Advantages for ESL Students on the SAT or ACT

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Advantages for ESL Students on the SAT or ACT

Written By Jean Hsu, Super Tutor for Enhanced Prep

The English sections on standardized tests is a common source of anxiety, especially for ESL students and families familiar with the “old” format of the SAT, which tested students on vocabulary. 

Most parents and teachers recall those long nights of memorizing flashcards full of vocabulary words that never make an appearance in “normal” books or newspapers.  The same goes for those archaic grammar rules involving obscure terms like “clauses” and “predicate.”

However, today’s students face a very different scenario when they encounter vocabulary and grammar on standardized tests..  The new structure on the SATcan actually helps our students, especially our ESL students. Even the ACT can offer specific advantages to students navigating English as a second language.

Advantage #1: International students LEARN grammar without bias

Oftentimes, grammar in the U.S. is muddied with everyday colloquialisms.  We may learn the right way to use a part of speech or phrase in a classroom but then use this differently at the store down the street. This adds a lot of gray areas for our students, especially when it comes to slang and idioms.

But the SAT and ACT are very black and white in contrast!  These tests assess students’ knowledge of hard and fast grammar rules, without any colloquial exceptions. International students often learn English by these rules and only by these rules.  This helps them with “by-the-book” grammar sections on standardized tests, and may even put them at an advantage over students less familiar with such rules.

Advantage #2: International students only practice writing English academically

The digital age is allowing our students to use memes, gifs, or abbreviations for everything–and it’s all done in English!Where does punctuation or the 5-paragraph essay fit in with all the shorthand on our phones?  

This can be a challenging leap to make for native English speakers, who struggle to write academically in classrooms given their fluency in “digital” English.

International students, on the other hand, are not usually confused in this way in fact, they often only practice writing English essays for purely academic reasons.  This compartmentalization of language uses helps ESL students to write very strong and direct SAT or ACT essays.

This is vital, as essay graders on both the SAT and ACT give preference to essays with logical organization of ideas and precise English conventions.

Advantage #3: International students can have a Latin-based mother tongue

Many international students might have a primary language based on Latin, such as Romanian, French, and Spanish.  Such language fluency grants these students an added advantage when it comes to vocabulary, as they will recognize more prefixes, roots, or suffixes similar to their own language.  

This will give international students a starting point when it comes to analyzing tone or context for vocabulary, an essential tool for grammar-based and reading comprehension sections on standardized tests.

The SAT and ACT  can be understandably daunting for ESL students, particularly those students anxious about their English proficiency. 

Yet many of these students may be at an advantage when it comes to grammar, writing, and reading sections on standardized tests, given the emphasis on international curricula place on precise writing and English conventions.  Best wishes to our ESL students from Enhanced Prep!

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