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SAT Advice for a Foreign Student? 100

An anonymous reader asks: "I am a student from the UK who is currently in the process of applying to a university in the US. This means that I need to take the SAT Reasoning Test. I have read study guides and seen sample questions, but the more I look around the more I seem to be seeing general 'study skills' information aimed primarily at explaining how to learn rather than what to learn, which results in a lot of pages to work through for seemingly little data. What would help me immensely is any kind of resource aimed at an audience unfamiliar with the tests. Does anyone have a link to a list of exactly what I am expected to know and in what detail I need to know it, as well as anything else that can help me prepare for the exams?"
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SAT Advice for a Foreign Student?

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  • Algebra I and II, Geometry, have a good vocab, and know how to write an essay that aruges points you agree with, and points you don't agree with. Yeah, thats it pretty much.
    • The poster asked about the "Reasoning" component, and although it's been (quite) awhile since I took the SAT, my suggestion is to practice "problem solving" - not just actual maths, but logic questions as well. Although the SAT or ACT score may be important, the US universities are going to also base their acceptance of you on your "extra-curricular" activties - community involvement, sports, et. Al, your essay and how many A and O levels you complete (A and O levels in lieu of GPA in a U.S. high school).
      • No, he didn't. He asked about the "SAT Reasoning Test" which is the full and proper name of the examination.
        • I was all ready with a scathing reply about checking your sources before presenting a post as fact. My logical reasoning skills, which can be verified by my SAT scores, told me that surely an academically renowned institution like The College Board would not call an examination the Scholastic Aptitude Test Reasoning Test when the acronymn is expanded. Fortunately, I took my own advice, checked the source, and found out you were right.
    • Right on. I'd stress that you focus on the scoring system too... when I took it, you got a point for a correct answer but only lost a fraction of a point for getting a multiple-choice answer wrong... so if you could eliminate a couple of the possible answers from a question you didn't know, a coin flip was statistically worth more than leaving it blank. I don't know how (or if) the system has changed in the last few years (I took it 6-7 years ago) so this may no longer be the case.

      I remember on the mat
  • careful asking for pointers
  • Online SAT prep (Score:4, Informative)

    by frenetic3 ( 166950 ) * <> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:37AM (#16301565) Homepage Journal
    Here's a comprehensive online course for the new SAT by Harvard & MIT grads and a perfect 2400 scorer: []

    (Full disclosure: This post is on-topic, but also a shameless plug -- I'm one of the co-creators of the course.)

    Contact us (contact at and we'll get you set up.

    Alright, end shameless plug :)

  • Read the books. Pay attention to the meta-test taking junk. It helps immensely. Latin roots, basic math, and decent grammar will be the only things you really need.

    If you can write a good argument you're just fine on the writing. Of course, I majored in philosophy and got a 5/5 on the writing portion of the GRE, so my definition of 'good argument' might differ slightly from yours. But I doubt it, to be honest.
    • The SAT has many questions where there are a number of equivalent answers. You have to get into the SAT mindset and get a feel for the kind of stuff they like to hear.

      With every standardised test you should have at least done one or two test runs imho, they just all have their own little quirks when it comes to logical thinking.

  • Don't worry about. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BKX ( 5066 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:41AM (#16301585) Journal
    You speak English and are apparently somewhat intelligent (while the American eductation system in general sucks ass, if you're bothering to come here from abroad, I'm going to assume you're going to go to one of the better schools.), so you'll do fine. Besides, you can always take it again.

    In case, you wonder, it just has general logic, reading, math, and scientific deduction questions. The only thing to worry about are the analogies, but they're easier on the actual test than they are on the practice tests. Anyway, this test is nothing that any high school freshman in the US shouldn't be able to do at least half-way decently, which means an average high school student of any other industrialized nation should pass with flying colors. If it tells you anything, I flunked out of college three semesters in a row and got a 2.0 GPA in high school and yet I got a 1492 composite (out of 1600) on the SAT I.

    If you're still worried, order one of those SAT I practice trainers from Amazon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by frenetic3 ( 166950 ) *
      Just a few corrections (sorry if this is pedantic, but these are common misconceptions): There are no longer analogies on the SAT; the test is now out of 2400; there are no scientific deduction questions per se (although critical reading passage questions somewhat resemble "logic" questions); there is also now an essay (it's no longer just multiple choice.)

      The only thing I can suggest is that preparation gives you a huge leg up -- there is only a finite number of kinds of questions you will encounter, and i
      • by rk ( 6314 ) *

        When I was younger, I took the old two parter and got a combined score of 1340.

        I wouldn't be surprised if I took it again today with the three parts and still get a 1340. :-/

    • The only thing to worry about are the analogies
      Sage advice for any slashdotter.
  • The College Board, who administers the test, has information [] on their site about what the test covers. Another useful resource is the CollegeConfidential forum [] (The College Confidential company offers paid admissions advice, but they have a free message board that's filled with tons of useful information and people who can probably answer any questions you have.
  • My advice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:47AM (#16301623) Homepage Journal
    is to do your undergrad in the UK(where tuition is insanely cheap comparatively and for undergrad the quality is about the same) and then do grad work in the US(where outside of Cambridge and Oxford, the quality is generally better). Just my 2 cents.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kninja ( 121603 )
      I agree completely. And you can take a year abroad in the U.S. (wait until you're 21) and do some research for professors who will want to bring you back for graduate school.
      • by ameoba ( 173803 )
        A year abroad as an undergrad is an entirely different process than actually applying for admission as an undergrad. AFAIK it doesn't involve SAT scores.
        • What is pushing you to Study in the US anyway? - I admit that some Schools in the UK are pretty poor - and the standard of Graduates which we see for interview is sometimes pretty shocking - however you should be able to get a decent course in the UK without going through all this. As an aside - my daughter just had to do SAT tests, these are something which the UK is adopting for kids in primary school - it won't be long before they are more widely used.
  • by Jazzer_Techie ( 800432 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:52AM (#16301655)
    I took my SAT's in 2004, which was the last year of the old 2 section, 1600 format. Let me first of all say, that while I understand the necessity of the "standardized test", I don't think the old SAT was all that good of an evaluator; I'd imagine the new one probably isn't much better.

    Assuming you've received a decent high school education, you probably know how to do pretty much anything they're going to throw at you. I don't think studying specific topics is going to do you any good. What you do need is a good working knowledge of the test. You need to be used to the way that questions are posed, and you need to be able to quickly identify what you need to do to respond.

    The ridiculous SAT-prep culture in the US bothers me to no end, I think it's just one big feeding frenzy on student-parent pride and insecurity, so I never bought any books or took any SAT classes. What I did was just take it twice. The first time I went in completely cold, having basically no idea about the test other than its length and that there was a math and verbal section. I fully intended this to be nothing more than a dry run, and thus didn't have those scores sent anywhere. This got me familiar with the test format and testing conditions. That way, when I took it the next time, I could concentrate fully on answering the questions.

    This exact approach may not be ideal for you, but I can't underestimate the importance of familiarizing yourself with the exam enough so that you can focus exclusively on responding. Just being familiar with what was happening boosted my score 150 pts. (1450 -> 1600)
    • I second that (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:56AM (#16301963)
      Study the test, don't study for the test. Learn how it's written, how it's graded, what kinds of things they are likely to ask you, etc. These tests are predictable and thus you can study them, and in doing so you can do better than otherwise. Unless the quality has gone down, I recommend the Princeton Review books on the topic. That's what I used (though it was 10 years ago).

      My testimonial: I took the SAT, got a 1270. According to ETS (the people who make the SAT) I was unlikely to gain any score on a retake, in fact they claimed statistically I was likely to lose a couple points. They were correct in that there really wasn't anything I could think to study more of. I knew how to do everything on the test in general, it's not like there was some math I hadn't learned yet or anything, I just screwed some things up, mostly in the English section.

      So what'd I do? Got a Princeton Review book ans studied the test, rather than studying for the test. 9 months later, I took it again, having learned really nothing more that was applicable to the test in school. That time I got a 1380, the big improvement being in the English section. Wasn't because I got smarter, wasn't because I learned more for the test, it was because I studied the test itself.

      As an example something I made big gains in was vocabulary. I had a good vocabulary prior to the SAT, but just not in the kinds of words they liked in general. Well the book identified a hitlist of 275 words that ETS just loves to use on that damn test. So I learned those (275 words sounds like a lot but it really isn't). Sure enough, over half the words on the test came from that list, mostly the hard ones.

      Also it gave valuable insights about test construction, like that they order the questions by difficulty and one of the ways they make hard questions is with "idiot attractor" answers. They'll put an answer down that looks intuitively right, but is wrong. So on the first questions, the intuitive answer is the one to go for, and the last few, you don't.

      Now you'll want to get a current book as they could have changed it and there's at least one major new part: The writing test, which we didn't have. However I think you'll find that provided you have a good, pre university education (in the case meaning good math education through algebra and some trig and good English skills) your time is best spent studying the test itself rather than the material they claim it'll be covering.

      Learn the rules of the game, and you'll find it much easier.
      • I third that. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Goeland86 ( 741690 )
        I agree with both parent and grandparent posts. I graduated high school in France, only to move to the US 3 weeks later, and having to go through yet another senior year of high school. Took the SATs unprepared. Assuming the UK high schools are decent, which they should be, you don't need to study anything extra, you already know much of what you're going to have to deal with. I took the test not knowing how it was graded, nor much of what was going to happen on it, and ended up at 1250, because my written
        • I ended up taking the SATs because a friend talked me into it (he was very enthusiastic about getting into an American college, me not so much). The *only* really prepping I did was reading through the SAT book a week or two before the test, and doing a few example tests from the back. I can't stress enough how much the book helped "up" my score. My favourite part was figuring out which one or two of the answer were impossible (for instance, in "difficult" questions, there was almost guaranteed to be one an
      • by GWBasic ( 900357 )

        I completely agree; the SAT is the kind of test where the best approach is to practice. When I took my first practice SAT, (before the written part,) I scored in the 1200s. After a summer of taking roughly 1-2 practice tests per week, I ended up scoring in the 1300s.

        As an aside, I do think there are some real benefits gained by practicing the SAT; I'm much better at avoiding scenarios where marketers try and trick me into giving them my money and time. I also learned how much weight rich Americans put i

  • by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:04AM (#16301699) Journal
    It's a logic test - says so right on the thing. What do you need to know? 9th grade math and a decent array of English language words. Beyond that, it's completely up to your brain. The guides you're seeing aren't telling you how to learn; they're telling you how to read and understand the questions, and how to beat the test's tricks. Understanding what the SAT is and knowing how to handle its questions is about 80% of the test. The rest is general knowledge they're expecting most people to have. Honestly, if you're a bright kid, there should be nothing holding you back from scoring a near-perfect SAT score if you have a solid 8th grade education.

    The SAT isn't testing your math or language skills; it's testing your ability to reason. As such, it's testing something that's innate (re: ability vs training). The prep classes, study guides, and sample questions are geared toward teaching you how to approach the test itself and the questions. They teach you about how the test is scored, how to pick apart the wording of the questions, and what kind of attitude to take with it. Frankly, if you need help with the knowledge end of things, no prep class on Earth is going to save you. Without the basic knowledge (and we really are talking about basic - 8th grade - knowledge), no amount of reasoning or test taking skills is going to save you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by frenetic3 ( 166950 ) *
      I agree with the spirit of this post, but frankly there are a lot of incorrect points.

      First, you need more than "9th grade math" or "8th grade education"; among other topics there's geometry (10th grade for most kids) and some probability/data analysis. (You're correct though that vocab is critically important.)

      Second, it's not really a reasoning test in the way that, for example, an IQ test is. It *does* test math and language skills, albeit in a rather shallow and limited way. It also tests *specific* ski
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Loki_1929 ( 550940 )
        "First, you need more than "9th grade math" or "8th grade education"; among other topics there's geometry (10th grade for most kids) and some probability/data analysis."

        For a lot of people, Algebra I is 8th grade. For the vast majority of the rest, it's 9th grade. You may see a small number of very basic geo/trig based questions, but they're generally dirt-simple if you read the question properly. Give a 20-minute overview of geo/trig to a 9th grader and they'll have no problems as long as they understand t
      • Parent is correct.

        I took the SAT in 7th grade and scored a 1050 combined... 550 Language 500 Math, having had a pre-algebra class in 7th grade. Later I scored a 1350 in 10th grade and a 1540 in 11th. As a 7th grade student I had no experience with the SAT, nor did I read any prep manuals. Later I did read some basic prep manuals and had taken a few test exams before each official test was taken. Granted I had by then gone through most of the curriculum being tested but there were many people I knew from my
      • by guruevi ( 827432 )
        Remember that this is a UK (European) schoolboy going to the USA taking some high school tests.

        I am not from the UK but very close to that country and live in the USA now and my gf is doing her last year of high school. The lessons in mathematics and other sciences she is viewing (goniometry, algebra, ...) we already did in 8th & 9th grade. It could be that it was closely related to the fact I chose architecture for a while and later electronics that we saw a little more math compared to others in the s
        • Goniometry is not a common term in the U.S. The gon root had me thinking your girlfriend was studying the science of measuring ... something else.
  • by tanveer1979 ( 530624 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:14AM (#16301763) Homepage Journal
    Go to Orkut or something.
    I am from India, and one of the reasons there are so many GRE/SAT cracking students there is focussed coaching. There are specialized coaching academies etc., etc.,
    Its a big business.
    A GRE score of 99 is common. No wonder you see so many Indian students there.
    So ask them. They will be more clued.
    Check out the books from India on sites like which have the type of questions.

    These fellows register for SAT/GRE. Send 10-15 people with each person to memorize 5-10 questions.
    So you actually have last 5 years papers etc., etc.,

    These books cost something like 5-10 Euro atmost.
  • I'm also likely to take the SAT, with the subject tests. A friend who went to America got me Kaplan for the subject tests and Princeton Review for the general test. I'm going to take SAT I, Math II and Physics.

    For the math section in the SAT, if you got an A at GCSE that is probably sufficient. As for the english reading section, it's fairly simple.

    Princeton Review seems to be the exam technique for idiots. Sentence completion (me):
    1) Read the question
    2) Read the choices
    3) Point to the correct one (in the r
    • They claim people are suckered into close seconds for sentence completion. Well, I've tried it and I'm not. Those "other people" are just stupid.

      You are an elitist tool.
      • by r3m0t ( 626466 )
        Perhaps I should rephrase: those other people just have a poor vocabulary or do not know their words in a precise way. They aren't stupid in the more general sense.

        Unlike, say, the Israeli "psychometri" school-leaving exam (which my Israeli cousin tells me is full of archaic words that you would never see in newspapers, books or pretty much anywhere), there are few words in the SAT that can't be picked up through the normal course of reading. Of course, if you've been reading nothing but the lower third on
  • I tutor for SAT (Score:3, Informative)

    by SetupWeasel ( 54062 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:36AM (#16301863) Homepage

    SAT is not supposed to require Trigonometry. I feel it is helpful, but you don't really need it. The key to the math is to know the tricks. It is easiest to get practice tests and see the tricks for yourself. Most mistakes I see (from people who know the math) result from not reading the questions carefully enough and not knowing what to do with a given figure.

    - Beware the words "figure not drawn to scale." In many cases, you will want to draw your own, more accurate figure.

    - Know basic math terms like: mean, median, mode, prime factor, prime number, midpoint, bisect, etc.

    - I know the test gives them to you, but know the area of simple shapes and the special triangles (45-45-90, 30-60-90, 3-4-5, 5-12-13) by heart.

    - Look for the special triangles. They will pop up when you don't expect them.

    - Any side of a triangle must be greater than the difference of the other two sides and less than the sum of the other two sides. (Seems like common sense, but people cramp on this on under pressure.)

    - Remember that finding xy or (x + y) does not necessarily require you to find x or y individually. Additionally, remember that (x + y)^2 has a 2xy term.

    - If you get an answer you are sure is right but does not show up in the choices, look to see if there is a way to simplify it or combine terms.

    - 1 is not a prime number.

    - Grid-In questions have no penalty for guesses. Grid 0 if you don't know.

    - The grid-in grid only handles 4 digits. A "." or "/" takes one of those spaces.

    - Read carefully!

    - Mark the test up!

    This isn't exhaustive by any means, and I'm just writing these from the top of my head. Math is what I know best, and I have to catch a bus this morning, but I will post some tips for the rest in this thread if I have time.
    • Know basic math terms!! Better: Have a list that translates english math terms to your language. I had such a hard time, even after having read some good SAT books, with math terms in english! billion != billion (german - english) Learn Farenheit, Miles, Gallons etc. I found it hard to work these terms.
      • by Haeleth ( 414428 )
        Have a list that translates english math terms to your language. ... Learn Farenheit, Miles, Gallons etc. I found it hard to work these terms.

        This is very good advice. While the language in Britain is largely the same, and we even use miles and so on just like the Americans, it's important to remember that many things are not the same.

        American pints, for example, are smaller than British pints (presumably because American beer is so horrible that nobody would want to drink a proper pint of it). Similarly,
    • - watch for right triangles. One things that almost screwed me when I took the GRE was a simple problem involving a right triangle. Like an idiot, I almost didn't recognize it as a right triangle because the 90-degree angle was on top, not on the bottom like you usually see it drawn.

  • Try the ACT also (Score:2, Informative)

    by pip-PPC ( 46392 )
    My advice: find out if your targeted universities will accept the ACT ( []). Almost all big and small schools will, sometimes with a conversion table to turn it into an SAT score. I took both the ACT and the "old" SAT (the 1600pt one) in Fall 2004, and my ACT score, once converted to a SAT score, gained 280 points (to the 1500s).

    The ACT and SAT are really quite different, and I much preferred the ACT. While the SAT tended to test on things you *knew* (analogies, vocabulary, etc.), the
    • by nxtw ( 866177 )
      I have to agree; I also liked the ACT better. (score: 33)

      Also, the ACT does not deduct points for guessing.
    • Seconded! I took both the SAT and the ACT many years ago. Both tests are good at indicating your abilities. If you would do well on one, you would do well on the other. However, I found that the questions on the ACT are more natural compared to the weird SAT questions. It also has a science portion, which may play to your strengths.

      The ACT doesn't have as much politics and controversy around it as the SAT. Furthermore, since only college admissions officers are familiar with the ACT, it's only use

  • I guess this is the right place to ask a few questions about this whole mess :)

    1. How old are you people when you take the SAT? Is it really that important as some make it up to be?

    2. Is there reasonably cheap/free way to take the SAT over the internet/something for foreigners? I know it's not available here atleast. It's not that I need it, but it sounds like fun :)

    • by wbm6k ( 593413 )
      1. How old are you people when you take the SAT? Is it really that important as some make it up to be?

      The tests are usually taken by high school juniors and seniors, about 17-18 years old. They are important because they allow colleges to quickly compare students from very different educational backgrounds in a standardized way. In my mind, the larger the college is that you are trying to get into, the more important the SAT score seems likely to be, because they won't be able to spend a lot of time with
  • I am not sure if this still the case, but when I took the SATs 15 years ago, the rule was that your SAT score was the best combined score meaning if you took the SATs more than once and scored better on Math the second time you took the test, that second score would be the one that counted. My catholic grade school (grades one through eight) did a poor job at teaching math and when I first took the SATs, I scored poorly on that section. The next time I took the SATs, I spent all of my time doing the math,
  • Don't go to college in the US, go anywhere else except there. As a non-US citizen, it is now trivial to have you declared an enemy combatant, deny you your right of habeas corpus and have you thrown in detention indefinitely.

    Friends don't let friends to to the US.
  • The best way to score well is to familiarize yourself with the test. Get a copy of The Official SAT Study Guide []. It's the only book with real tests from the company that administers the SAT.

    <shameless-plug>You might benefit from this SAT prep book [] that I am affiliated with. It covers all aspects of the test, but focuses on the verbal section (which most people find more difficult to improve than the math section).</shameless-plug>

  • Take a prep course []. I'm a Canadian student, studying in the US for the last 4 years. My marks at Canadian institutions were only OK, so they advised me to take an SAT when I applied for American schools. My first, unprepared PSAT (Practice SAT) scored 1260. After a two month weekly prep course, I scored 1540. It was enough to make a $30,000 difference in the amount of scholarship they offered me over the course of my degree. I know those prep courses can be expensive, but THEY'RE WORTH IT! SATs are n
  • > Does anyone have a link to a list of exactly what I am expected to know
    > and in what detail I need to know it


    The SATs are not intended to test what you know. They're intended to test how you think. A certain amount of knowledge _is_ necessary, mostly of math and English vocabulary, but it's your ability to figure stuff out that is being tested. It's not the sort of test you can cram for very effectively, if that's what you're asking. You'll see what I mean when you take the test.

    Now, my exper
    • by jonadab ( 583620 )
      > And if you have any chemical habits (e.g., caffein), kick them at least
      > two weeks before the test.

      Exception: If you take Ritalin or caffein for ADHD, and you have difficulty sitting still without it, make sure you time your doses so that it does NOT wear off during the test.
  • I'm a 1570 scorer on the SAT, back when it was a 1600 test. I've also coached a few kids on how to take the current SAT. Here are my tips:

    1) When writing your essay (definitely the most stressful part of the new SAT), remember that the graders are looking for a specific format. It is a persuasive essay that should fall into the standard 5 paragraph: Thesis, Support, Support, Support, Conclusion format. Do not be equivocal (even though intelligent essay writers tend to equivocate)... focus on supporting y
  • Buy a book of prior tests. That may be harder than it sounds -- If the book doesn't claim to contain questions from prior tests then it doesn't. Lots of folks produce practice test books filled with questions from distinguished professors that never were and never will be asked on a real SAT. Take it from a guy who scored well: they're not the same. They're not even close. You need a book of tests composed from questions actually asked on prior SATs.

    Also you'll need a recent book because the SAT changed rad
  • We get a SAT-like test nearly every other year from age 10 to 17. So in my opinion the SAT is just another one, except it really counts. Testing has grown even more this decade with federally mandated ones.
    I'm not sure what the testing level is in the UK. But I recommend takeing the SAT twice. The first is for practice and maybe you can take it a year early. I think I read somewhere that people taking it twice have 8% higher score on one of the two than whose who take it once.
  • In my junior year of high school, I took a prep course, and I think it helped, though not immensely, maybe 10-30 points added overall. I always scored fairly well on those kinds of tests, and I think the courses are more useful for below average students or people who, for various reasons, don't "test well."

    However, the following year, I worked as an assistant in one of those prep classes, and I took the tests along with the students, one math and one verbal, 4 days a week, and helped explain difficult ques
  • Back in the late 90s when I was subjected to such things (before the writing section came around, thankfully) I took the test four times. This repeated exposure to the test upped my score by several hundred points, and I had no problem getting into an Ivy League school (Cornell), despite having gone to one of the worst (and very rural) public high schools in PA.

    Learning vocabulary words can help, but the most important thing is to learn to get a good feel for the test. Go and take it several times, and
  • In europe, we have a defined "level" that you're supposed to achieve to be able to graduate to the "fit for university" level. This "level" comes with a set of subjects and how far you need to be in each subject to be able to pass.

    In the United States, each highschool graduation level is more or less different. So what the SAT tries to measure is /what/ level you've achieved in highschool, not a pass-or-fail at a certain specified level.

    According to the tests at the college I attended, my highschool educate

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