our everyday life

SAT Prep for ESL Students

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield

The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is one of two tests accepted by universities as a measure of whether a student will be successful in college. The College Board has stated that the SAT measures literacy and writing skills at a level that is necessary to function at the college level. ESL (English as a Second Language) students, because they will be testing in their second language, need special preparation, depending on their proficiency level, to be successful on the SAT.

The SAT and the Subtests

According to The College Board, the not-for-profit organization that created the first series of tests in the early 1900s, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a three-part test that consists of the Critical Reading test, the Mathematics test, and the Writing test. The College Board also offers a wide variety of subtests that students may take along with the standard SAT, but many colleges, such as the University of California system, say that students do not have to take the subtests unless they are trying to get into a competitive major at a particular college -- in other words, a major that allows only a certain number of applicants per year.

Critical Reading Test

According to the College Board, the Critical Reading portion of the SAT consists of two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. The questions center on reading passages, but there are also questions on reading vocabulary. Students may be asked to compare and contrast reading passages. ESL students can do several things to prepare for the Critical Reading Test, according to Mentor Kids. First, read -- a lot -- in numerous subject areas, because the SAT has passages of varying lengths in literature, history, the arts, and science. The more students read in English, the better prepared they are to take the reading test. Second, take the practice tests on the SAT site, and pinpoint weaknesses. Third, practice fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, and look for context clues. Using context clues to discover the meaning of a vocabulary word is difficult for some ESL students. Fourth, because many ESL students need to improve their vocabulary before the SAT, consider joining a vocabulary website.

Mathematics Test

According to the College Board, the Mathematics section, like the Critical Reading section, consists of two 25-minute sections, and one 20-minute section. Two of the sections are entirely multiple choice. One of the 25-minute sections contains 10 write-in answers in a box or grid. Usually, Mathematics is the easiest of the three sections for the ESL student, when the problems are computation. However, ESL students may have difficulty with word problems, depending on their proficiency level in English. According to Math Playground, ESL students should familiarize themselves with the vocabulary (a bilingual dictionary is useful) and practice the math problems before the test.

Writing Test

For many ESL students, the Writing test is the most difficult. The essay, which is always administered as the first section of the test, is 25 minutes long. Students must respond to a prompt. According to Mentor Kids, the prompt used by the College Board is always general, so the students do not need to have specific subject knowledge. There are also multiple-choice questions on mechanics and grammar of the English language. According to the College Board, 30 percent of the writing score is the essay, and the other 70 percent of the score is from the questions on grammar and mechanics. Mentor Kids recommends that ESL students practice writing essays by writing a thesis sentence, topic sentences and supporting sentences, writing solidly for 15 minutes, and then using 5 minutes to edit and revise. Colorín Colorado advises that ESL students get help from their teachers; they may be able to pinpoint weaknesses and advise students how to improve quickly in time for the test.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images