Consider the numbers. More than a million and a half young people hoping to gain entrance to the college or university of their choice take the ACT test annually.
Though the percentage of students who get a perfect score on the test is rising, still only 1/3 of 1 percent actually do so.
Last September, Samuel Vu, a senior at Papillion-La Vista High School joined what remains a relatively elite club by earning a perfect score on the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions in the U.S. The test covers four academic skill areas: English, mathematics, reading and scientific reasoning.
Vu’s perfect ACT score, combined with his solid record of accomplishments in advanced placement classes at Papillion-La Vista High School, earned him admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he will major in computer science beginning this fall. Although he has not decided on a university, Vu, the son of Vu Dien and Tran Xuanngua, is already planning to work toward a master’s degree when he completes his bachelor’s degree at MIT.
“MIT was my first choice of universities,” he said. “It’s considered the number one school in terms of a computer science degree.
When his education is completed, “I think it would be cool to work as a software engineer, maybe for Microsoft or Apple,” Vu said.
In addition to his overall preparation for the test as a result of his high school classes, Vu said he completed “a lot” of practice tests, which are widely available on the internet. He did not, however, have any special tutoring that is available to students who can afford the cost when preparing for the test.
Vu’s perfect score on the ACT was clearly not a fluke. Students are allowed to take the actual ACT test more than once if they so desire, with only the highest test score being forwarded to colleges and universities as part of the application process. Vu initially took the ACT when he was a junior, at which time he scored 35 out of 36 possible points.
Vu also took the Scholastic Aptitude Test — the SAT — last August, another test used in the college-enrollment process. One of the primary differences between the SAT and the ACT is that the ACT includes a science section, and the SAT does not. Although the SAT tests scientific skills through some of the other sections, it does not have a dedicated science portion like the ACT.
His score on the SAT was 1,570, just shy of the 1,600 that constitutes a perfect score. Both his ACT and SAT scores were forwarded to admission officials at MIT.
Comparing the two tests, Vu said he thought the SAT was more difficult. In terms of the ACT, he said he personally found the reading section the most difficult. Vu said he found the math portion of the ACT the easiest. Each of the four segments of the ACT is a timed, multiple-choice test, and answers that are left blank are scored as being wrong answers.
“In the reading portion of the test, I felt like I guessed at a lot at the answers,” he said.
Ann Herbener, the college counselor at Papillion-La Vista High School, laughed at Vu’s estimate of the number of guesses.
“Knowing Sam and his work ethic as I do, I would say a single guess would seem to him to be ‘a lot,’” she said.
Noting that while Vu was the only Papillion-La Vista student who achieved a perfect score on the ACT from the Class of 2021, Herbener said that three students in the school’s Class of 2020 — the class that took the test before the COVID pandemic — had attained perfect scores.
“The growing number of perfect scores on the ACT and the rising average score for those taking the test are indicative that kids today are more prepared than they were in the past,” she said.