GILBERT — A 16-year-old Arizona girl earned a perfect composite score on the ACT college admissions test, such a rarity only one-tenth of one percent of students in the nation have achieved it.
Ruth Oliver’s achievement lands her in lofty company. In Arizona, she is one of 24 fortunate high-school seniors out of 36,285 to receive the score of 36 this academic year, according to ACT research.
“I looked at it, and I guess to me it still hasn’t hit me as exceptional yet.” Oliver said. “I just saw it and I was like oh, okay, cool, 36.”
Oliver earned a 32 when she first took the test and decided to take the test a second time just to see if she could get a higher score. Paul Weeks, an ACT board member, said once a student gets past the 30-score mark, that student is in “very select company.”
“Those students have taken really rigorous courses and they have developed really strong skills across the curriculum,” Weeks said. “Not only that, but they are able to apply those skills to the questions on the ACT.”
Oliver said she really wouldn’t count her prep for the second test as studying because she didn’t use any special ACT courses, books, or guides.
“I had taken it once before, and before that I had taken some practice ACT test in like ninth grade,” Oliver said. “That helped me improve my test taking strategies and time management, but that was like the biggest thing I did to study – if you count that as studying.”
The 36 composite score is the average of all portions of the test, including English, math, reading, and science.
Weeks said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Oliver hadn’t studied much prior to the test.
“You’d be surprised how many students take the ACT, and when they’re surveyed about, ‘hey what’d you do, you know, in terms of prep?’ The answer is absolutely nothing,” Weeks said. “It’s hard to believe, but a high percentage of students go in cold.”
Oliver, a senior at Gilbert’s Great Hearts Arete Preparatory Academy, maintains a 4.0 grade point average. She is leaning toward attending the University of Chicago or California Institute of Technology after she graduates in the spring. Oliver said she wants to major in particle physics, kicking off a long journey to becoming an astronaut.
Jamie Kronwald, Oliver’s teacher, said Oliver can thank her natural curiosity for her academic success.
“One really cool thing about Ruth is that she is really happy as she does her work,” Kronwald said. “She’s always like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting! I wonder why this?’”
Oliver said she always finds something exciting in each assignment.
“I have to try to make every worksheet or assignment different, and make it my own. It really helps,” Oliver said.
Weeks said if students are going to take the time to study for the ACT — which he recommends — they should at least take a practice test. That way, the student will become familiar with the test format, and stay relaxed during the actual exam.