To study abroad from India is a huge thing. There are tons of great colleges in US which would be willing to admit you, but unfortunately a lot of students remain confined to Indian colleges due to the family/financial pressure to prepare for JEE, and not SAT or ACT. Admission in US is much easier than you think. The only reasons students don’t take this option seriously is because of lack of guidance, & the notion that they can’t afford to study in USA, which is definitely incorrect, but that discussion is for another time.
I have seen that most students get the idea of studying abroad in class 11th, but majority of them abandon the idea because of no guidance by someone experienced. They might also think that the exams required, like the SAT and TOEFL, would be very difficult. However, this is far from the truth. SAT is actually quite easy, in fact probably easier than your school exams. The only thing you might find difficult is the high focus on English and passage reading. But if you follow a proper plan, you will be able to do your studies easily.
I would recommend doing the practice in 3 stages:
- Stage 1: identify which are you weak sections.
- Stage 2: prepare topic wise
- Stage 3: solve practice papers, and see what you did wrong.
Step 1: Make a timeline of the upcoming exam dates & number of days remaining.
SAT can be given multiple times each year, and ideally you should target to do it as early as possible in your 12th. If you are in 11th, you have decent amount of time. You need to analyse how many days you have for preparation for all the sections.
You can attempt the SAT multiple times, so I suggest you take the test twice and fit this in your timeline.
Step 2: solve 1-2 practice papers without any preparation, within the time limit. Find out how much you score in each section.
The official practice papers are available on the SAT organiser’s website here.
Solving practice papers BEFORE you start SAT preparation will make you aware of which sections you are weak at. Indian students generally find the maths section to be quite easy on the SAT, and don’t require much preparation, if you have covered the topics like trigonometry, probability, logarithms etc in school. Generally the english focussed sections, reading and writing is difficult for us. Reading is specifically difficult for us, because the time to read a passage and mark all the answers seems too short.
If you are in 12th in any board, whether CBSE, ISC or any state board, you would have probably covered everything that is required for the maths section. Trust me, the maths section probably won’t even require more than 2-3 days of practice for most Indian students.
If you are in 11th or earlier, I would suggest you go to the NCERT website, download the 11th and 12th Maths books, and read the chapters (very important). The NCERT books are quite good at explaining the concepts. You don’t need to solve all the questions in the exercises, just the solved examples should be fine. Doing this won’t require more than 1 or 2 hours for each chapter. So within a week, you should be able to finish the 11th class maths book. Do the same for 12th also.
You should aim to get a 100% score in the maths section. This can be done without much effort, if you are in class 12th, and some effort if you aren in 11th or earlier.
Time to give for preparation: 1 week for 12th students, 2-3 weeks for others.
For writing section
This can be difficult or easy, depending on how much attention you had given to your grammar classes. If in your practice test, you had more than 4-5 questions wrong, do get a grammar book (like Wren and Martin) for practice. Read the chapter and solve the questions. You can go to your previous English teachers (from class 6 onwards) and discuss with them about where you should practice from. You can show them the SAT practice papers for them to get an idea of the type and level of questions.
You should be able to get more than 90% of the questions right with moderate effort, no matter if you are in 11th or 12th.
Time to give for preparation: 2-3 weeks, do one chapter from grammar book each day.
For reading section
This is the most difficult section for Indian students. Probably because our schools don’t focus that much on fast reading. SAT gives you 65 minutes to solve 52 questions after reading the passages. This is quite less than what we are accustomed to from our school exams (at least in my personal experience in CBSE).
You should follow some strategies to tackle this section. For example, you don’t need to read the entire passage before seeing the questions. Read the first few lines and last few lines from the passage, then see the questions. Or you could see the first 1 or 2 sentences from each paragraph and then see the questions.
In many questions, the line numbers are mentioned from which the question is made. Do them first. Some of the questions will ask on the ideas presented in the entire passage, leave them for the last. In this section, we want to attempt all the easy questions first and then move on to others.
You should aim to complete all the questions in this section. Refer the Official SAT Study Guide and the popular books for SAT such as those from Barron’s or Princeton.
Time to prepare: can be a few weeks
After you have done the topic wise preparation, you need to solve as many practice papers as possible. During this stage, its very important that you look at the answers and explanations for the questions that you did wrong.
I recommend that you complete all the official practice tests (link in step 2). Then move on to the tests from the Princeton and Barron’s books .
One thing that many students realise after they have attempted the SAT multiple times is that their score turned out to be almost same in all the attempts. The reason is that they didn’t do topic wise preparation of their weak topics. The distribution of all the subjects and topics is equal across question papers, so if you are weak in a particular topic, say active and passive voice, you will do the same mistakes again and again. So definitely strengthen each of your topics one by one.
- the most important ones are the official practice tests (link is in step 2)
- the NCERT Maths books of 11th and 12th are sufficient for mathematics
- for reading and writing sections, take a look at the Wren and Martin grammar book, or talk to your school teacher
You should aim for a score greater than 1500. Anything less will be considered low, given that US universities generally expect higher scores from Indian students.