sat prep for esl students

Preparing for any test as an ESL (English as a Second Language) student can be nerve-wracking, but when it’s a college entrance exam like the SAT, the stakes are even higher—that’s why it’s so important to know how to approach SAT prep for ESL students.

Since most of us, when possible, avoid activities that cause stress, ESL students (sometimes also called international students) are often reluctant to focus on preparing for standardized tests. This creates an additional challenge for teachers, who often wonder how to motivate students for standardized tests. In addition to employing general strategies for managing standardized test anxiety and focusing on some methods of reducing foreign language anxiety for test takers, there are also some SAT-specific tips we recommend.

In this article, we’ll give you the rundown of what the SAT covers, look at some specific SAT accommodations available to ESL students, and offer some useful advice on approaching SAT prep for ESL students.

What’s on the SAT?

The SAT is a standardized test typically taken by high school juniors and seniors as part of the college application process. It assesses students’ knowledge and understanding of English and Mathematics. There are four total sections that make up the SAT: Reading, Writing & Language, Math (No Calculator) and Math (with Calculator).

SAT overview

As you can see, the SAT as a whole asks students to answer 154 multiple-choice questions over the course of 3 hours.

Wait, what about the ACT—is that the same thing? Should I take the ACT or SAT?

SAT Accommodations for ESL Students

OK, so you’re feeling intimidated by the SAT; no matter how much you prepare, you’re still worried that being an English Language Learner (ELL) might put you at a disadvantage when approaching complexly-worded test questions. Luckily, the SAT is committed to leveling the playing field, and there are a number of testing accommodations available, which make a great complement to SAT prep for ESL students.

Important note: If an ESL student is interested in obtaining an accommodation, that student’s school administration will need to submit a request for accommodations through CollegeBoard’s official submission portal.

The College Board offers testing supports in three different ways:

  • Translated Test Directions: Can you take the SAT in a different language? Yes, you can! Test directions are available in 13 different languages: Spanish, Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Portuguese, Polish, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Hindi, Russian, Urdu, and Vietnamese. These translated test directions are digital downloads that administrators will have printed for you on the day of the test. It isn’t necessary to submit a request for this accommodation ahead of time, though it doesn’t hurt to do so.
  • Word-to-Word Glossaries: What if I speak a different language than the 13 listed above? Good newsbilingual word-to-word glossaries in over 100 languages are allowed on test day as long as they’re on CollegeBoard’s approved list. This allows you to look up unknown words while you’re testing, to ensure that you fully understand what a question is asking, or what an answer choice is saying. The student’s school will provide these dictionaries on test day. Bilingual glossaries aren’t required to be requested ahead of time, though again, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive.
  • 50% Extended Time: Do ESL students get extra time on the SAT? Yes, they can! To assist students who may take longer to read and comprehend questions and answer choices, ESL students can request that their test time be extended by 50% (in other words, to four-and-a-half hours instead of three). All extended time requests need to be submitted no less than four weeks before testing.

ESL/ELL students are allowed to use as many accommodations as they need as long as they’re eligible. To be eligible for these accommodations, the student needs to meet three criteria:

  1. The student should be enrolled in an elementary or secondary school in the United States or a U.S. territory.
  2. The student is considered an “English learner” by their state or according to federal policy.
  3. The student uses the same supports/accommodations in class or for other tests and assessments.

Preparing For the SAT

Taking advantage of SAT accommodations is a great way for ESL students to reduce their test-day anxiety, but the best strategy remains to focus on preparation. SAT prep for ESL students is broadly similar to the type of prep a native English-speaking student would complete. Taking practice tests and brushing up on SAT vocabulary words are the best way to ensure you’re ready for the real deal. With that said, it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind to keep your anxiety level down and your confidence level up.

Consider some of these helpful tips for ESL students:

  • Create a study plan. Staying organized will keep your stress levels down and you’ll be able to focus on the content you’re studying. Without a plan, it’s easy to feel aimless during your prep sessions; this makes them less efficient. With a plan, you can optimize whatever time you have available.
  • Improve your grammar. Mastering the grammar rules that are commonly tested on the SAT will help you better prepare yourself for understanding the content in the Reading and Language portions of the test. If you struggle with reading, check out our handy “Tips for Reluctant Readers.”
  • Focus on your weaknesses. Make a mental note of which areas you feel the least confident about. These should be the concepts and skills you work on the most in the weeks leading up to your SAT test day.
  • Keep track of your progress. This is a helpful motivational tool for those days when you feel like you aren’t getting anything right. Seeing a visual representation of the progress you’re making will boost your morale.
  • Take plenty of practice tests. Using practice tests, like the official ones offered by the SAT or Piqosity’s full-length SAT practice tests, helps you become familiar with the test’s format. This in turn reduces test anxiety. Additionally, since most students improve their scores the second or third time they take the SAT, having taken practice tests in advance means that a student’s “first” SAT is not, in fact, their first experience of the test.

Particularly for ELL students, studying vocabulary is crucial to building standardized test confidence. Piqosity has you covered, with extensive FREE vocabulary practice at three levels:

Although these lists were designed to help students preparing for the ISEE, they work just as well for general vocabulary-building.

Generally, ESL students have fewer language-related difficulties on the Mathematics sections of the SAT—but you still might find it useful to review our strategies for overcoming math anxiety.

Prepare For The SAT With Piqosity

The presence of foreign language anxiety amongst English Language Learners is common, especially when facing a stressful test like the SAT. But alleviating those anxious feelings isn’t as tricky as it may seem: with careful attention to SAT prep for ESL students those fears can quickly become a thing of the past.

For students, utilizing at-home courses, like the ones offered here at Piqosity, are an important tool for language enrichment and test prep. These courses are a great way for ELL students to gain familiarity with the English language from the comfort of their own home.

Piqosity’s latest curriculum offerings are particularly useful for ELL students: our Online 5th Grade English Class and Online 8th Grade English Class. Features of these complete courses include:

  • More than 100 different Reading Passages
  • Dozens of Concept Lessons (including Tutorial Videos)
  • Adaptive, Gamified Practice Questions
  • Personal “Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis”
  • Real-Time Score Analysis
  • Printable PDFs
  • Options for Parent-Tutor Consultations and Private Tutoring Sessions
  • …and Much More!

Registering for Piqosity takes less than 30 seconds and doesn’t require the input of your credit card information. Our FREE Community-Level Package offers a wide selection of study materials, and all of our reasonably-priced upgraded packages come with a 7-Day Free Trial, so you have time to decide if Piqosity is for you!

Start your journey to SAT success with Piqosity today!

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