A valiant effort at "Cracking the SAT II", June 27, 2005
Overall, although I admit there is no perfect SAT II: E/M book (nor will there ever be), I would have to say that the Princeton Review staff does the best job of any other SAT II: Biology E/M study guide. This book is a masterpiece of moderation; it lacks the humiliatingly low (for readers, that is) language–and title–of the "SAT II Biology for Dummies, yet also does not add university-level or AP biology in the way that Barron’s and Kaplan sometimes do. The author herself also has a remarkable way of interacting with the reader, understanding that most readers will only absorb information if they are frequently quizzed and treated with some humor. Another strong point I noticed in the book involved the way the author was able to simplify esoteric concepts by use of comparisons to other things that the average teenager can relate to. The large, detailed diagrams certainly did not hurt either, and I found it helpful to read the authors’ step-by-step summary of body systems like the nervous and circulatory ones. I discovered that on test day, it usually did me better to fully understand the big picture in much the same way that it was outlined in the book; for someone in a tenth-grade honors (not AP) biology class like me, there was a balance of informative and explanatory information throughout the book. Unfortunately, by the time I completed the exam this past June, I found that much of the author’s hard work had gone to waste because difficult concepts such as cellular respiration barely appeared on the test. Simply put, the test has changed to one where doesn’t really help to know more than basic concepts; the one or two super-detailed questions on each SAT II Biology will likely be so specific that they will only be covered in the textbook, anyway…
For those who praise Kaplan/Barron’s for the extraneous detail they include to bring short-lived confidence to readers, making them think they know more than everyone else, all I can say is that the SAT in Biology has become so much more of a reasoning or "thinking" test (with the infamous lab questions) that books can only go so far; it is so much more the student than the book that determines the score — it pays to read a review book that actually explains the material accurately and lucidly but might compromise on detail a little. As a final note, while nobody in my class who used a detailed, "thorough" review book received a score over the low-600’s, my friend and I, who used Princeton Review and our own intellect exculsively on the test, received a 770 and 750, respectively. In my opinion, it is best to begin with Princeton Review and then progress to the other books only if there is extra studying time and have mastered that which is covered in Princeton’s. Good Luck!