The vast majority of colleges and universities in the US require international students to submit SAT or ACT scores – the national exam by which students are evaluated.
These tests help admission officers get some sense of how you will perform in their first year in college. 40 hours spent on the SAT, studying in the right way, will make a HUGE difference to your chances of getting admitted to your dream school.
Students applying from outside the US who are interested in science and engineering also need to do well on the mathematics sections and, if English is not your first language, then you will be required to submit a TEOFL or IELTS score too. Depending on the kind of school you are applying to, these scores need to be high.
What’s the Difference Between the SAT and ACT?
Your choice of test all depends on your educational background, academic strengths, and personal interests. Both the SAT and the ACT for international students are considered equally by colleges, so you should choose based on where you can get the higher score.
Typically, international students are able to score higher on math than on verbal, both because of the quality of math education in various countries and the extra challenges of language many must overcome in Reading and Writing sections. While the SAT has generally been more popular than the ACT abroad, it might not be the better option for you if you’re strong in math and science. The ACT, unlike the SAT, has a science section, plus it tests even more advanced math concepts.
What you need to know
The SAT is much more popular internationally, so you might already have more knowledge about the test or resources to study for it.
It has four sections: one Reading, one Writing, one Math (no calculator), and one Math (with calculator). It also features an optional fifth section, a 50-minute essay. Some colleges will want you to take the exam with essay; others will leave the choice up to you.
Pros of the SAT for International Students
The verbal sections now count for half the score, rather than 2/3 of the total score. For students whose first language is not English, this decrease in emphasis on the Reading and Writing maybe a welcome feature.
It no longer features obscure vocabulary words. These tough words were challenging for native and non-native English speakers alike, so the elimination of “sentence completion” questions may make the exam easier for international students. Questions now feature straightforward wording, making them easier to understand.
All three sections, Reading, Writing, and Math, also feature graphs, charts, and tables. If you’re strong at interpreting data, then this feature may be appealing to you in all three sections of the test.
Some colleges will waive the TOEFL requirement with a minimum SAT verbal score, so this may be a benefit of taking this exam.
Cons of the SAT for International Students
Some selective schools require that you take both the SAT and one or two SAT Subject Tests. Most of these same schools waive the Subject Test requirement if you take the ACT. So if you chose the ACT, you’d only have to take that one test, whereas if you chose the SAT, you might have to take three separate tests to apply.
Another con is the SAT’s emphasis on reading comprehension in all its sections. The Reading passages feature evidence-based questions, meaning you’ll have to back up your answers with evidence from the text. All of the questions in the Writing section feature longer passages, so you’ll need a strong grasp on structure and syntax.
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