While high school juniors and seniors have the option of taking the college preparatory ACT test multiple times to improve their score, 17-year-old A.J. DiGiovanni, of Belleville, doesn't need to. The Althoff Catholic High School student earned a perfect score of 36.
"It was definitely a surprise," A.J. said of his top score. "I've been able to do reasonably well on standardized tests, but I wasn't expecting that score."
In preparation, A.J. took practice tests online. He wanted to especially practice the reading and science portions of the test. "The practice tests were much more difficult," A.J. said, than the real ACT test.
He took the exam this spring at Althoff. A.J. said the Althoff community has been "amazingly supportive" since learning he scored a 36 on the ACT.
He said he was expecting other students to be jealous, but that wasn't the case.
"Practically none of them were like that at all -- friends, teachers, and even people I barely talk to were so congratulatory," A.J. said.
On average, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students who take the ACT garner a perfect 36. Among test takers in the high school graduating class of 2013, only 1,162 of 1.8 million students earned a composite score of 36.
The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1-36, 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.
A.J. took the writing portion of the exam, which, he said, "thankfully didn't factor into the composite score." The hardest component of the writing exam, A.J. said, was time management.
This summer, A.J. is enjoying his time off school but is also helping youngsters with their math skills. He has a part-time job at the Mathnasium in O'Fallon.
"It gives me an opportunity to not only apply knowledge in math, but you really learn how to approach the subject from the perspective of the kids you are teaching," he said.
In the fall, A.J. will be a senior at Althoff, where he's on the math team, in the science club and is a member of the National Honor Society. He's also varsity captain of the school's scholar bowl team. He attended St. Mary-St. Augustine Grade School.
A.J. lives in Belleville with his parents Joseph and Aimee DiGiovanni. He has two older brothers and a younger brother.
What does the future hold for A.J.? He wants to go to college, but hasn't decided where yet. He plans to pursue a career in science technology and/or mathematics.
"I'm leaning more and more toward some combination of academic research into biological sciences, neuroscience -- and also depending on whether I find it good fit for me -- biomedical engineering," A.J. said. "The possibilities of the field are just outstanding."