‘Mythical beast’ slain: L-Way East pair master ACT test
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com September 14, 2012 3:50PM
Tyler Scaletta, left, and Jimmy von Albade, students at Lincoln-Way East High School, pose with Act items at the school in Frankfort. IL on Wednesday September 12, 2012. They both had perfect 36 ACT scores on the test this year. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:26AM
As high school seniors begin the college application process, they know it is, in part, a numbers game consisting of ACT scores, grade-point averages and class rank.
Two Lincoln-Way East High School seniors have achieved the magic number — 36. That’s the highest possible score on the ACT, and they are hoping it will be their ticket to acceptance at the college of their choice.
Tyler Scaletta, of Frankfort, has his sights set on Northwestern University in Evanston, or the University of Chicago, while his classmate, Jimmy von Albade, of Mokena, hopes to head east, to Columbia University in Manhattan, Boston College, or Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a huge factor in college admissions,” Scaletta said of the ACT score. “And it’s a huge focus around here (at Lincoln-Way).”
“This will open the doors, especially since some of these schools are really competitive,” von Albade said.
The top score also places these young men in an elite group of high school seniors. According to ACT spokesman Ed Colby, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students achieve a 36. Among test-takers in the high school Class of 2011, 704 students of 1.6 million nationwide earned a composite score of 36, he said.
Bringing that closer to home, only 50 other Illinois high school students who took the test at the same time as Scaletta and von Albade got a 36, according to ACT data. Since Lincoln-Way East graduated its first class in 2003, only four other students had perfect ACT scores and one student got a perfect 2,400 on an SAT, another prominent college admissions test.
Scaletta and von Albade said that during their years at Lincoln-Way, teachers often have emphasized test-taking strategies.
Even though he thought he could get a high score, a 36 was not weighing on Scaletta’s mind when he took the ACT.
“People think of it as some mythical beast, but it’s just a test,” he said.
He was out to lunch when his friend suggested checking their ACT scores online. When the “36” popped up, “I ran out and called my dad,” he said.
Scaletta took the test twice because the writing test was not offered the first time, he said. He recommends taking it more than once, because “you get more comfortable with it,” he said.
The ACT consists of tests in English, math, reading and science, with each test scored on a scale of 1 to 36. A student’s composite score is the average of those four. The writing test is optional, and not included in the composite score.
Von Albade took the test four times — scoring a 35 on the previous three tries — trying to boost his writing score, because he plans to major in economics and English (his favorite subject) in college, he said.
“I thought I could do better, but a 36 was not something I was so focused on getting,” he said. “The difference between 35 and 36 is not a big deal. People put too much emphasis on scores.”
But there he was, checking his scores shortly after midnight — the time they were posted online.
Being an avid reader helped him on the test, he said, but he also advises future test-takers to “watch your time” and “skip over the ones you’re not sure about.”
“My parents are proud of me, but I think they would have settled for a son with a 35,” said von Albade, who also ranks eighth in his 2013 class of 596 students.
For Scaletta — 39th in his class — it is proof of what he can accomplish once he “hunkered down.”
“I became a better student out of necessity, for college and my own sanity,” he said, after realizing as a freshman that he could not “skate” through high school on prior knowledge.
He’s also having a bit of fun with his recent achievement and with classmate Konrad Goc, who ranks first in the class.
“I’m definitely sticking it to him. He may be No. 1, but I have a 36 on the ACT,” Scaletta said. “It’s all in fun.”
The two top scorers share a few other academic traits — both are National Merit Scholarship semifinalists and are taking a full load of advanced placement classes — calculus, physics, English literature and computer science.
Scaletta, also captain of East’s varsity tennis team, plans to major in biology and perhaps earn a doctorate in genetics, an interest sparked by his freshman biology teacher, Ross Widinski.
Von Albade, who also enjoys playing guitar and music, said he’s keeping his future options open. But he believes that majoring in English and economics will give him a breadth of skills to be used in any field.
“It’s more important to be well-rounded, to have skills to market yourself rather than focus on one thing,” he said.