Author Elizabeth Breau undertakes the daunting task of encapsulating the key western concepts, events, causes and consequences that comprise the historical context for the SAT Reading and Writing college entrance exams. Her study guide is designed to help students connect “relevant background knowledge” with the rise of democratic ideologies so they can select the best multiple choice answers presented on today’s SAT.
According to the author, an understanding of historical context is essential for performing well on the exams. She intentionally omits test-taking strategies and the skills/drills found in other SAT prep books because recently revamped SAT tests require more than factual knowledge; they necessitate inference and analysis of quotations, images, and written passages as they relate to broad historical concepts.
To facilitate learning, this dense narrative is organized chronologically, (Middle Ages to today’s global struggle for human rights). Breau highlights certain information in various ways: asterisks indicate that a longer explanation of the word, name or idea will follow at the end of the paragraph; important names and phrases appear in bold, etc. She also discusses key concepts, such as “transcendentalism” and “fascism.” Such intellectual connective tissue is an effective part of the book’s narrative.
Breau references historical topic areas that are SAT perennials: the Cold War, presidential and civil rights’ leaders speeches, excerpts from famous documents (The Constitution), passages from Vietnam memoirs. Maps are included, but aren’t particularly instructive.
While readable, the discussion is at times a bit oversimplified, plodding, and dry. Its march-through-time organization, although important for showing the inter-relationship of events leading to the rise of democratic ideas, would substantially benefit from adding accompanying essential questions (e.g.: What central concepts of Renaissance Humanism are still part of modern free societies? How have women over time contributed to the expansion of modern democracy?) to improve comprehension of the historical facts.
Nonetheless, Breau’s guide is a useful orientation to the SAT. It may also, as the author hopes, fill in gaps in student knowledge.
Also available as an ebook.