With few exceptions, Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs) are required by all students, regardless of nationality, for entry into any university in the United States. Here are some thoughts on how to prepare.
Even if you have got the International Baccalaureate, Swiss Maturité, or British A-Levels, you need to take the SATs in order to apply for an American university. These are based on an assessment of both knowledge and problem-solving ability and skills, with roughly 30% of questions the former and 70% the latter. The exam itself is made up of three sections: reading, writing and mathematics, with each marked out of 800 points. The total highest score is 2,400 for the entire paper.
Students between the ages of 16 to 18 (years 11 to 13) can take SATs at specific times of the year, and with several tries. This is comforting if your first attempt is not your best. However, bear in mind that universities will often ask to see all of your test results, so it is best not to sit the exams unprepared or for practice.
Given that each university has its own entrance requirements, the SATs offer no standard pass or fail. Many US institutions will accept an average 65%, but Harvard and other Ivy League universities will push for up to 90% as their minimum. This means that an average of 450 points per section is sufficient for students to be admitted to many universities. However, good preparation can help provide an additional 50 points per section, which may prove enough to get into the more competitive colleges. There are more complicated score breakdowns for admissions in different places, so it is important to be aware of the full spread of results required by your chosen university.
Depth of knowledge does not usually constitute a stumbling block. Most students of a reasonable intellectual ability can tackle the comprehension and mathematics involved with their existing vocabulary and other skills. Nevertheless, two key factors can help decide between a high mark and an average-to-low result: firstly, knowing the most efficient ways for interpreting and solving questions; and secondly, mastering time pressure. These are skills that can be learned, primarily through specialist coaching and practise. Even adding a few marks to a consistently good average score through a better grasp of the format, or the style and tricks of the papers, can boost your chances for getting you where you want to go, notably the best university on your list.
In theory, the SATs represent everything you need in order to be considered by an American university. Yet US-based students will be completing their High School Diploma before sitting SATs if they plan to attend college. The reality is that the most prestigious US universities will also be looking for proof of aptitude in specific subjects. The all-round green light alone that good SAT scores can offer may not prove sufficient. The admissions’ boards will most probably look at the results of your other exams, such as the SAT II, APs (in the American system), the IB Diploma, A-Levels or the Swiss Maturité.
So when selecting which exams you will be sitting in your final two years of school, be aware that a good SAT score may get your application looked at. But the more challenging final-year courses coupled with extra-curricular activities, such as voluntary work, theatre or sports, could prove your ultimate worth. In this competitive market, you need all the validation you can get.
More and more, the American College Testing (ACT) is being accepted and recognized in place of SATs across the US. As a result, you will need to consider the differences between these two exam systems when deciding which one is more likely to lead to success. For example, SAT wrong answers take away points, so guessing does not help. ACT, on the other hand, does not penalize. The structures of the two papers are also different: the SATs consist of ten short sections in place of the four long ACT ones; a third of the SAT reading section tests vocabulary, whereas the reading section in the ACTs is based on understanding the meaning of passages. All these differences can have important consequences. Students with learning difficulties who qualify for extra time, for example, often fare better sitting ACTs because further time is more valuable when completing comprehension-based questions, even in the scientific sections.
Preparation is everything!
By International Schools In Switzerland Magazine