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Changes in SAT Exam Make it Harder for Foreign Students

Students leave after a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) exam at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong November 2, 2013.

Students leave after a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) exam at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong November 2, 2013.

The organization that administers a widely-used college entrance test called the SAT will change the examination in 2016. The not-for-profit College Board announced that it no longer will test students on rarely used words. Students also will not be required to provide a written work called an “essay.” And the new SAT will include passages from American historical documents or from writings on issues like freedom and human rights.

The SAT is one of two major tests for entrance to American colleges and universities. The other test is called the ACT. Test scores help colleges decide if a candidate can succeed at their schools.

More than two million students take the SAT yearly. They include about 100,000 foreign students.

Nigerian student Peace Umoru is in her first year at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Umoru says she thinks the new tests will be easier because of the removal of rarely-used words. She says that is the hardest part for international students.

The College Board says words on the new test will relate to usage. Students will be asked to identify the meaning of words based on the way they are used in reading passages.

Eddie West is with the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He says the new tests will better-predict a student’s performance in college.

“Personally, I feel like the changes are moving the test in a more- positive direction insofar as they link up with skills and abilities that students will need to succeed -- not just in getting into a college or university, but in succeeding once there.”

But Mr. West says the addition of material related to American historical documents could make the test harder for international students.

“It’s going to be relatively uncommon for an international student to be really conversant with the Declaration of Independence or Martin Luther King Junior’s work or anything else along those lines that might be cited in the test.”

Jamaican Shanique Campell is a second year student at Howard University. She called the new material “very scary” for international students.

“We’re already faced with knowing that we’re taking an American-based exam. And so, there are a lot of things that we are not prepared for in terms of what to expect on that exam -- cultural references that we won’t be able to identify with.”

Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing spoke to VOA by Skype.

“Students from other countries, particularly those who did not grow up learning English are at a double disadvantage. The test is in a foreign language and they did not get test prep. So it’s harder.”

But the College Board says it has formed a free, online educational service. Khan Academy will provide preparation material linked to the newly-designed SAT.
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