Sarah N. Van Dierdonck, a member of the Dobyns-Bennett High School marching band and concert band, has earned a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT — Although a local high school student says she struggles a bit with math, she did well enough to get a rare perfect ACT score and so far has aced the advanced math curriculum at her school with straight A’s.
Dobyns-Bennett High School rising senior Sarah N. Van Dierdonck earned a perfect ACT score of 36 on her second try. Sarah, 17 and the daughter of Tamara Rivera and Olivier Van Dierdonck, earned the top composite score on the ACT she took in June.
Her first attempt in late 2012 resulted in a 35.
“That’s (a 36) what I was aiming for,” Sarah said Thursday afternoon during her dinner break from D-B marching band camp. “I knew I wanted to try and get a 36.”
Before her first test in December 2012, she took a private ACT preparation class from a woman in her neighborhood, but she studied on her own to prepare for the second test.
Nationally, the number of students earning a composite score of 36 varies from year to year. But overall, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students who take the ACT earn a perfect score. Among test takers in the high school graduating class of 2012, 781 out of more than 1.66 million students earned a composite score of 36.
“We are honored to once again have a Dobyns-Bennett student score a perfect 36 on the ACT,” D-B Principal Chris Hampton said. “We are very proud of Sarah, and this score is evidence of her hard work, dedication and commitment to world-class excellence. I am excited to see the opportunities her efforts will yield over the course of this school year and beyond.”
Hampton said D-B had two students with perfect ACT scores last school year. Sullivan South High in the Sullivan County school system, which has about half the student population of D-B, had one.
Sarah plans to pursue an engineering degree. Her mother works at Eastman Chemical Co. and is a chemical engineer, and her father recruits people for medical jobs. She said a younger sister and younger brother already want to do well on the ACT, too, and maybe get perfect scores.
Sarah said she thought she had done well on the second test but had the most difficulty with math in particular — although she is in the advanced unified math track at D-B — and with the limited time to take the test segments.
She will take AP calculus BC this coming school year.
“The math part is generally the hardest for me,” Sarah said.
“There were a few questions I had some trouble with,” she said. “The hardest thing for me was the time. I’m a slow worker.”
Her grade point average is more than 4.0 because of weighted grades from Advanced Placement courses, and so far at D-B she has straight A’s. She took AP U.S. history her sophomore year, AP chemistry and AP Spanish her junior year and as a senior will take AP computer science and AP statistics. Last school year, she helped translate school newsletters at Johnson Elementary from English to Spanish.
The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, and a student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores. Some students also take ACT’s optional Writing Test, but the score for that test is reported separately and is not included within the ACT composite score.
Sarah is part of the D-B marching band and concert band, and last year she was third chair in the first concert band. She also is captain of the Science Olympiad team and active in the Mu Alpha Theta math club and the Scholars Bowl.
In a letter recognizing Sarah’s achievement, ACT Chief Executive Officer Jon Whitmore wrote: “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 test scores are accepted by all major U.S. colleges, and scores of 36 provide colleges with evidence of student readiness for the academic rigors of college work. Sarah said she hasn’t yet chosen a university or narrowed her prospective ones, and her mother said Sarah’s already received a lot of inquiries from higher education institutions.
For more information about the ACT test, go to www.act.org.