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How the New SAT Will Affect International Students

As most college bound families know by now, the new SAT (rSAT) will debut this month. The test is undergoing a major overhaul, leaving many students wondering how the new exam will affect their chances of admission to their top-choice colleges. However, the test changes don’t only affect US students. International applicants with hopes of attending US universities are also impacted by the SAT changes.

International Students Have More Time to Prep
While the rSAT will debut March 5 in the US, international students won’t take the new exam until May. While we have been advising current juniors to take the ACT instead of the rSAT this spring and summer, many international students still prefer the SAT mainly because of the misconception that US universities value the SAT more than the ACT. This is one area that may be beneficial to international students – they’ll have a little more time to prep should they choose to take the rSAT over the ACT. There are a number of free SAT prep resources online, and it’s wise for international students to take advantage of them because some of the SAT changes may have a significant impact on international test-takers.

How Scoring Will Be Impacted
It’s also important for international students to be aware of developments regarding scoring and how colleges will evaluate scores from the rSAT. While many US universities have said they plan to accept scores from the old SAT, rSAT, and ACT for students applying for fall 2017 admission, it remains to be seen how colleges will evaluate scores from the rSAT and if they will superscore across both tests. This can leave a lot of uncertainty for international students who have already taken the SAT and plan to retake the new exam this year.

Heavy Reading
As we pointed out previously, the changes to the reading section will probably be the most difficult overhaul the test will see. The reading portion of the test will be one long section, as opposed to three 20-to-25-minute sections. Students will have 65 minutes to read and answer questions about five passages. This section will be a marathon and very dense, and may be especially difficult for students whose first language isn’t English.

Reading will also be important in the math section, as the no calculator section will be heavy on world problems. Students whose second language is English will have to translate these words problems into mathematical terms that they’ll be familiar with.

This is where test prep is essential – students need to practice by taking the reading and math sections multiple times to get used to the timing and practice reading, translation, and math techniques. International students whose second language is English will need to spend more time reading material in English and learning techniques to help them better understand what the questions are asking in the math section and how to work backwards to find the answers within the text in the reading section.

More Complicated Writing
The essay section is also undergoing a significant change and will be far more complex in both content and length than on the previous SAT. Rather than providing a personal opinion on a given topic and supporting it with evidence, students are given a substantial passage to read and will be asked to analyze how the author built his or her argument. Therefore, students will need to understand the techniques authors use to write persuasively, for many, a more challenging task than providing one’s own opinion, especially for students who speak English as a second language.

More Realistic Vocabulary
Not only will students need to get used to a longer reading section, they’ll also need to adjust their vocabulary prep. The SAT will no longer test students on antiquated vocabulary words. Now, students will be asked to define a word based on its context within a passage. This is a big change from years past, where students needed to memorize various words and definitions; most that are rarely, if ever, used in everyday language. While this may be easier for many international students who already speak English, it’s important to continue to practice with sample vocabulary questions so students are more familiar with the format and how to identify the definition within the context of the passage.

A More US-Focused Test
International students can also expect to see more US-focused material, specifically in the reading section. The SAT will now feature at least one US “founding document,” or other global document, in the reading section which students will need to read and answer questions about. While the section itself won’t specifically test on US history, this could pose a challenge to international students, as many may not be as familiar with the documents, language, and context as US students are. If international students encounter a US founding document in the reading section, there’s a chance the document could contain antiquated words, language, and syntax, which could prove challenging for students whose second language is English. It’s important for international students to become more familiar with these documents through practice tests and questions.

Whether they’re taking the ACT or SAT, IvyWise’s expert tutors work with both US and international students to help them obtain their goal scores. Learn more about IvyWise’s test prep services here.

For a more detailed breakdown on how the rSAT compares to the old SAT and the ACT in terms of timing, content, scoring, and more, check out our comparison chart here!