As if preparing for the Scholastic Aptitude Test isn't hard enough, if you are a student for whom English is not a native language, you may find the prospect of taking the SAT the stuff of nightmares. But instead of curling up into a ball in the corner, use some tried and true preparative strategies to help you remain calm on test day.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
While the saying "practice makes perfect" may be a tad intimidating, it is true that practice does make you better. Think about learning how to ride a bicycle: It didn't happen overnight, but all of a sudden one day, after probably weeks of your practice, you managed to balance all by yourself and not fall. The same thing goes with test preparation. Practicing every day is the best way to make sure that test day goes as smoothly as possible. You should buy a test preparation book and start taking practice tests either in the book or online as soon as possible. Once you start practicing, you will begin to notice which sections you need to work on the most: critical reading, writing or mathematics.
Preparing for the Critical Reading Section
In the critical reading section of the SAT, you are asked to complete 67 questions in 70 minutes. As an ESL student, one of your toughest challenges is to make sure that your vocabulary is strong enough to not get lost in the academic words and to keep a good pace while answering questions. Reading a novel such as "Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the New SAT" is an excellent way to make sure you're learning the words you will need to know while practicing reading in English. The book is actually a work of fiction that includes hundreds of vocabulary words you might find on the SAT. Learning the vocabulary in context means you'll have a better chance of remembering how to use those new words when the time comes to take the SAT.
Preparing for the Writing Section
Those new vocabulary words won't just come in handy for the critical reading section; they will also help you do your best on the writing section, in which you will need to both write an essay and answer 49 multiple-choice questions. For the essay, you will need to feel comfortable writing an argumentative essay in standard English. It is also important to remember that there is no spell-check or grammar-check on the SAT like there is on your computer. The best way to prepare for this section is to practice writing argumentative essays and have a teacher, tutor, or friend who is a native speaker of English review your essay for both organization and grammar. Hand-write the essays to get used to completing the test without the assistance of spell-check and set a goal for yourself every week: Try to write at least several essays a week.
Preparing for the Mathematics Section
The mathematics section can be especially tricky for ESL students because, while you may be a math wiz in your native language, learning mathematical terms in English takes time. Begin by signing up for the free daily SAT practice question email through the Collegeboard website and get into the habit of doing at least one practice question a day. In addition to this, create flash cards to help you remember mathematics vocabulary. For example, for the term "median," print the word on one side of the card and on the other write an example that defines the term, including the word translated into your own language. For "median," a good example would be to write the numbers: 3, 5 and 7 on the back of the flash card and then write the number "5" beneath those three numbers because the median of that set of numbers is 5.
- Collegeboard: About the Tests: What is the SAT
- Collegeboard: Critical Reading Section
- Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the New SAT; Harrington Elster, Charles
- Collegeboard: SAT Writing Section: Essay and Multiple Choice
- Collegeboard: Mathematics Section
- Reading in a Foreign Language; The Effects of Context on Incidental Vocabulary Learning; Webb, Stuart
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