Lastly, as far as PSAT books, the books that were published last summer were mostly equal in their mediocrity. My only recommendation is to wait for new books to surface during the summer or simply use the SAT books and ignore the essay discussions.
Should you time yourself on the practice tests?
The answer is yes but only at the end of the preparation, and eventually at the onset if you did not take an official test. In the past I have compared an SAT preparation to the preparation for a marathon. It is not necessary to run 26 miles each day to prepare for a race. It is better to prepare your body for the grueling race in smaller installments and build resistance and speed by repetition. I do not think that there is ANYTHING wrong in trying to emulate the testing conditions by setting aside a few Saturdays at the kitchen table. It is, however, not necessary, especially in the phase where you build knowledge, confidence, and time management. I would recommend 10 installments of 30 minutes over taking a 5-hour ordeal. One of the keys of a successful preparation is to establish a number of intermediary targets. First, you want to make sure you understand the test and its arcane language. Then, you want to test your current knowledge. After that, you want to make sure you understand what The College Board considers correct answers. I even recommend taking a test WITH the answers in front of you. Obviously that test would not establish a valid yardstick score wise, but it will go a long way to build confidence in your own ability and recognize the few traps that ETS uses.
On the issue of using released tests
When I started working on this issue, the world of the SAT was a bit easier. Since most SAT books had gone through several revisions, the job of identifying the best books was much simpler. For instance, nobody would confuse the Gruber’s anthology with the REA books. An important consensus was also reached regarding the published tests, and the differences between the official tests and the tests published by Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s, among others.
I started to use the term “synthetic” tests to describe the tests found in the books of PR, Kaplan, and others. I even pushed the envelope by labeling them wannabe or fake tests. In simple terms, using the synthetic tests was a bad, a very bad idea. It was also absolutely unnecessary: between the various publications of the 8 or 10 Real Tests and the purchase of released tests from The College Board, one astute test taker could have built up a collection of about 45 official tests. Enough to satisfy the appetite of the most voracious SAT candidate. I have to admit that I attempted to collect ALL of what was available and that I did go through ALL the ones I purchased.
Alas, we know a lot less about the current SAT than we did about the old one. The College Board no longer sells disclosed tests, except through a more restrictive Q&A Service. ETS sells only past versions of the PSAT. The situation is even more complicated for the current SAT.