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Trio of Newport-Mesa students earn perfect scores on ACT exams

From left, Kenny Wanlass, Alex Law and Zak Robertson.
From left, Kenny Wanlass, Alex Law and Zak Robertson. Zak and Alex scored perfect scores on the ACT. Kenny scored perfect scores on the ACT and the SAT.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

Three Newport-Mesa students achieved perfect scores on the ACT this year, and one scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT too — a feat achieved by only a fraction of prospective college students, according to the College Board, which administers the exam.

It is unclear how rare it is to achieve a perfect score on both the ACT and SAT as neither the College Board nor ACT retain data for either, but Newport Harbor Kenny Wanlass said he felt pretty honored to have scored so highly on both exams. He said it was the first time he had taken either of them.

“I think it’s really cool to be able to say that about me,” said Kenny, 17. “I don’t think it’s the biggest deal in the world. I think there’s bigger things that are a lot more important than how you did on a test in high school.”

Corona del Mar High junior Alex Law, who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT, agreed. She said she had decided to take the exam right after finishing her trigonometry course in her sophomore year.

“I tried to start prepping as soon as possible so I could try to get it out of the way before junior year was really far into the school year because that’s when the AP tests come up,” said Alex, 16.

She attended AR Academics every weekend, where she prepped by taking previously released exams.

That compares to Newport Harbor senior Zak Robertson, who sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t studied for the exam very much at all. Zak, 17, said he had taken the ACT before and had initially scored a 34. He was satisfied with that outcome but had already signed up for a second go at the exam and took it just in case.

“Most of the schools I was planning to apply to like MIT, UCs they don’t really require a ACT score,” said Zak, laughing as he added that he probably only studied about five hours total. “I didn’t really feel it was as important to me ... and I was really trying to relax.”

All three of the students are acutely aware that more colleges across the state are beginning to phase out the exams.

The University of California’s landmark decision in May 2020 plans to phase out the exams as a requirement for California students by 2025 and nearly 130 California colleges and universities did not require their exams for admission in the last school year, according to data released by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Advocates for the decision have argued that dropping the exams increases access for disadvantaged students while opponents say that dropping the tests as requirements will lead to inflated grades and admission of underprepared students.

As far as Kenny, Zak and Alex are concerned, they’re fine with eliminating the exams, though they hope colleges will still look at their scores.

“I think it’s a helpful asset. I think it’s an important part of the college admissions process, but I don’t think they’re everything,” said Kenny. “I don’t think they should define whether or not you get into a college, and I don’t think you should have to take one because I think a lot of people wouldn’t even be able to think to study for it or know how to begin to prepare for it.

“I think I’m really lucky that I had the help and the guidance to be able to do that. I’m kind of biased. I would definitely appreciate it if colleges would continue to accept it, but I don’t mind them making it optional at all. People can be qualified in a lot more ways than just taking a test.”

Zak said he could see both sides of the argument. He didn’t have a tutor himself, but he could see how there were probably a lot of people who might’ve needed one but couldn’t get one. He felt making the tests optional was the best option.

Alex said she knew standardized testing in general wasn’t for everyone.

“I do agree that what a test says about you is only how well you know the test ... [but] I do think that submitting a test score is a fair way to show colleges what you can do because a lot of college does involve taking tests,” said Alex. “But I don’t think everybody should be required to send it in, but only if that’s something that’s advantageous to you. It shouldn’t be something that should prohibit you from getting into a college.”

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