Applying to universities is a highly competitive and (sometimes) stressful experience. Navigating the requirements of different universities from different countries, while keeping up with everyday school requirements can be a daunting task. This task is made even more difficult given the fact that it is not always clear what parts of the process are most important. Is it grades? Reference letters? Standardised tests?

We sat down with DP Coordinator Christian Chiarenza to talk about the role that standardised tests play in the university application process and how students can best prepare themselves.

- What is the role of the SAT in university applications?

The SAT is a standardised test on general knowledge. As all students applying to university might have very different academic programmes, such as the IB, A-Levels, AP exams or some national programme, the SAT allows universities to have one common academic standard for all students. Therefore, the SAT does not establish who the best candidates are for a university, but simply if students are in the same range as other applicants. A student’s SAT score doesn’t need to be as high as possible, just “high enough”. While there is a benchmark for what is considered high enough to be prepared for university (see below), how high a student needs to score to be considered for a specific university does not depend on meeting this benchmark. Students just need to have a score that is in a similar range to other students who are applying to that school.

In cases where a student applies with SAT scores, some universities will want to see SAT subject test scores in addition to the SAT. Subject tests are shorter tests that cover a specific subject area, rather than general knowledge.

- What do they test?

The SAT tests “university readiness”. This is done by looking at three aspects of a student’s academic achievement:. reading, writing and language, and math. Given that the SAT will be taken by students from a variety of academic programmes, there is no one curriculum that will better prepare you for the test. Understanding the test itself and the subject area, regardless of curriculum, is adequate preparation for the test. The SAT is comprised of two parts, Evidence Based Reading and Writing (which includes the Reading Test and the Writing and Language test) and Math. Below is an outline of each section of the SAT:

The Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test:
• Command of Evidence
• Words in Context

The Writing and Language Test also tests:
• Expression of Ideas
• Standard English Conventions

The Math Test:
• Heart of Algebra
• Problem Solving and Data Analysis
• Passport to Advanced Math

- How are they scored?

The Reading and the Writing and Languages are scored together. The maximum score for these tests is 800 combined. The Math test also has a maximum of 800 points, for a maximum score of 1600 in total. A good score is somewhat subjective, but the official benchmark for college readiness is 480 for the Reading test and the Writing and Language test combined, and 530 for the Math test.

- What countries use the SAT?

The SAT is used predominantly in the USA. However, there is a growing number of schools that do not require the SAT and there are some schools outside of the USA that do ask for it. Some schools it is optional to report SAT scores. As a general rule, it is better to give the universities more information to make a decision on your application than it is to conceal information. However, all decisions depend on the context of a specific situation and need to be decided in consultation with a guidance counselor.

- How can you prepare?

As mentioned, no high school curriculum is better suited to prepare you for the SAT than any other. Understanding the format and structure of the test is the best preparation. Widely available SAT prep courses will help students understand the psychology of the test through practice tests and academic revision. Students who study the IB Diploma have a more than adequate education in order to be successful in the SATs.

- Where can I take the SAT?

CIS is an SAT testing center which is open to public. It is necessary for our students to inquire in a timely manner as it is first comes first served basis. Ann Green is the coordinator for all SAT related questions.

- Can I retake the SAT?

Studies show that while there tends to be small improvement from the first to second try in writing the test, there is no measurable improvement after that. Remember that preparing for an SAT does add time and stress to a student, so taking the test multiple times might not be in their best interest.

- What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

While both tests satisfy the same purpose and will are accepted by most American universities, one major difference is that the ACT includes a science section and no subject tests are required. Every student is different, and knowing which test is best for a particular student involves going online to research both and having a conversation with the college counselor.

- How can I find out more?

Do you have more questions related to the SATs? Email Mr Chiarenza and ask!

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