4Tests Blog

ACT Test: Observations On Getting A Perfect Score


The ACT Test is one of the most common indicators of where high school students stand regarding their college preparation in relation to their peers. The test covers math, science reasoning, reading, and English. To get a perfect score on the ACT, one would have to have a final composite of 36. It doesn’t happen very often, but it is doable. While it certainly can’t hurt your chances of being accepted to prestigious colleges and universities, and it can land you nice scholarship opportunities, you might be surprised about what some have had to say about their experiences acing the ACT.

From The Source’s Mouth

Take Ryan Carlyle, a subsea hydraulics engineer, who reportedly earned perfect scores on both the ACT and SAT exams. According to Carlyle, the experience was one that caused him to feel “half-smug” and “half-embarrassed.”

“Obviously I was pleased with myself, but the constant questions of ‘did you really get perfect scores?’ and ‘how did you do it?’ and ‘is your brain, like, huge or something?’ got old pretty fast,” Carlyle said. “I lived out the rest of senior year in a small degree of fame and what I can only describe as half-smug, half-embarrassed pride.”

Carlyle said he “tried to keep it quiet at University but enough people from my high school went there that everyone I interacted with knew about my scores within a year or so. … I do think it’s colored a lot of people’s interactions with me over the years. I really didn’t GET anything from it though — no special scholarships, no priority admissions.”

Shan Kothari added that the “difference between a 34 and a 36 is not particularly meaningful.”

The Michigan State University zoology/anthropology major also earned a 36 and seemed to share one trait in common with Carlyle: even perfection did not, at least at first, seem good enough.

“I will note, with some embarrassment, that when I found out I got a 34 on one section, I briefly felt like retaking it to get a perfect perfect score, a 36 on all sections,” Kothari said. “Then I (metaphorically) slapped myself and went back to normal.”

Carlyle also noted that the initial feeling of getting a perfect score was “pretty exciting until I noticed that my math section score was only 35.”

“That meant I missed 2 answers in that section. I immediately started looking up how to get a copy of my answers and the test book to see what I screwed up or they mis-graded. I don’t really recall what happened with that but I think my parents convinced me it wasn’t worth the $20 fee,” Carlyle said.

Experiences like Carlyle’s and Kothari’s are common among individuals, who master the ACT Test. They tend to look at the accomplishment in the following light:

‘Not A Big Deal’

Most ACT Test aces aren’t impressed by much. Not standardized testing, not Ivy League schools, and not even their own accomplishment. They have a confidence and a self-assurance that doesn’t feel like it “needs” the system they’ve mastered.

Take one anonymous ace, who said that he “somewhat begrudgingly went to a large state school, turning down Brown (among others) in the process.”

“Some people looked at me like I was insane when I told them. ‘You should be going to Harvard!’ No, that would have been a poor choice for me. I remember one particularly ludicrous scene at that large state school when a group of prospective students I was trying to recruit decided it would be fun to go around and share ACT scores. When I said mine, they essentially told me point blank that I was an idiot for going to my school (which I quickly fell in love with) rather than an Ivy.”

That same test-taker said he “knew the kind of game that standardized tests are playing, and didn’t like it, so I didn’t, like, jump up and down or anything [when he learned his score].”

He continued: “What comes afterwards is pretty awkward, though.  Suddenly, rather than being someone who is interesting for the reasons you actually are interesting, you’re interesting for reasons that aren’t interesting, namely that you are really good at filling in bubbles on a Scantron with a #2 pencil. People your age take the opportunity to lord it over you in case they know more about something than you.  ‘Grown-ups,’ meanwhile, enter some sort of state of suspended awe. Most adults seem to think that standardized tests actually measure something worth measuring, for some reason, so they see you as some sort of demigod.”

As for print design and editorial consultant Roland Priebe, his youngest son scored 36 twice on the ACT, and according to Priebe, did not see the “accomplishment” as much of an accomplishment either because, “in his words, ‘the test was so EASY,” Priebe said.

“In a certain sense he’s right, of course: any individual question is not exceptionally difficult for a sharp high school student who’s had decent teachers,” Priebe added.


Which brings us to expert observation number two:

Life Prep Trumps Test Prep

One anonymous ACT ace added that how well you do in school and in self-learning goes further than actual test prep, adding, “I did a couple of practice tests in the week before” and that “ the ACT doesn’t teach anything that should require a lot of study.” 

“If you’re going to do well on the test, you know the material already. If you’re not, you’re not going to be able to teach yourself … just for the ACT and expect to do well,” the source said.

In other words, spend more time devoted to your education and the test will work itself out.

Test-takers and society as a whole can learn a lot from these players. Namely:

  1. Placing so much emphasis on the test misdirects where the emphasis should be placed to begin with — on creating an education system that values teaching and learning ahead of over-assessment.
  2. The moment you think you’ve mastered everything there is to know about life is the moment you’ve mastered nothing.
  3. Past accomplishments tend to stay in the past. Your ACT, SAT, or whatever scores won’t amount to much if they are your life’s one great accomplishment.
  4. Marching to the tune of your own individuality is a good idea. None of the sources above said they spent an overt amount of time in test prep. They acknowledged test prep as something they did, but it was their own knowledge, work ethic, and common sense that helped them master the material that would be on the test before the test itself was ever on the horizon. They didn’t depend on the weeks leading up to the test in other words. Instead, they applied themselves throughout life.
  5. Instead of asking the pros how they accomplished what they accomplished, it would behoove us to listen to what they’re actually saying instead of listening for what we want to hear.

Did you score highly on the ACT or SAT? What was your experience like after people found out?

[Featured Image via K-State.edu]

[Study Image via NewsPrintNow.net]

Written by

's work appears regularly here at 4tests.com and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.

Website: http://aricmitchell.blogspot.com/

Connect with Aric Mitchell on:

Leave a Reply