Your ACT or SAT Recommended Reading List

If you’re trying to boost your SAT or ACT reading score, reading regularly is one of the best long-term strategies for success. We recommend reading quality books and articles across a variety of sources to prepare you for any passage you may encounter on the ACT or SAT. This is not a strategy that will help you much if your test is a month (or less) away, but if you have four months or more before you’re going to take your next college entrance exam, you’ll want to pick up the habit of reading (quality) books daily.

Why & What You Should Be Reading Daily

Reading high-quality materials across a number of topics will prepare you for any passage you may encounter on the SAT or ACT. Since these tests prefer to use texts they don’t have to get copyright permissions for, we recommend reading books that are over 75 years old. You can acclimatize to the archaic language of words like “whilst” and “apothecary,” and adapt to the convoluted sentence structure of those old works, just by reading them more.

In addition to books, try your hand at science articles, long New Yorker pieces, or historical documents. Reading a variety of materials will prepare you for the different types of passages you’ll encounter on the test. As an added bonus, it’ll also make you smarter.

So put down the phone when you crawl into bed and pick up a book, and not only will you sleep better, after about a week, you’ll prefer reading to scrolling. To help you get started, we’ve put a list of our favorite books that you can add to your ACT/SAT reading list:

summer reading list book covers

The Olive Book’s Reading Recommendations

Classic Fiction

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

This book is way better than the movie! The writing style may throw you off in the beginning, but stick with it because at the center is a beautiful love story. Plus, the relationship between the Bennet sisters is touchingly portrayed. Need more incentive? When you finish the book, you can watch the movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and understand all the references! And if you like this one, try Emma, on which the movie Clueless is based! – Cristina, Course Instructor

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

On the surface, Jane Eyre follows the romance of an orphan governess, Jane, and her employer, Mr. Rochester. But peer deeper and you’ll find the enduring strength of a young woman as she rises above her circumstances with honor, strength, and compassion. – Megan, Marketing Manager

The Saxon Tales – Bernard Cornwell

The story of the history of England prior to the Norman conquest. It’s medieval adventure, and battles for power in the 9th and 10th centuries. The first book, The Last Kingdom, was published in 2004, and as of 2018 there are eleven books in the series. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There are four original novels and five books that are collections of short stories. The eccentric Holmes and his partner Doctor Watson are probably the most well-known fictional detectives. – Kristi, Course Instructor

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Set in France and Italy at the time of Napoleon’s exile, Dante is wrongfully imprisoned, befriended by a fellow prisoner, escapes, discovers a treasure, and plots his revenge against those who betrayed him. If you loved the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, then you will enjoy this novel. It is, after all, the basis of the movie plot. – Kristi, Course Instructor

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

Experience southern Spain as Hemingway did – complete with bullfights, bar fights, and a little romance. Hemingway is known for his clipped, short sentences, so you’ll breeze through this one. – Megan, Marketing Manager

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

It will be hard to believe that this book, which describes a futuristic society, was actually published in 1932!?!? The future depicted in the book is not, thank goodness, exactly like the world we are living in today, but Huxley really nails many of the issues with which we are struggling. This book will have you thinking about it long after you finish reading it. – Cristina, Course Instructor

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

A combination of science fiction and Gothic horror, Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley when she was only 18 years old as part of a competition between she, her future husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron. It’s such a fantastic story; no wonder the myth of the monster lives on. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This book is SHORT!! No seriously, I read soooo slowly when I was a kid, so I know that length makes a difference. This was also the first “real” book that ever made me cry. It is a poignant story about friendship and struggle. There is great symbolism and digestible vocabulary. A great starter book for someone who is not too keen on reading. – Cristina, Course Instructor

Dracula – Bram Stoker

As with Frankenstein, many people think they know the story of Dracula because there have been so many interpretations, but if you have never read the original and you like gothic horror, then this is a fantastic novel for you. The epistolary format (written as a series of documents) is particularly interesting. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

Dive deep into the passion, society, and romance of 19th century Russia in Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, Anna Karenina. At over 800 pages it’s not for the faint of heart, but we promise, it’s well worth your time. – Megan, Marketing Manager

Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

This novel is one of the first to be written in the “stream of consciousness” style pioneered by early 20th century writers. It follows one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway, an high society lady in post-WWI England. This is a great book to practice reading older, different writing styles that are still super accessible. – Megan, Marketing Manager

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

What begins as a French naturalist’s quest to hunt down a sea monster, turns into his adventure aboard a remarkable submarine. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

An Englishman bets his colleagues he can travel around the entire planet in 80 days. The story is one of adventure, exploration, and a race to win the wager. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Modern Fiction

The Life of Pi – Yann Martel

A boy, his family, and the zoo animals they are transporting find themselves on a cargo ship that is sinking in a storm in the middle of the Pacific. The boy, Pi, struggle to survive on a lifeboat with a few of the animals, one of which is a tiger. Loaded with gorgeous imagery, and symbolism that is open to interpretation, it is a book that deserves to be savored more than once. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Poetic Fiction

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

A coming of age story told in vignettes – not quite poems, and not quite prose, but beautiful all the same. – Megan, Marketing Manager

Cane – Jean Toomer

Told in a series of vignettes, Cane is part drama, part poetry, part fiction that powerfully evokes black life in the South. Originally published in 1923, it stand tall among the greatest works of its time. – Megan, Marketing Manager


Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

How does one become great? Malcolm Gladwell puts the talented artists, athletes, and more under the microscope to discover how they became great at their craft, and how you can become great at yours. This is a non-fiction read that fuses popular science and psychology. – Megan, Marketing Manager

Into Thin Air – John Krakauer

John Krakauer was a client on a 1996 Mt. Everest climbing expedition and was hired as a journalist to write about the adventure; however, tragedy struck and the team suffered multiple casualties. – Kristi, Course Instructor

Into The Wild – John Krakauer

John Krakauer writes about Christopher McCandless, who after graduating from Emory University, donates all the money in his bank account to charity and embarks on an adventure in the American West. – Kristi, Course Instructor

What’s first on your reading list? Let us know on social media and we’ll give you a shout out.

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