When you think of US university admissions, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’m willing to bet that for many of you, it was everyone’s favorite acronym: SAT.
Standardized testing has been a cornerstone of the American university application process for decades, and international students are just as responsible for taking these exams as their American counterparts. So, as the parent of an international students looking to study in the US, what are the essentials that you need to know about standardized testing?
1) There are 2 different standardized tests used for college entrance exams: SAT and ACT
In some circles, it is whispered that elite colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT. That is not true. All universities in the US accept both the SAT and ACT, and none state a preference for one over the other. In fact, from 2012 until 2017 and contrary to the perception that the SAT is the more “well-known” or “prestigious” exam, the ACT was more popular than the SAT among American students. Similarly, universities do not require students to take both the SAT and the ACT.
So, which test should you take? Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.
The SAT boasts denser reading passages and trickier math questions, but it is both five minutes longer than the ACT, and has fewer questions. As such, students receive more time to answer each question. The ACT is the opposite; while the questions are more straightforward, the time constraints are more challenging. The two exams also differ in terms of what subjects they test students on; don’t forget that the ACT has a science section, while the SAT has a non-calculator math section.
The best thing for a student to do is sit for full-length practice exams of both tests. This way, they can compare their scores and experiences with both exams to make a well-informed decision on which test they should focus their time and energy on. Sign up here to take free diagnostic SAT and ACT tests with Hale.
2) All students benefit from standardized test preparation
Decades ago, students didn’t study for standardized tests – they simply took them when they graduated from high school. These days, if you want to apply to a competitive university, then you will need top-notch SAT or ACT scores to lay a strong foundation for your application, and very few people manage to achieve those perfect 1600’s and 36’s without some amount of preparation. You can prepare on your own using prep books and online materials, or you can take a group class or hire an instructor. Find whatever way works best for you.
3) Free materials are out there for everyone
College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to release free SAT materials, and the ACT has done the same with Kaplan. Both have released free past papers to aid students in their preparation. Aside from official material from the respective testing boards, there are new blogs and websites cropping up every day that provide tips and test-taking strategies for students. Test prep may be an industry now, but that doesn’t mean that it has to break the bank.
4) Summer is a great time to prepare
International students can take the SAT in October, December, March, and May as well as the ACT in September, October, December, February, April, and June. Most students are prepping for end-of-term exams in April and May, and those same students are also kicking off a new school year in September. How can they be expected to prepare for these rigorous standardized tests during those months? While many students want to use the summer months to relax and recuperate, their most competitive peers are constructively using the summer to prepare for these high-stakes exams. Preparing for the SAT or ACT is demanding and time-intensive. Work smart, and prepare for these exams when you have the ability to devote substantial time and effort.
5) You can take the SAT or ACT more than once.
Most students take standardized tests more than once. In theory, one can take these exams as many times as the testing dates and application deadlines allow. Many (though not all) universities allow students to selectively choose which standardized test scores they submit.
However, just because you CAN take it more than once, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t take the test a second (or third) time unless you believe your score is going to go up! Have you been taking timed practice tests? Have your scores on those practice tests been higher than your last official score? If the answer to both questions is yes, then go ahead and sit for the exam again.
Alternatively, you can switch to a different test. If you took the SAT three times, for example, and then switched to the ACT, colleges will never have to know that you even took the SAT!
There’s no doubt that standardized testing is one of the most challenging components of the American university application process. With proper discipline and planning, however, it can be a breeze. Start preparing early, make wise use of your time, and take advantage of all the resources available to you.