Modesto Teen Tells How To Ace The ACT
Loads of students take the ACT pre-college test each year and many do well, but less than one-tenth of 1 percent get a perfect score.
Modestan Kane Wu, a senior at Enochs High School, beat those odds, earning a top composite score of 36 when he took the test in June. His score includes the English, math, reading and science portions.
Wu’s score on the SAT, the other widely taken pre-college test, was 2,350 out of 2,400 – still good, but not quite perfect. It was the SAT math section that cost him, he said; he had a perfect score on the reading section twice.
In all, Wu took the ACT once, the regular SAT twice, the chemistry and math SATs once each and the PSAT (or pre-SAT) three times. Multiple test-takings are common among teens aiming for top-tier schools, and Wu’s list starts with Stanford, Harvard and the University at California, Berkeley.
59%of the nation’s graduates in 2015 took the ACT, earning an average score of 21.0
30% of California’s graduates in 2015 took the ACT, earning an average score of 22.5
“While test scores are just one of the many criteria that most colleges consider when making admission decisions, your exceptional ACT composite score should prove helpful as you pursue your education and career goals,” ACT CEO Jon Whitmore wrote in a letter acknowledging those highest of the high scores.
Also working for Wu on the college résumé are his awards in science competitions, speech and debate honors, and his spot as top-ranked student in Enochs’ Class of 2016. Wu has taken the semester off from competitions to concentrate on five advanced placement courses this semester. Those high-level classes earn weighted grades, giving him a grade point average of 4.63.
That knowledge base helped, but it was studying for the SAT that prepped him for the ACT he took in June, Wu said.
“I was pretty confident, but I was certainly surprised to get a 36,” said Wu, sitting in a study room after class at Enochs High. “I’m pretty fast at reading the questions, but I was still bubbling-in the last question as the timer rang,” he said.
“I was lucky,” he added.
They always make it possible to find the answer, even if you don’t know how they want you to solve it.
Kane Wu, Enochs High senior
His luck got a helping hand from strategic preparation. Wu said he bought the SAT study guide, took the practice tests and analyzed questions he missed or had doubts about.
He discovered many questions reappear on every test, but with different names or numbers. He also got better at reading through the twists, turns and extra details inserted to throw guessing students off track, such as asking for count vs. number, or less vs. fewer.
“Tricks like that get repeated over and over again,” he said. As the College Board rolls out new versions of the SAT this year, such tricky details may give way to more substantive checks. This month the redesigned PSAT appears, with the next generation of SAT following in March.
Practice questions and study help are already available on the SAT website, which describes the change as needed to measure applied knowledge and communication and analysis skills that colleges seek in their applicants.
Wu believes his strategy will work on any version of the test. Studying smarter, not harder, should let any strong student do well, he said.
“It’s possible for pretty much everyone to improve their score,” Wu said. “Chances are you already know the information.”