Face Common SAT Fears of International Students

Having a good attitude can help international SAT test-takers as much as good language skills.

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Making a point to remain genuinely interested in the SAT reading subjects will help you better remember key details.
Making a point to remain genuinely interested in the SAT reading subjects will help you better remember key details.

Many international students don't speak English as their mother tongue, which can intimidate students competing with thousands of others in the SAT and TOEFL tests.

But don't be scared of these tests. Identify how the SAT may frighten you to find ways to fight back. 

Fear No. 1: Academic Readings With Field Knowledge 

Many friends in my SAT preparation class used to say that they could get sick just looking at the long reading sections. Be prepared and don't be surprised if you have to read about the daily life of polar bears at the North Pole, bird migration, a history of medicine, an extract from a literary novel or other academic subjects. 

These passages may try to fool you by incorporating professional field knowledge that does not usually appear in conversational English. The key to tackling your fear is to treat these passages like you are watching the Discovery Channel or heading out on an adventure – or, try pretending you have an important responsibility to review someone else's writing.

[Find out how to write a great SAT essay.] 

You might answer the questions wrong if you do not understand the key notions of the readings, so read them as if you are truly interested in the topic. Your attitude when reading these academic pieces is as important as your language skills. 

Having a genuine interest in what you read will help you better remember key details. You will realize that you do not need to come back to a passage repeatedly just to be able to answer a question. 

Stay hungry about the information given in the readings and you will rock the answers. Reading more English newspapers will help you become familiar with various fields of knowledge, as will reading more academic pieces and literature. 

And remember, improving your reading skills in the long run will truly help you to enjoy this road. 

[Learn more SAT tips for international students.] 

Fear No. 2: Those Strange New Words 

Nothing can be more frustrating than reading a paragraph smoothly when suddenly, your flow is interrupted in the middle of a sentence by a word that you have never seen. Even more intimidating, the SAT asks you to guess the meaning of those words. 

You might get bored of hearing people telling you to study new words. They are not wrong. It would be better to learn as many new English words as you can before letting those unknown words creep up during the test. 

For me, the most effective method was to discuss new words every day with a friend who also studied for these exams. 

We made a word list for each day, put them in context and discussed the nuances of the words with each other. Words that I learned with my friends are the ones that I remember the most. 

But whether you study with flashcards or by writing words down on a piece of paper, imagining the new words in context is key to remembering them.

And the more you read, the more likely it is you will encounter the new words and understand how they are used in actual English writing.

[Get tips on preparing for the TOEFL.] 

Fear No. 3: Tricky Math Questions 

Wherever you were born and raised, you must have studied some math before entering college, even though what and how you learned it might differ greatly. This can cause difficulties for international students taking the SAT, which was created by the U.S.-based College Board. 

International students have to adjust their knowledge in order to ace the test. But the good news is the required knowledge for SAT math is no higher than precalculus or trigonometric functions, and does not require more than basic to intermediate arithmetic, algebra, geometry and fundamental statistics and probability – all the good stuff colleges assume you would know. 

The harder part is how the exam tries to trick you with questions: the wording or the unorthodox, unusual ways of asking questions, perhaps, or confusing illustrations. 

All you need to do is to read the questions well and summarize the problem using your own expressions or figures, to decode the problems clearly – then, the questions become applying techniques you've already learned. 

Being aware of what might frighten you in the tests, having the right attitude to face your fears and practicing over and over again will help you ace these exams. Don't forget to give yourself enough time every day to digest all the new knowledge about these tests that you will learn. 

Mai-Linh Bui, from Vietnam, is pursuing a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in communications, culture and media at Drexel University. Her minors are French and International Area Studies.