First ASMS Sophomore to Earn Perfect Score on ACT

By January 10, 2019 No Comments

Attention: News Desk
NOTE: For more information about the student, please contact Kayla Harris at directly. For more information about the ACT, please contact ACT at 319.337.1028 or e-mail


First ASMS Sophomore to Earn Perfect Score on ACT

MOBILE, ALABAMA – The Alabama School of Mathematics and Science (ASMS) has had students score a perfect 36 on their ACTs in recent years, but none as young as Cary Xiao from Tuscaloosa County.  Xiao is a sophomore at ASMS, who earned an ACT composite score of 36 in December, 2018.

Only around two-tenths of 1 percent of students who take the ACT earn a top score. In the U.S. high school graduating class of 2018, only 2,760 out of more than 2 million graduates who took the ACT earned a top composite score of 36.

With a small number of students who actually make a perfect score, Xiao knew he had to be persistent if he wanted to achieve a 36.

“I took the ACT four times,” Xiao says. “The first time I took it was in October of 2017, where I made a 34 as a freshman. The other three tests I’ve taken happened in September with a 35, October with another 35, and, of course, in December with a 36.”

The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science, each scored on a scale of 1–36. A student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores. The score for ACT’s optional writing test is reported separately and is not included within the ACT composite score.

In a letter to the student recognizing this exceptional achievement, ACT CEO Marten Roorda stated, “Your achievement on the ACT is significant and rare. Your exceptional scores will provide any college or university with ample evidence of your readiness for the academic rigors that lie ahead.”

Xiao was over-joyed when he found out he had finally achieved his perfect score.

“I was actually in my school’s cafeteria eating breakfast when I was checking the results of the ACT the morning they came in,” Xiao says. “I would always gather the willpower to see my score for about two minutes before putting in the password required to check your scores, so when I saw the 36 on my screen, I jumped up out of my chair in the middle of the cafeteria out of joy. I couldn’t stop shaking for about 30 minutes and dropped the bagel I was eating twice!”

The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement exam that measures what students have learned in school. Students who earn a 36 composite score have likely mastered all of the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in first-year college courses in the core subject areas.

Xiao has been preparing for the ACT extensively over the last two years, determined to make a 36.

I’ve always prepared significantly more than most sane people would. For the first test I took as a freshman, I took a practice test every Sunday morning for ten weeks leading up to the test, using the time that many people go to church in order to get a better score. I wouldn’t check my answers until the evening to brace myself for the results, and every day afterwards I would check a section for the reason I missed each of my incorrect answers and write down how I could improve later. With all that practice, I was able to get the 34 as a freshman. I took a rest for the rest of the school year, but started doing the same thing from the start of summer up until the Sunday morning a week after the summer test. I missed a total of two tests out of those nearly 6 months, if you count official tests as a test in that metric. Because of the policies at ASMS, I also started taking two practice tests on reading (my worst subject) on top of everything else at the start of October, grading those tests right after taking them. In total, I did more than 35 practice tests over my freshman and sophomore years. I also took three ACT boot camps: one as a 7th grader in a small private school in Tuscaloosa, the same one as a 9th grader, and a camp at ASMS in August.

Another current student who scored a perfect 36 is ASMS Senior, Gwynneth McCallister!

ASMS is a public residential high school for sophomores, juniors, and seniors seeking advanced studies in math, science, and the humanities. Tuition, room, and board are free.

Students interested in the 2019-2020 school year can apply now. Any current Alabama 9th or 10th grader can apply for free online at Application deadline is February 14, 2019. Learn more about the school at

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