two years, because it just makes sense. How cool is that?
(2) Pwn the SAT Rocks Those Thorough Explanations
Having a practice set of questions is one thing. Understanding 700-level explanations is another. The thing is, Pwn The SAT does a perfect job explaining each question not only from a practical level but also from a higher order level. You will figure out which strategy to use, you will learn why your addition, subtraction, fractions, or decimals were wrong, and you will learn the key points to extract from the question.
Mike does this in two ways. First, after every set of drills, he very smartly explains the ins-and-outs of each question. You get the lessons to learn, the takeaways, the actual math, and the necessary strategy. Blue book explanations are notoriously unhelpful. The college board likes to think that all you need to know to do well is algebra 2 and some geometry. They completely ignore the amazing strategies we all teach. Pwn the SAT does not forget any of that in its explanation.
Second, the end of his book looks like an awesome “blackline” from my old training days. He gives you a sample math section and then straight-up fills out the test with handwriting. You can see the exact process a 2400 student would take to get every question right quickly. To me, that’s an amazingly useful addition to this book. It’s one thing to explain an answer, but to actually show you how to solve it in kid-scratch is pretty clever.
(3) Incredibly Useful Interludes
Interludes are like butter on toast. Crispy and warm bread is pretty amazing all by itself. And a book or SAT class full of practice problems and helpful tips is worth every penny, pound, or baht spent. But the real value of your book comes from the in-between lessons.
When Pwn the SAT decides to take a breather between backsolving and ordered pairs, the true genius comes out. Lessons on pacing, breathing, process of elimination, and the test-takers mindset really do set this book apart. Mike can eloquently explain in one page what a Kaplan, Princeton, or Craig need 5 pages to convey. In class, I talk about process of elimination for hours on end, yet Mike can convey all of that in 300 words. It’s brilliance.
Just remember, you are not taking the SAT because you are a weirdo or because you like pain. We do that. Mike and I, we are the weirdos that take these things for fun. You are doing it because you want to go to college and drink beer, flirt with girls, learn about Socrates, and maybe get a job as a President or architect one day.
And Mike’s kick-ass interludes help you do that.
(1) Perfectly Written (and Hilarious) Questions
The great past of Mike’s book is his perfectly written and pretty hilarious questions. He distilled the essence of the SAT test writers mythos and can create a unique question that tests exactly what the SAT writers will test. There are only so many things that the SAT test writers can talk about. The hard part of any manual is to strike a balance between necessary questions and unique questions that test exactly what the test writers would test.
There is an art AND a science to developing SAT questions, and Pwn the SAT walks that tightrope with class. Anyone can go into the Blue Book, change “Tom” to “Fred” and change “57″ to “75″ and create a “unique” question. And anyone who does this is a no-talent a*&-clown. To do well on the SAT, you need to really understand how the test works. You deserve a manual and a tutor who also really, truly, and honestly knows how the test works. The ability to answer #15 means nothing to me, and it should mean nothing to you. Knowing the actual concept #30 is testing is worth so much more than getting it right.
The hardest part of writing a question, at least for me, is coming up with answer choices. Think about it, if I ask this question: 3 + 2 = ? I have to come up with one right answer and four wrong answers that could be right! See, the thing that Mike understands and that Pwn the SAT exemplifies is its ability to completely understand how a typical student might think. College Board does that, and Mike does that. For my question above, I might give you the following options: -5, 1, 5, 6, 9 Why? Because maybe you think “+” means “-” or “*” or “exponent”, or maybe you think those positive numbers are negative. See, a SAT writer does not just put one right and four random. Each answer choice is the right answer to the wrong question, and the perfection of this book is that Mike figured you out.
(2) Pwn the SAT simplifies some of the most complicated problems
This really is the money shot. I started using this book as a supplement in all of my private and group classes because Mike’s explanations of things like shaded regions, parabolas, and work/rate are amazingly simple. It’s so frustrating having an expert talk about string theory in Chinese when I only speak Thai. And it’s equally frustrating having a super smart SAT math teacher explain exponents in a way that would require a PhD to understand. That’s the beauty of this method and this material. He makes you understand hard concepts easily.
My favorite section is parabolas. Parabolas can eat it, for all I care. Look, I know I love math, and I know your TI-147 is just super cres, but I still think explaining parabolas to students is difficult. At least, I did, until I worked through Pwn the SAT and realized how dreadfully simple it is. And that’s the thing. I have over 10 years experience rocking the SAT. I get perfect scores in my sleep. (So, I dream about SAT sometimes. Whatever. You probably think Kurt Cobain is oldies, so we cannot talk until I stop feeling old.) And yet Mike taught me a way to teach my students that I hadn’t known before. If that’s not the perfect combination for an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
No review will be complete without looking at some of the things he will need to work on for Version 2. I’m not all cookies and tequila in my reviews. And don’t forget, Mike and I chat on video at the end of this lesson, so please check it out.
Pwn The SAT ignores a lot of the basic math problems
Pwn the SAT is for students looking to totally dominate the SAT math. If you cannot add fractions, understand factoring, or take the area of a square, you need to brush up on some fundamentals. Now, does that mean Pwn the SAT is crap? No way! It just means you should punch your 8th grade math teacher and visit my blog for all those basic SAT review topics.
Isn’t that easy? A kick ass book for a kick ass student. And Craig even created tens of video lessons teaching you everything Pwn the SAT left out. Isn’t that just the magic?
Mike is a pretty cool dude. In this video you will learn exactly what you should be focusing on to do amazing on your SAT. We cover the details those big companies like to charge money for. That makes us the most not lame SAT tutors ever. Watch the video. Learn something.
I use this book in my group, private, and Skype classes. It’s like those old hair loss commercials (Not only am I a recommender for this product, I am also a member!). Hah! I promise you, my hair is so super cres you can’t imagine. It’s almost as hot as SAT Jesus up there. But I digress. You should buy this book, you should work through this book, and you should get your 750 on your SAT math. It’s that simple.