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SAT Reading Tip for International Students

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 12, 2014

Many thanks to Tier One Tutors for their great advice to International students who are having trouble with the SAT Reading Section!  Here what they say:

International students who sit for the SAT inevitably face a different set of challenges than an average American student. An obvious issue is the language barrier. However, it’s important to recognize that the culprit is more than these students’ lack of English vocabulary.

I have a five year-old daughter, currently in Kindergarten, who is just learning to read. One of the amazing things that I experience with her is her strong, intuitive ear for English, even at this young age. While I am reading her a bedtime story, sometimes I will come across a word that I am sure she does not know. However, when I ask what she thinks it means she will often give me an accurate explanation. Astounded, I will ask how she knew and she just tells me that it “makes sense.” What she is articulating in her own 5 year-old way is that she has the ability as a native English speaker to evaluate a vocabulary word in the context of a sentence and figure out the most likely definition of the word.

Furthermore, native speakers possess a second intuitive sense. Sometimes, I will play a game with my daughter where I will see if she can guess at the “charge” of a difficult word. I will say to her “if Daddy calls you a curmudgeon, is Daddy being nice or is Daddy being mean?” Astonishingly, probably three-quarters of the time my daughter guesses correctly as to whether a hard word has positive or negative connotation.

It is the lack of these two natural skills that tends to get international students in trouble on the Critical Reading and Writing sections of the SAT. Therefore, it is these two skills that students most need to develop when studying. The key to the essay is NOT to have the biggest vocabulary; instead it is to have the best intuitive grasp of language possible.

Therefore, it is imperative that international students start studying early and often. The best thing to do is to read…a lot! And it is not simply passive reading, but active reading. That means when you come across a word you don’t know, look up the definition. Then ask yourself afterwards if there was any way you could have known what the tone of the word was based on the context of the sentence or – even better – what the definition was. It is by flexing these language muscles that international students can make the strongest improvement.

Although this may seem like a tall order, I can tell you with certainty that it is more successful and no more time consuming than the alternative – which is to rote memorize hundreds of roots, prefixes and suffixes as well as the top 5,000 SAT vocab words.