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Posted on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Acing the ACT: Huron High School students explain how they did it

By Kyle Feldscher

The average ACT score among high school students who took it last year: 21.1.

But eight Ann Arbor Huron High School students, all in the 2011 graduating class, achieved a rare feat: a perfect score of 36. It's an honor they share with less than one-tenth of 1 percent of test-takers nationwide, according to the American College Testing website.

So how did they do it? It was a combination of smarts and preparation.

The ACT assesses a student's skills in the areas of English, mathematics, reading and science. The test is often used by colleges and universities to determine entry into their institution, and 36 is a perfect score.

Those earning a perfect score at Huron were: Jong Hwan Koo, Pelham Barron, Joshua Cheng, Derek Wu, Sussy Pan, Heemyung Hwang, Joo Young Moon and Philip Tsao.


Acing the ACT is a rare feat.

Koo, who is applying to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other schools, said there's a certain amount of pride in being part of such a select group — along with the surprisingly large amount of students in it at Huron.

“There’s definitely some pride, it is our school,” he said. “Sometimes even if you’re really smart, you don’t do well on tests, I’m just somewhat surprised that so many people did well on that day. It’s amazing that many people in our year got a perfect score.”

Huron Principal Arthur Williams said he's been at Huron for 16 years and remembered just one or two perfect ACT scores in that time.

“It’s a really special class, and for those students, it’s really powerful,” he said. “I’ve been watching the ACT around the country, and when most communities get one perfect score (they’re excited), but to have eight in one place at one time is monumental.”

Many of the students said they didn’t do anything special to prepare for the test, beyond taking a few practice tests or looking over some test prep books.

Cheng, a prospective University of Michigan student, said being familiar with the test before he took it was a big part of his strategy.

“There’s not really a whole lot on the test that’s knowledge-based,” he said. “It’s mostly being familiar with the test and the types of questions and not making mistakes.”

The test was a culmination of about three months of hard work and studying for Pan, who said she took a practice test either online or in a prep book every weekend from Christmas break until the test in March.

All of that preparation helped Pan, who’s hoping to go into international business and study at Michigan or an East Coast university, to walk into the test with a calm confidence.

“I did as much as I could before I took the test,” she said. “Going into it, I was just thinking, ‘I’m going to do however I’m going to do.’”

Hwang — who is hoping to get into MIT — said the high test scores are a reflection of the hard work of the students’ teachers and schools.

“It says a lot about the Ann Arbor environment,” she said. “I’m happy, pleased and excited to be a part of this group that can achieve these kind of things.”

“We’re doing something right,” Pan said of Huron. “I’ve always really liked our class, we’ve got a good mix of bright students that are also open and not just limited to studies.”

Tsao, another potential Wolverine, said he thought he got a little lucky on the test. He thought he did well, but it didn’t feel it would be perfect after he was done.

He said the large group of 36s made him proud of his school.

“I’ve always thought of Huron as one of the better schools in the country,” he said.

Many members of the group said actually applying to the prestigious universities they hope to attend was harder than the ACT. Barron, who plans to apply to Michigan, Yale and Brown, said the process is wearing on him.

“The ACT, it was just once and done,” he said. “The application process is pretty tedious.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at


Kaily D

Wed, Sep 29, 2010 : 8:43 p.m.

John, you got a 36 as well? That's pretty neat. Well, yes and no, these tests are a good litmus pertaining to these students' academic abilities. First of all, each student listed (or unlisted) has displayed exemplary shows of work ethic at my school, so it's not a bad representation. It can be argued, however, that these students had more of a background supporting them than the average student. To that I say you're barking up the wrong tree. Sure, there are certain environments that inhibit studying, but instead of going to ACT or SAT classes, it's just as easy to rent a Princeton Review book from the library. If it's too noisy at home, there are many places to study in Ann Arbor, especially on North Campus. In other words, you can't undermine what these students have done by saying that they had advantages. They do, but so does every student in the public school system. These students, my peers, have shown excellence. Mr. Feldscher, you should have asked them how many times they had taken the test beforehand and whether or not they took classes for the ACT.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Wed, Sep 29, 2010 : 12:40 p.m.

excellent achievement. just so you know... mensa is a collectoin of superior test-takers. tehy could prolly use a few more of you. they do;t recruit, you go find them. mensa-dot-org.


Wed, Sep 29, 2010 : 5:36 a.m.

good stuff josh


Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 10:24 p.m.

John Han also got a 36.


Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 10:10 p.m.

Great job! However, Derek Wu is my friend and told me that he played off the significance of his score during his interview, and I don't see why his opinion wasn't included. A 36 is impressive, but a little realism would be a welcome change from fervent pride in our school, no matter how impressive it is. BobbyJohn, It makes perfect sense that sports articles would get more views than this one. All colleges, even ones with mediocre teams, can make good money off of people who watch football and hockey games.When's the last time you saw a school selling tickets to spectate standardized testing? Getting a 36 is impressive, but I doubt anyone will remember it after graduation. And I'm pretty sure there were more than 8 here at Huron.


Tue, Sep 28, 2010 : 5:36 a.m.

@BobbyJohn: I noticed the same thing. Being Caucasian and having an adopted Asian son, one of the myths I've become hyper aware of is that of the Asian SUPER-GENIUS! (Be it culturally-based or not... read "Yellow" by Frank Wu for more info.) After all, people are people and stereotypes are usually not. But then I see news articles like this, and I'm just left scratching my head. Regardless - WELL DONE to all involved! That is no small feat.


Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 1:49 p.m.

It is no coincidence that 7 of the 8 students have Asian surnames, a culture that, in our country, puts emphasis on academic achievement. Cultures that are not succeeding would do as well if their cultures took pride in academic success. Note how many fewer comments there are than some thing to do with sports. Congratulations to the students and their families.


Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 12:26 p.m.

@ Ed, I completely agree with you. It takes a good amount of intellect to figure the test out. I'm sure he will do well on the tests he takes to move past undergrad in to graduate programs too. I have no doubt all 8 of these kids and even those who may have missed an ace by a few points are intelligent children, and probably got a lot of reinforcement at home along the way. Clearly, their parents have placed a high value on learning. I just have concerns about teaching to things like the MEAP, or when I was in school the CAT, and are you getting a true measure of an individuals intellect and capabilities. The conundrum is this, we could put Mr. Cheng back in lets say his 3rd grade class, if they take the MEAP at that age, and he could ace it while all of his classmates have very low scores. His teacher won't get credit for his ace, but he or she will take all the blame for the overall low score of his class.


Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : noon

Congratulations to all of you. That being said, even Mr. Cheng agrees standardized tests are flawed. Cheng, a prospective University of Michigan student, said being familiar with the test before he took it was a big part of his strategy. Theres not really a whole lot on the test thats knowledge-based, he said. Its mostly being familiar with the test and the types of questions and not making mistakes.


Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

Amazing... nice work students!!!


Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 10:10 a.m.

Excellent work, fine preparation, Congratulations to our fine young citizens.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Sep 27, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

Well done! These students have done great work and I'm sure they had important support from teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, family. I hope that the school district will make a significant effort to understand what went right at Huron. There is more to be learned from this experience than there is from analyzing the "achievement gap" -- study what went right in depth, try to generalize from the information, develop principles that can be applied for other students. Let's not pass this off as some miraculous event and then forget about it as we turn back to collecting data about problems. Successful people find they learn much from their mistakes, but they also study very successful people and organizations and try to replicate those methods and processes.