Acing the ACT

Nestled in the Highlands just off Bardstown Road resides one of Louisville’s most esteemed secondary school institutions. Emanating a Hogwarts-esque aesthetic from its perch overlooking the bustle of Grinstead Drive, Louisville Collegiate School is a bastion of learning and a fortress of rigorous education. It instills in its students a true passion for knowledge, and, as a result of that foundation, three rising seniors from Collegiate recently were able to make perfect scores on their ACT tests, a feat only accomplished by less than one tenth of one percent of ACT test takers.

First administered in 1959, the ACT is a standardized test that is used in the college admissions process. Colleges usually require either an ACT or SAT test score with some not requiring a test score at all. A growing number of students are choosing the ACT over the SAT for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the ACT’s inclination to measure achievement over aptitude.

One of the key differences between these two tests is what exactly they gauge. Whereas the SAT tends to focus more on cognitive reasoning and aptitude, the ACT puts its emphasis on actual information students have learned in school. Consequently, schools like Collegiate that have robust, all-inclusive curricula leave their students predisposed to excel.

So predisposed, in fact, that some students don’t even specifically prepare for the test. “I didn’t actually prepare for it,” says Lucas Asher, one of the students to score a perfect 36 on the ACT. “I don’t like studying for standardized tests. I feel like it kind of eliminates the purpose of it as a baseline for your knowledge.”

Coley Sullivan, another student who attained a perfect ACT score, echoes that idea, “I didn’t really prepare for the ACT,” he claims. “I prepared a little for the SAT and decided to take both and see which I would do better on.” This decision to take both tests is exceptionally common in high school students despite the fact that the majority scores similarly on the two different tests.

John Steenrod, the final student to have scored the perfect 36, did prepare, but like Sullivan, his preparation focused mostly on SAT prep; he took a summer SAT prep course that introduced only a smattering of ACT questions now and then. He credits the bulk of his success with his education at Collegiate and the encouragement of his parents. “My parents have always been very supportive,” he describes. “They’ve never strictly made me review, but they of course have a vested interest in my education. They push me to do my best, but they don’t put too much pressure on me either.”

Sullivan similarly thanks his family. “My parents have always encouraged me to work hard and encouraged my love of learning from a young age, so I think that definitely helped,” he says of his success. The success for him actually extends beyond the ACT, as he also scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT. Despite his equal accomplishment on both tests, Sullivan strongly prefers the ACT over the SAT. “It doesn’t have the vocab section,” he contends of the ACT. “A section I think is pretty silly since it usually comes down to luck, and [the ACT] doesn’t have a lot of the weird grammar rules that the SAT has. I think the SAT is a little outdated.”

Asher agrees, but for a slightly different reason. “The ACT is a better test because the guessing penalty of the SAT hinders your ability to guess,” he explains. “But when you have a few ideas and you’re not entirely sure, the SAT incentivizes just not answering, which I don’t like.” Indeed, the SAT scores tests based on correct and incorrect answers while the ACT only scores based on correct answers. Accordingly, on the ACT, guessing does not hurt a student, but if a student does not know the answer on the SAT, he or she is encouraged to leave the question blank.

Fortunately for Asher, Sullivan and Steenrod, there wasn’t much guessing involved, as their education at Collegiate readied them for success on the test. “It’s not just like the actual test prep we do,” Sullivan argues. “It’s more the problem solving skills we learn and the perseverance to keep working with a problem we don’t understand at first; I think that’s what’s really valuable on a test like this, and I think Collegiate does a great job teaching that.”

All three of these young men have clearly demonstrated remarkable feats of intelligence. Thanks to their education, families and natural abilities, they each will undoubtedly excel as they begin the college application process this coming fall. VT

Courtesy photos.