Start Practicing Your Reading Comprehension for the SAT with These Classic Fiction Books!
Most students agree that the trickiest SAT Reading passages are those that come from books written in earlier eras. Because we’re not accustomed to reading and thinking through literature with a more antiquated idiom, it’s wise to familiarize ourselves with such literature. This article will suggest the best books and essays with which to do so. Let’s take a look!
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Touching and relatable, this novel follows the journey of four sisters, Meg, Beth, Jo, and Amy, from childhood into adulthood. As Alcott’s writing is challenging, but not insurmountable, this book makes the perfect introduction to 19th-century literature for girls and boys alike.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Chances are you’ve heard the name Pride and Prejudice before. Perhaps you’ve even seen one of the movie adaptations. Why not read Jane Austen’s incredible novel to prepare yourself for the SAT Reading test? Austen writes beautifully, and as you follow the incredible romance she creates, you’ll also be acquainting yourself with 19th-century literature!
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Another great book by a 19th-century author, Jane Eyre is certain to be a challenging and worthwhile read. It follows the story of young Jane, a governess, and charts her growing relationship with her employer, Mr. Rochester. Little does Jane know, Mr. Rochester has a secret! Things are not what they seem in this classic novel that is sure to help boost your SAT Reading comprehension.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Both challenging and enjoyable, this classic novel by Charles Dickens is a coming-of-age story that follows the growth and development of a young orphan named Pip. Making your way through Dickens’s prose will be a rewarding exercise if you hope to do well upon the SAT Reading test. Dickens was a prolific writer, so be sure to check out other works by him, such as Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Boys and girls alike will be thrilled by this revenge novel. Jailed for a crime that he did not commit, the protagonist of this gripping adventure story returns to seek his revenge! Alexandre Dumas is a talented writer, and you won’t feel like reading this book is a chore. You’re also doing yourself a favor: every minute you spend reading is one more minute of strengthening your reading comprehension skills for the SAT!
Silas Marner, by George Eliot
A passage from Silas Marner has appeared on the SAT, so it’s pretty safe to assume George Eliot’s writing will make for great SAT Reading preparation. Follow the redemptive story of parental love as a greedy weaver’s world is changed when he adopts a young girl! If you enjoy this 19th-century classic, perhaps you should also read another one of Eliot’s novels, Middlemarch.
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Did you love the musical? Why not read the book? Victor Hugo stands as one of the greatest writers in the history of literature, and this timeless tale will be sure to move you. At the same time, it will help you hone your reading skills and build your vocabulary for the SAT. What are you waiting for?
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
I recommend Frankenstein to all of my students. It’s a gorgeously-written horror story that yields new resonance with each read. Shelley’s writing is difficult but worthwhile. This story will haunt you and make you think. It’s rich with philosophy and with narrative. Read and re-read Frankenstein, and feel confident that you’re doing good work prepping for the SAT while you do!
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Sister to Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë is an incredibly gifted writer in her own right. This meticulously-crafted novel will be sure to delight and enchant you, and reading it will afford you great practice for the SAT! Not only is it a love story–it’s also a page-turning revenge novel! You won’t regret reading this book and honing your reading and vocabulary skills along with it.
The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
A list of classic books wouldn’t be complete without an addition by William Faulkner, one of the great novelists of all time. Set in Mississippi and employing a vast range of narrative styles, this incredible novel charts the decline and dissolution of the Compson family, once Southern aristocrats but struggling as time passes with one hardship after another. This novel will certainly help you strengthen your reading skills. And who knows? A passage from it just might appear on the SAT…
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
Widely considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written, Moby-Dick is essential reading for students who aim to do well on the SAT. Ishmael, a sailor, relates the tale of Captain Ahab and his obsessive desire for revenge against a whale, Moby-Dick, that big his leg off. Beautifully written, this novel will grip you until the very end. It’s filled with philosophical ideas and is an unparalleled study of human psychology. Pick up a copy of Moby-Dick today and feel good about making the commitment to improve your reading skills! Great readers get high SAT scores. Period.
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That’s it! Stay tuned for more reading recommendations. For more SAT and ACT prep advice, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!
Summer is the perfect time to finally get to your reading list — and though you might want to re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the third time, or buy the entire Young Adult section of your nearest Barnes & Noble — there’s always another part of your life for the SAT to invade!
There are tons of books out there which are genuinely good and can also improve your SAT Writing and Critical Reading scores. Learning new vocabulary doesn’t just mean memorizing flashcards! Here is a list of tons of books which can make a big difference in your vocabulary and reading level.
Read those classics!
Honestly, any classic novel is great for preparing for the SAT. They are classics for a reason! Lots of passages on the SAT are written in a more archaic, pre-twentieth century style. Therefore, reading pre-twentieth century novels can work wonders for your reading comprehension skills on test day.
Classic novels which are culturally based are also ideal choices for summer reading. There is always a cultural passage on the SAT, and it never hurts to be a little more culturally aware.
Try some of these…
Pre-Twentieth Century Classics
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Heart of Darkness by James Conrad
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Twentieth Century Classics
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
- From Here to Eternity by James Jones
- Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy
- 1984 by George Orwell
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
- John Steinbeck
- Ernest Hemingway
- Jane Austen
- William Shakespeare
- Emily Brontë
- Charlotte Bronte
- Charles Dickens
- Leo Tolstoy
“Kaplan SAT Score-Raising Classics”
You’ve probably read (or will read) a lot of these classics at school. If one of these classics is part of your required reading this summer, why not buy an edition that has been edited specifically to teach you vocab? Kaplan has a whole series of classics designed to help you boost your score. Each book has hundreds of high-level vocab words that are highlighted in the text, with definitions of said words displayed on the opposite side of the page. I have to admit: that’s almost as cool as this guy’s hair. Books in the series include:
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Prestwick House: SAT Words from Literature”
Prestwick House has a similar series in which it highlights vocab words in classics, and shows their parts of speech, pronunciations, definitions, and synonyms or antonyms. It also provides exercises to help you remember definitions of words. This is so helpful if you want to learn vocab without feeling…like you’re learning…vocab. Some books in the series include:
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“Sparknotes: SAT Novels”
Not in the mood for heavy reading? Sparknotes has a great list of fun novels which are designed to improve your vocabulary. Plus, they’re all easy, light, yet effective reads. Plus, each book contains more than 1,000 SAT/ACT words. Plus, you can read them for free on the internet! PLUS…yeah. They’re actually pretty effective. Titles include…
Even the College Board itself has a great list of books which will improve your reading comprehension and vocabulary. It’s mainly composed of classics, which may seem boring at first—but many of these books are genuinely entertaining. Check them out at 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers.
If you don’t want to make any long-term commitments to books, but you’d still like to read a lot this summer, you can also read high-quality newspaper and magazine articles. The New Yorker, Reader’s Digest, Time, and The Atlantic Monthly are great choices. The type of writing in these publications is short and condensed, much like SAT passages. There’s something for everyone!
People who read frequently tend to do better on the Writing and Critical Reading sections than those who don’t. Making reading a habit, then, is a crucial part to studying for the SAT. And don’t stop after test day!
Reading is a building block for knowledge and a building block for tons of skills you’ll need in your lifetime. If it isn’t already, make reading a daily habit. Unlike AP Chemistry, you really won’t regret it.
About Maddi Lee
Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!
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