Applying to US universities as an international student can be a daunting process, and the pressure surrounding college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT can cause additional anxiety. As an international applicant the stakes are high, with some of the US’s most elite colleges posting extremely low international admission rates. Test scores, while not enough to gain admission alone, are critical pieces of the college application process, and international applicants need to understand how to make the most of their test prep.
International applicants understand there’s a lot riding on test scores, however, it’s important for international students to approach test prep for US admissions with the knowledge that a good score is important but not the only thing US universities consider. By putting effort into simple test prep strategies, international students can easily raise their scores and still have time and energy to focus toward other admission criteria that colleges weigh, thus increasing their chances of admission at their top-choice US institutions.
SAT and ACT
As perhaps the most important college entrance exams that international students will take for US admission, the SAT and ACT require a lot of preparation beforehand. The tests are long and cover many different subjects and concepts, so it’s important for international applicants to create a test prep strategy as soon as possible. The SAT and ACT have fewer test dates for international students, so students outside of the US don’t have as many opportunities as US students to take and retake the test. This is why test prep is so valuable for international applicants – you only have so many chances to get it right.
- Understand the nuances of each exam. The SAT and ACT, while more similar now that the SAT launched a revamped test, are still very different tests. Do your research to learn about each test’s scoring, content, and timing, and how recent changes can affect international test-takers.
- Take a diagnostic of each. International students need to determine which test is the best fit for their needs and abilities. There’s been a long held myth by international applicants that the SAT is the “preferred” college entrance exam. The truth is, all colleges that accept the SAT also accept the ACT, and they are weighed equally. This provides an advantage for some applicants, allowing them to take the test that best suits their abilities. Take a diagnostic test of each (we provide diagnostic exams to students) and determine which test you can better prepare for in order to reach your goal score.
- Focus on timing. Pacing is by far the biggest issue students, both in the US and abroad, struggle with when taking the SAT or ACT. Timing and pacing is key to completing each section on time. When taking practice exams, use methods like process of elimination, speed reading, working backwards from the question to the reading passage, and other test-taking strategies to improve your timing.
- Practice writing. Both the SAT and ACT recently overhauled their optional essay sections. If you choose to take the optional essay section, spend time writing, forming arguments, and practicing English if it’s your second language.
TOEFL or IELTS
While some colleges will accept the SAT or ACT as sufficient evidence that international students who learned English as a second language have proficiency with the language, some still require international applicants from non-English speaking countries to submit scores from the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Like the SAT or ACT, students should start early and spend time preparing for these exams.
- Practice English daily. Talk, write, and read in English every day. Watch English-language shows and movies. By immersing yourself in the language every day, you’ll learn more vocabulary, practice more complex sentence structure, and have a better grasp of the language when it comes time to take practice exams.
- Take practice exams. Practice makes perfect! Just like with the SAT or ACT, students should take a number of practice tests to prepare for the TOEFL or IELTS. Not only will they become more familiar with the timing and format of the test, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to see what they’ve learned so far and where they need improvement.
- Prep for one exam at a time. If you need to prepare for the TOEFL or IELTS and the SAT or ACT, focus on one test at a time. The content and concepts from each exam are very different, so it’s best to master one test before prepping for another. If you’re struggling with English proficiency, start by prepping for the TOEFL or IELTS first, giving you time to master the language before moving on to more complicated concepts in the SAT or ACT.
International students can reach their goal SAT or ACT score by working with us. We also have tutors that specialize in test prep for the TOEFL. On average, our students increase their SAT scores by at least 200 points* and ACT score increases range from 4-14 points. In the competitive US admissions process, strong test scores are important for international applicants.
*Based on scoring for the previous version of the SAT.