O’Fallon teen got a perfect ACT score just a few months after suffering a concussion

Just a few months before Stephen Monson got a perfect score on the ACT, he said he remembers having trouble playing Monopoly with his mom because he couldn’t do the math in his head.

It was one of the symptoms of the severe concussion he got in a kickball game this year. He was recovering from April to July.

Stephen said math usually comes easy to him. He spent more time practicing for the ACT’s English section before he scored a perfect 36 in September.

“You take for granted the way that you think and the way that your brain operates because you never know how other people’s brains operate,” he said. “... But when you get a concussion, especially a severe one, it really throws you back to your elementary levels.”

The 17-year-old is a senior at O’Fallon Township High School. He has plans to study to become a brain surgeon.

After his concussion, Stephen said he saw firsthand how a brain injury can change a person’s life.

He recently sat down with the Belleville News-Democrat to talk about the ACT and to share his advice for students who will take it in the future.

Q: What would you say was the hardest part of the test?

A: “The hardest part is definitely trying to stay awake while you take that thing. I have a really hard time reading for long periods of time because I’m a number guy. I mean, I’ll do math all day long, but reading those passages for two, three and a half hours, however long it is, really beats me down. So trying to stay awake and stay attentive and not start re-reading those lines is the hard part.”

Q: How do you think you were able to get a perfect ACT score? What prepared you for it?

A: “For me, it was taking lots of practice tests and being able to get myself mentally prepared to go through all of those tests and be able to read that much.”

Q: What’s your advice for people who haven’t taken this test yet?

A: “My best advice would be: realize that the ACT is extremely dependent on time and that you need to make sure that before you go into the test, you know what it looks like, and you know how to time yourself. For that, I would recommend heavily take those practice tests. Realize what you’re going to be getting yourself into on test day.

“And in addition to that, if you end up with extra time, make sure that you’re going over and reading over all your responses. Maybe while you’re going through, you feel funny about a question. You don’t know if you got it right. Put an asterisk next to it, so that when you’re going through, if you have extra time, you know specifically which ones are more likely to be wrong than others.

“You’ll see other kids, when they’re done with the test, sit their head down and take a break. But realize that this is your two and a half, three hours that are going to determine the rest of your life, college-wise, so take that time and just be willing push yourself through that little bit to go through that test and make sure you got what you needed to get right.”

Q: Did you also take the SAT? What’s the difference between the tests?

A: “For the English sections, the ACT is a lot more comprehension; you need to understand the plot whereas the SAT is almost exclusively, ‘What does this little text or blurb say, and what does it mean?’ And after that it’s going to say, ‘Point to your piece of evidence.’ So it’s a lot more scientific and methodical in its approach.

“And then for the math, the an easier type of math. The SAT is a lot more mathematical comprehension, so you being able to do the algebra as the skill.”

Q: Which one did you prefer?

A: “For the math sections, I always found the SAT sections more enjoyable because I like more of that algebra-based (math). ... But the English sections, I like the comprehension better because you don’t really need to sit down and really delve through the information. As long as you read and you’re able to let it sit with you, it’s a lot easier to take, at least I thought.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes