Putting his perfect score in perspective

Kamiak student who aced ACT exam keeps cool, credits teachers
By Nicholas Johnson | Mar 29, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Alexander Ong, a junior at Kamiak High School, recently received the highest score possible on the ACT college readiness exam – a composite score of 36. He said he credits the accomplishment to the education he’s received in the Mukilteo School District.

Kamiak High School junior Alexander Ong isn’t letting his perfect score on the ACT exam go to his head.

“At the end of the day, it’s still just high school,” he said. “I don’t feel I should get too excited about it because I still have a long road ahead of me. It’s just another step on the way to bigger things.”

Ong recently learned that he got the highest possible score on that college readiness exam – a composite of four sub-tests in math, science, English and reading.

“It means they have mastered everything from the most basic to the most advanced content in each of those four content areas,” said Ed Colby, director of public relations for ACT. “That student would be very ready for the rigors of college.”

On average, less than one-tenth of one percent of test takers nationwide earn the highest possible score of 36. Of the nearly 2.1 million high school students nationwide in the class of 2016 who took the ACT, some 2,235 earned a composite score of 36.

“We don’t test the majority of students in Washington state,” Colby said. “Washington tends to be a state where most students take the SAT.”

About a fourth of students in Washington take the ACT, he said. Of some 16,652 Washington high school students in the class of 2016, 52 earned the top score.

“The ACT is now the top college admission exam taken across the country,” Colby said, noting that nearly all colleges accept either. “The SAT was the number one test for many years before we overtook them about five years ago.”

Ong said he had already taken the SAT in November 2016, scoring a 1540 out of 1600.

“I wanted to take this test just to see how I would do,” he said. “Half of it was just for kicks and the other half was to see whether I could do well since I had done well on the SAT. I expected to have a good score, but not a perfect score.”

Ong said he spent more time studying for the SAT, taking practice tests online. When it came time for the ACT, he took another SAT practice test.

“The SAT will make its questions more obfuscated,” he said. “They’ll try to trick you and test you on how well you can take a test. The SAT measures aptitude more. I found more of the questions on the ACT were more straight forward and left me kind of confused because I had been expecting some twists like in the SAT.”

Colby agreed.

“The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test that measures what students learn in school,” he said, noting that the ACT is based on nationwide surveys of curricula taught in high schools and colleges. “It’s not an IQ test or an aptitude test. It’s really designed to be similar to a test they experience in their high school courses.”

Ong has played piano for the last 11 years and recently put aside violin practice after eight years in order to focus more on his schoolwork. He also began working as an academic coach after school this year, but has put that aside to focus on his third year playing golf for the high school team.

“I think it’s been a valuable experience for me to be on a sports team with my peers,” he said. “It’s a game of patience, an exercise in patience and being able to work independently. It’s taught me a lot.”

In the classroom, Ong said he’s always been drawn to the sciences, though he enjoys English, as well.

“I’ve always been partial to the sciences,” he said. “I also like English, writing essays and reading. I read a lot when I was little. I also do some creative writing here and there.”

Soon, Ong said he plans to begin considering colleges.

“I am looking at the Ivy Leagues,” he said. “I’ll be going on college tours in the spring and summer to see campuses and get a feel for their atmospheres.”

His 24-year-old sister, who graduated from Kamiak in 2011, recently graduated with a masters degree from the University of Washington. Ong said he wants to go to school on the coast, whether east or west, and the UW remains an option.

At this point, Ong has a clearer view of what he wants to study than where.

“I’m really interested in the biomedical field, but I’m also weighing health law,” he said. “Ever since I was little, I was fascinated with medical things. I would spend hours looking through visual dictionaries of the human body. I always liked that.

“Health care policy in general connects to medicine and that connects to the body, and that’s something that is really interesting to me. Even if I’m not working with the body, I can still give back to the community. I want to help people. I want to be someone who can make the world a little bit better.”

Ong said he recognizes his achievements are largely a result of the resources and opportunities he’s had in Mukilteo.

“Just because tests are standardized across the nation doesn’t mean everybody’s situation is standardized,” he said. “Not everyone has the same access to preparatory materials or has the same lifestyle as we do here in Mukilteo.”

He said we should all be careful to not belittle our own accomplishments because someone else did better or just as well.

“There are many accomplished students here and we all have different talents,” he said. “I got a perfect score on the ACT, but there are plenty of other people who have done great work of their own by winning competitions in art or music, for example.”

Ong said Mukilteo’s teachers deserve praise for nurturing their students’ passions and encouraging their pursuits.

“I feel like the Mukilteo School District has a lot of capable, qualified teachers,” he said.

“Even though they weren’t there to take the test with me, I feel that growing up as a student in this school district and having those teachers in this community has helped me become who I am today.”

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