In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the conversations I’ve had with international students around the world who have set their sights on attending a university in the U.S. and the unique challenges these students face.
Many of the international students I talk to are aiming for a spot at an Ivy League university. The need for an exceptional SAT or ACT score is imperative in order to reach this goal. That’s not an easy task for students who may not have access to updated prep tools, who speak English as a second language, or who may not even know how far in advance they should begin to study.
Here are two more barriers to SAT and ACT success for non-U.S. students and how they can overcome them:
Access to Quality Prep Tools
One of the largest barriers for foreign students is a limited access to quality resources. Many international students aren’t looking to score a 1250 on their SAT. Although a 1250 is a very solid score that would allow for admission into many universities, international students who dream of a top-tier university are aiming for a 1500+.
Ultra-high scores on the SAT and ACT are a great way to separate from the pack. It’s a long journey from baseline knowledge to scoring in the top percentile, and to get to that mastery point, they’ll need to be familiar with every type of question they could possibly see on the exam.
Since admission exams are constantly evolving, there’s a high risk that students’ resources are out of date. If they’re purchasing a book because it’s cheap on Amazon—but it’s more than a couple of years old—there’s a good chance that exam content has drastically changed. Sometimes even that isn’t possible. I remember talking to a student from Egypt who said he couldn’t even get an ACT prep book shipped to his house because of customs and other obstacles. He felt like he was on an island. The only way he could access anything was on his computer and phone.
There are practice tests out there on the internet. Many international students I speak to don’t have access to computers but do have smartphones, so for these tests to be helpful, they have to be viewable on mobile devices. Even then, a practice test won’t help students through the answers they got incorrect and provide them with the knowledge they need to effectively tackle similar questions in the future.
Students often don’t have access to anyone who’ll walk them through the explanation. They need high-quality resources because they don’t have the luxury of going to their English teachers to get a thorough explanation of comma splices and other items that are tested. They need the resources to learn from their mistakes on their own, so they know how to get the answer right the next time.
Gearing up for these tests can be a multiyear process, so students need SAT and ACT preparation resources that are not only comprehensive but robust enough to support them for the long term. They can’t find one little SAT book and decide to use that for 18 months. They need to find content that not only teaches them every skill on the test but also has many questions that build on each other. They need to be able to spiral questions from low to medium to high levels so they can build up from baseline concepts to feeling comfortable with the material and the test itself.
The SAT and the ACT strictly align content with the U.S. Common Core State Standards. They are supported by instruction that takes place in the U.S. For instance, a third-grade teacher will give a student a reading passage and comprehension questions to go along with it. It’s the same format on the SAT and ACT, so U.S. students are exposed to the format of these admission tests from a very early age.
By contrast, an international student may be more familiar with book reports based on entire novels. An international student might find mathematical word problems difficult to understand if they are solely accustomed to computational-type questions.
Active practice with well-modeled questions will help students break this barrier. The questions should be paired with high-quality explanations that let students know where they went wrong. The tools should be heavily based around content knowledge. The SAT and ACT aren’t IQ exams, so students who continue to practice will get better over time, because they’re learning the subject matter but also because they’re actively practicing something that mimics the exam.
When it comes to test-taking strategy, students should avoid gimmicky advice like “don’t read the passage first; to save time, go straight to the questions.” Students aren’t going to trick the test, but there are tactics students can use to have a better chance of getting the correct answer in some cases.
For instance, if a summary question is first in a section, a smart approach is to save it for the end. Answering the comprehension questions about a reading passage first will allow students to gather nice baseline knowledge to eventually answer the summary question.
Concise language is also a big part of SAT grammar questions. Typically, the shortest answer written in a formal way is the correct answer. Students, especially international students, wouldn’t necessarily pick up on that. It sounds simple and silly, but it’s a helpful tip. We’ve studied enough tests that we can give students insider knowledge that will help them on test day. No matter what specific tools international students choose to prepare for the SAT or ACT, access is the largest barrier. If they don’t have access, they don’t have opportunity.
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.