If you are an international student who is not a native English speaker and you would like to strengthen your college application, you’ll want to watch this prepcast for some expert insights.
SAT Tips for International Students (transcript)
I want to give a little advice to international students who are not native English speakers. Please allow me to give my advice through a story. A Russian student at The Hun School of Princeton recently contacted me and asked if I could help her with the critical reading section of the SAT. I agreed and today I met with her. I started our session by giving her a critical reading test to take. After twenty-five minutes, I stopped her and we graded the test together.
What we quickly realized was that she really struggled with the sentence completion questions. This told me that her English vocabulary was lacking. She did pretty well with the reading comprehension portion of the practice test — probably about as well as the average American student; I was happy about that.
So the issue was how to help her improve her vocabulary. We are only two weeks away from the SAT! I wish I could have met with her for the first time last year or even a few months ago. This would have given us more time to work on building her vocabulary. In two weeks time it very difficult to improve one’s vocabulary to see a dramatic increase in the SAT critical reading score. We went through all the words that she did not know; there were probably about thirty of them. I gave her very brief definitions of those words. I then encouraged her to memorize as many of the words as she could in two weeks before the test. I also instructed her to go through additional practice sections in critical reading and learn every unfamiliar word she had time to learn.
Given the limited time available, we were better off preparing together for the math section, not the critical reading section. Her highest math score to date is a 690; this is a very high score. However, I know that when admission officers at American colleges look at the scores of international students, especially those who are not native English speakers, they are looking for exceptionally high math scores. When faced with low critical reading and writing scores on an international application, most colleges will simply ignore them and consider the applicant’s TOEFL scores. (TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language.) They will rely on the TOEFL score to evaluate the applicant’s ability to function academically, and otherwise, in English.
My immediate goal — in the next two weeks — is to help this young Russian girl get her math score into the 700’s, maybe even the 800’s. I want her to have a very strong math score because she has already earned a high TOEFL score. (I will ask her to continue working on her vocabulary in her free time. Doing so will help make college easier when she gets there next year.)
Again, if you are an international student who is not a native English speaker, you need to get the highest SAT math score possible — in the 700s if possible. If you need to neglect the writing and critical reading in order to do that, do it and then rely on your TOEFL score to prove that you can function very well within the English system. Good luck.