With the number of international students doubling in the past eight years, SAT takers have also increased. Most colleges are still test-mandatory and require students to submit SAT/ACT scores. Although standardized tests are supposed to even out the playing field for students, international students face problems in the seemingly usual exam that most American high schoolers take for granted. I studied in an Indian high school myself and have first hand seen the issues that arise for such a large demographic of college students.
1. Parents don’t understand.
When one of the most important parts of your application are regarded lightly by your parents, it can be troubling for any student, but in the case of foreign students, it is not even their fault, because having not been exposed to the same system themselves, they may put their focus on other aspects, such as simply their school grades, which while important are not the only matter of value in the admissions process.
2. The grading scale is very different.
This may make it difficult for students to truly grasp what their scores might represent. Growing up in India, marks were graded out of a 100 and 90s were commonplace. Unrealistic expectations on the parts of both parents and students add to the problems of international students who may consider 2000+ scores to be “terrible”.
3. The right prep isn’t available.
As the SAT is not a common test for all students in the nation, the kind of help given as classes or even books may vary and be completely unsuitable. In India, I was emailed with a barrage of test prep materials for IIT/IIM entrance tests, but when it came to finding a simple class for SAT Math, I was hard-pressed. To make matters worse, I live in a major city, which only lets us imagine the state for students trying to escape rural hometowns to study abroad. Not only does this mean that students with great potential are overlooked, but the common dispute of the SAT being unfairly skewered to the benefit of rich, white students.
4. English may not be your first language.
This is a common problem faced by students and one of the reasons that colleges require foreign students to be administered the SAT in the first place – they wish to ensure that the student has the requisite knowledge of the subject. But the language tricks that even native speakers may find confusing are not fair to them, because that is not the kind of language used to teach in classrooms. Tests such as the IELTS or the TOEFL are sufficient for determining the level of competence in the English Language, and so international students are perhaps needlessly evaluated on this. In any case, it is yet another problem for several students whose English may be shaky.
5. Memorization doesn’t help anymore.
On the flip side, as the new SAT that comes out in 2016 removes the use of esoteric words (which are words only understood by the select few who have special knowledge of the same) and focuses on relevant words in context, the change in study style for thousands of Chinese and Korean students whose prowess at route learning gave them a leg up thus far will be similarly disadvantaged by the changes.
6. Unfamiliar location.
Most American high schools administer the test and make the process of signing up very easy for the students and parents. However, it is not as easy for international students. I have had several friends fly to other states for the weekend to give the SAT because all the test centers in their homestate were filled up. At the very least, if you did not live in a major city, you had to travel to the one in your state which depending on the distance could be anywhere from an hour to a day. In China, students mostly travel to cities outside mainland China to take the SAT because the test is administered at only a few schools in the country. In fact, in places like Korea, workers delay commute so that all students are able to reach their test centers without delays due to traffic. The students thus have to give the exam in a new environment with the possibility of travel exhaustion catching up with them, which might negatively affect their scores.
Yet when all is said and done, don’t fret about the process. Several students have done it before you and several will do it after. Adversity helps us become stronger students – and just think what a great college essay it will make!