There are three main things that colleges in the United States look at when determining whether to admit a student: grade point average, extracurricular activities, and standardized test scores. For foreign students who want to study in America, the standardized test score requirements can be confusing – and also incredibly daunting. Don’t despair! With these tips, you can boost your test scores and increase your chances of admittance to the US college of your choice.
SAT or ACT?
If you are a foreign student, then there is a chance that you’ve heard about the infamous SAT test. But many foreign students don’t know that virtually all US colleges will also accept ACT scores.
The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests, but they have some very important differences between them.
The SAT is set up to measure your critical reasoning and verbal abilities. By contrast, the ACT is designed to show what you’ve learned in school. It includes a science section, whereas the SAT test does not. Both tests have essay writing sections, but this section is optional with the ACT whereas it is mandatory with the SAT. There are also some other notable differences between the tests, including the length of the test, penalties for wrong answers, and question style. This article does a good job explaining the differences between the SAT and ACT tests.
Some people will say that the SAT or the ACT test is easier. This is not true. Both tests are equally as difficult, but some students may perform better with one test or the other.
The SAT test is more popular with foreign students, but mostly because the SAT does a better job of marketing to foreigners. See what testing centres are available near you to determine what your options are.
If both the SAT and ACT are available in your area, then do practice tests of each. See which one you score better on. Then focus on that test. Note that the SAT and ACT use very different scoring methods. You can use this SAT-ACT Concordance Table to see how your scores compare.
Take Lots of Practice Tests!
Those practice SAT and ACT tests really do help improve your test scores! Another reason for taking practice tests is that the practice scores aren’t reported to colleges.
If you do poorly on your real SAT or ACT test, you can always take the test again. However, some colleges require you to send in all of your test scores. Colleges might not look down on you for taking the test 2 or even 3 times, but taking it 15 times could be held against you.
Leave It Blank or Guess?
With the ACT test, there is no penalty for a wrong answer so you should always guess if you aren’t sure. However, with the SAT test, there is a ¼ point penalty for each wrong answer (except with the grid-in math questions).
Here is how the SAT is scored:
- 1 point for each correct answer
- 0 points for blank answers
- -1/4 point for incorrect answers
Because of this scoring system, many people recommend leaving a question blank if you don’t know the answer. But this isn’t always good advice. Veritas Prep recommends this strategy:
If you can eliminate at 1 of the 5 possible answers, then you should randomly guess.
If you can’t eliminate any of the possible answers, then you should leave it blank.
They remind you that the SAT test makers are really good at making wrong test answers look right. So, if you aren’t sure, then it is really important that you randomly guess. Otherwise, your chances of guessing correctly are reduced even further and it would be better to just leave the question blank.
Don’t wait to register for the SAT or ACT test. The tests book up quickly, and you might end up having to travel long distances to take the test. Considering that the tests are often given in the morning, that might mean waking up at 5am to get to the testing centre on time. Good luck performing well when you are so tired.
Brush Up On Your English
Even if you are from an English-speaking country, it doesn’t mean your American English is up to par. There may be idioms in the test questions or other phrases that you don’t understand. Likewise, you don’t want to makes lots of spelling mistakes by writing words like criticise (criticize), favourite (favorite), or annexe (annex). These mistakes shouldn’t hurt your essay scores in the SAT test, but a series of mistakes could slightly reduce your scores.