Why International students are at a disadvantage with the SAT

Whilst 2020/21 has seen a change in university admission criteria with an increasing number of US colleges no longer requiring a SAT score for entry, yet for many students, SAT tests still remain key to their university preparation. These tests are an expensive affair in terms of both time and money and require focused studying for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

Standardised tests aim to add a dimension of equality to the US college application process through objective testing alongside college essays, however this may not be the case for international students with different educational backgrounds to their American counterparts.

International students are disadvantaged as even though the SAT is supposed to be based on what is taught at school, their lack of guidance, knowledge and experience leaves them fumbling alone, ultimately signing up for expensive tuition packages as the only option of support.


  1. School Curriculum: (non- American) International  schools mostly do not provide any support for SAT, within the curriculum or in terms of study time
  2. PSAT: US schools are more likely to offer PSAT (Preliminary SAT) support and practice tests up to two years before the SAT, hence giving students relevant experience for the high staked, time-pressured, multiple-choice format. This is not the case in international schools, where most students will go straight to attempting the SAT without any prior experience.
  3. Subject content: SAT maths topics are mostly covered in IGCSE maths and international students notably score well in this section of the test. The reading and writing parts of the test however, are the ones that limit their scores. Literature and essay passages are often US-centric and whilst not the exact texts, but text types and study style are covered within the American system’s Grade 10 English and  Language Arts. This is not the case for international students, where the skills of the IGCSE syllabus do not adequately address the needs of the SAT. The fact that many students repeat their SATs up to three times without actually improving English scores highlights the challenges of this particular part of the test.
  4. IB/ A Level: International students mostly follow two year IB or A level programmes and will sit the first of 2-3 attempts at the SAT early in Grade 11 of high school. This coincides with the underestimated pressure of transitioning from IGCSE, with the tests being taken alongside the demands of new academic subjects and internal assessments which are used to predict the grades for university applications.
  5. 2020 Grade 10 cohort whose IGCSE exams were cancelled are under additional pressure this year as
    • they have missed the opportunity to consolidate grade 9 and 10 knowledge
    • they have not experienced the discipline required to tackle the pressures of external examinations
    • they lack a steady study routine having effectively not studied with any goal in mind since March 2020


Given the upcoming challenges, students need to use the summer holidays wisely by keeping learning going, adding to skills that will be beneficial on returning to school. Grade 11 is hugely demanding especially after this year’s unexpected study gap, hence taking courses that will add value to personal statements and university essays next year is important.

Grade 10’s will want to know  How to Prepare for the SAT as the holidays are an opportunity to prepare well for the test. Seeking personalised help before commencing the SAT journey is important as directly practicing papers may be valuable for maths, but the English elements of the paper definitely require a foundation based on strategy.

International students may start at a disadvantage but with the right guidance, they can change this situation for themselves.