August 27, 2019

How International Students Can Best Prepare for the SAT/ACT

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I’ve had conversations with high school students from India to South Korea, and they all want to attend a university in the U.S. And for good reason: the U.S. maintains the most attractive university system in the world. Our universities attract the best professors, who are doing the most innovative and well-funded research in the world. The facilities are top-notch, and aspiring students have a wide array of degrees to choose from. 

Schools have strong partnerships with the business community, so internships are easily accessible. The opportunities are endless, and the universities connect their students to those opportunities. Whether students pursue a career in the U.S. or take their degree back to their home country, graduating from a U.S. college is an impressive notch on any resume.

Many of the international students I talk to are aiming for a spot at an Ivy League university. For many of them, a qualifying SAT or ACT score is the barrier. The only way they can get past that roadblock is by scoring in the top tenth percentile. That’s not an easy task for students who aren’t familiar with academic English, have no experience with the structure of the tests themselves, don’t have access to updated prep tools, and may not even know how early they should begin preparing for these tests. 

Here’s a look at the major barriers to SAT and ACT success for non-U.S. students and how they can overcome them:

Setting Expectations

When you ask students from other countries, “What universities do you know of?” they quite often respond with top-tier, Ivy League schools. These schools have brand recognition and reputations that stretch back generations. Students from all over the world strive to go to these universities. In most cases, these schools are considered far superior to what they have in their backyard.

Since everyone wants to go to an Ivy League, the admission criteria for these universities are highly competitive. Families in other countries aren’t familiar with the fact that there are many high-quality universities in the U.S. that aren’t listed as top tier. Since acceptance rates at top-tier universities have reached an all-time low, students need to have at least one safe school. Having at least one guaranteed admission can help take some pressure off students and enable them to focus on doing the necessary work to qualify for a top-tier university.

Academic Language and Grammar

Once international students have a realistic sense of the scope of U.S. universities, the most common barrier to getting into the colleges of their choice is language. 

Students from other countries are inundated with—and in some cases may have learned to speak English from—informal language through media, movies, and music, but they are not being actively exposed to formal or academic language. They may be able to speak conversational English, but when it comes to the SAT and ACT, you need to understand academic English, and you certainly can’t select answers just because they sound right. You have to know basic English grammar rules and be able to apply them and understand academic vocabulary or you’re just not going to be successful.

Many of these students study academic English and seek comprehensive grammar instruction. If they know they have large gaps in their vocabulary or in application of English grammar, some start preparing years in advance. The next challenge they face is not just to learn, for example, subject-verb agreement in isolation, but to learn it through actively practicing SAT and ACT questions.

(To be continued . . .)

If you are an international student looking to stand out with an impressive SAT or ACT test score, UWorld can help. Our innovative, online-only test-prep tools include challenging questions that mimic the SAT and ACT, detailed explanations of complex topics, realistic self-assessments, and real-time performance tracking. Let us help you showcase your academic ability for U.S. universities to see.


Article originally appeared in Language Magazine


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