When is 1 point worth $22,000?

The difference between a 33 on the ACT and a 34 on the ACT is worth $5,500 based on the scholarships offered for 2019-2020 by Cedarville University. Over four years that one point’s value extrapolates out to $22,000! At some colleges, the key number might be obtaining a 29 instead of a 30. At other colleges, the value of the scholarship might only be $3,000 more per year. (But even “only $3,000” amounts to $12-15,000 over a four or five-year college span.)

Why the ACT and SAT matter

Most US colleges hold two numbers in extremely high esteem when it comes to accepting and also offering funds to new students. The first number is the GPA (grade point average). That, in and of itself, can be a problem for American expats whose children attend high schools abroad.

The second number is either the ACT (once an abbreviation for American College Testing according to Dictionary.com but now only short for, well, “ACT”) or the SAT (or Scholastic Assessment Test).

While one high school might be easier than another or one student might have taken harder classes than another, the ACT and SAT are designed to be fair, standardized tests that a university can use to compare college readiness.

While some research seems to indicate that test scores are not a great indicator of college success (as reported by PBS.com and others), those tests are extremely important to a lot of American universities. In fact, there is a bit of competition between colleges because having more students with higher scores often brings more prestige to the college itself.

It’s fair to say that the SAT and ACT matter because college admissions departments believe they matter and grant awards for those whose numbers are higher.

What’s a test score worth?

As we saw above, having a higher score can be worth thousands of dollars each year of college attendance. In fact, in March of 2019 there was a widely reported scandal in which students’ families allegedly paid $10,000 to have a man named Mark Riddell take their tests. ABC.com reports:

To fulfill the plan, according to the criminal complaint, the parent “provided Singer with an exemplar of Parent 1’s son’s handwriting so that Riddell could imitate it when taking the exam in his place….” Riddell reported back to Singer that he “predicted that he would score a 35 out of 36 on the ACT exam.” Riddell was paid $10,000 for his part in that scheme and, he was right: he got a 35 on the exam.

Mark Riddell, the 36-year-old who allegedly took exams for ‘cheating’ students apologizes

While we’re not advocating criminal activity, we are advocating that parents and students hoping to attend a university in the USA need to take the ACT and SAT very seriously. A point can often be worth thousands of dollars.

Why it’s overlooked

High schoolers attending a brick-and-mortar school in the USA can rarely say they didn’t know the importance of standardized testing. Many high schools have courses to prep students for the ACT or SAT. The PSAT (an abbreviation for Pre-SAT) was designed to help students prepare for the SAT, but there are even scholarships available for high scores on that test which is given to juniors at many high schools. Then a PSAT 10 was created for, yep, 10th graders. Now, there are even what we’d call a pre-pre-PSAT. Have a read:

The PSAT 8/9 tests the same skills and knowledge as the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and PSAT 10—in a way that makes sense for eighth and ninth graders. It measures what they’re already learning, shows them whether they’re on track for college, and lets them know where they need the most improvement. That means students have time to tackle these areas long before they take the SAT.

The College Board

That’s right, friends, American 8th graders are being tested so that they can prepare to take a test in their senior year of high school. However, the child of an expat who is studying at an international school or in a host-country school may not have even heard of these tests. No one is likely coming to their school to publicize them, and nobody is knocking on the door of a homeschooling family to remind them of this crazy process.


A point can often be worth thousands of dollars.

Busy expat families are likely not thinking of college selection or college funding when their 8th grader is just trying to learn to say, “football” instead of “soccer” and make the local team.

Where to take them

Now that you know that these tests are widely prepared for and administered in American schools, you might be wondering how your daughter or son is going to be able to take them while abroad.

Not to fear! Either because these test-makers enjoy making a buck or because they just really love kids, they’ve made their tests widely available overseas. Here are a couple of key links:

We would suggest you find a location near you or near where you habitually travel (in the US or abroad) and sign your kiddo up post haste. There is learning curve for students who take these tests. They’ll need to understand the point systems (e.g., when to guess at an answer) and get used to the controlled, timed environment. I’ve never met a student who scored higher on the first try than on the 2nd or 3rd or…. Just getting that 1 point more can lead to thousands of dollars, so it is worth a 2 hour drive or 3 our flight to the nearest testing center to take these tests more than once.

Which test to take

There are theories about which type of student should take the SAT and which the ACT. It is generally considered prudent to have each student take both at least once. However, you may find that it is simply easier to get to an ACT testing site as opposed to an SAT testing site, or vice versa.


If your child only has a score (or perhaps only a good score) on one test or the other, it may be important to see which score is accepted by the schools you are looking at. Some accept the SAT, some the ACT, and some – probably most – both.

If you’ve finished shopping for a college and settled on one that only references one test and it is not the one your kiddo tested for, don’t panic. Many college websites only list one of those tests, but they will still accept an equivalent score on the other. Just ask. Many universities have a number on the SAT that they think corresponds to their desired 32 or 34 on the ACT. It may not be published on their website, but the admissions department might have it. If not, get busy prepping for the other test or searching for another school!

Why bother?

Let’s face it, the SAT and ACT seem like a gigantic nuisance to most US expats. Our kids aren’t being motivated by schools and peers to take these tests, preparing for them online is such a hassle, and just the cost and effort of registering and getting to a test site can be a problem. So, why bother?

Well, when your college-bound son gets rejected by his school of choice because his scores are too low (or non-existent), you (and he!) will wish you had bothered with all of this. Conversely, when you can afford to send your daughter to the college of her dreams because she squeaked out one extra point on her ACT, every late night and mile driven will seem like the best investment you ever made.

Whether you think standardized testing is a great predictor of college success or not (and I don’t think it is), the fact remains that most American universities award millions of dollars each year based on these test scores. Yes, 1 point can be worth $5,000

Michael A. Carlson

I have a passion for introducing Europeans to Jesus, starting churches of any shape or size, teaching, writing, and training. I also love to equip Europeans and missionaries through my websites such as MissionePerTe.it and QuestionsForChurchPlanters.com.