How to Prepare ESL and ELL Students for the SATs

With the rise of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learners (ELL) in the United States today, teachers have an additional challenge of teaching students with varying levels of English language comprehension. Many of these students will go on to study at American colleges and universities. So, they will have to take either SAT or the ACT to gain admission to a university in the United States. Fortunately, there are many things teachers can do to help their ESL or ELL students score better on the English language portions of the test.

* Help students expand their vocabulary. Vocabulary on the SAT is functional, but not always frequently used in everyday speech. Encourage students to study vocabulary flashcards, use new words in sentences, and learn a few new words every day.

Also, give your students exercises to practice figuring out the meanings of words in context. The English language can be very confusing because there are so many words that have multiple meanings and so many ways to say the same thing. Students should be able to define a concept based on the context in which it is used; this will save them a lot of time on the test.

* Review grammar concepts. It may be a strength for your students since ESL students often study grammar concepts on a more formal level than native English speakers. Ask a native English speaker to explain what an adverb is, for example, and they probably won’t be able to. An ESL student, however, could quickly tell that an adverb describes a verb, and most adverbs end in -ly!

Make sure your students can not only define the types of grammar but also can use them properly. These skills will come in handy on the Reading(comprehension) and Writing and Language portions of the SAT.

* Focus on one or two of their most frequent writing errors. Don’t overwhelm your students with every writing error they make. Instead, work on the biggest, most frequent ones first. Slowly work your way through different, more advanced techniques. Not only will their score on the SAT improve, so will their general writing skills.

* Please encourage them to practice math word problems. If your ESL students are going to struggle at all on the math portion of the SAT, it is going to be on comprehending the word problems. Numbers work the same way in any language, but it’s not always easy to figure out what to do with them when English words surround them.

* Provide practice tests and help your students familiarize themselves with the format and directions. This tip is a good idea for all students! The more familiar your students are with the test, the more they can focus on actually answering the questions, and the more time they’ll have to answer them.

The College Board does offer some accommodations for students whose first language is not English; for example, students can receive test directions in their first language, a bilingual word-to-word glossary, and extended time to complete the test. Students still need to read test questions and answers in English, regardless of accommodations. These tips and tricks will help them in their studies even after they take the SAT.

Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood is a high school English teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where she studied poetry and writing for children and teens. Now she spends most of her time writing and reading poetry with teens as an English and Creative Writing teacher at a local private school. In her spare time, she is a freelance writer who specializes in issues surrounding literacy an education.