Jesuit High junior takes rare perfect ACT score in stride

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Varun Sah, a junior at Jesuit High School, scored a perfect 36 on his ACT college entrance exam.Unless a friend or fellow student asks how you performed on a college entrance exams, it’s just not the type of thing that flows easily into casual conversation — particularly if the score you receive is a perfect one.

Fortunately for Varun Sah, a Jesuit High School junior who scored a flawless 36 on his American College Testing, or ACT, exam in March, it wasn’t praise and accolades that motivated his test preparation.

“I don’t think I told anyone,” the Bethany resident says of checking his score in the presence of his dad, Anurag. “I think only a few people knew I took it in the first place. A few people asked. It was only when the school found out from ACT that people figured it out.”

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, the soft spoken, unassuming 16-year-old is taking any special attention generated by the unique accomplishment in stride.

“I was kind of surprised,” he says. “I didn’t really expect a 36. I felt good leaving the testing room. When the (ACT website) said it was a 36, I thought I will believe them on that one. I’m not complaining.”

A national college admissions examination that measures what a high school student has absorbed, the ACT consists of subject area tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1-36, with a student’s composite score the average of the four test scores, which all U.S. colleges and universities accept as admissions TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Varun Sah, a junior at Jesuit High School, enjoys a break by the quad tower near the school's entrance off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

The actual number of students earning a 36 score on the ACT varies from test to test, but less than one-10th of 1 percent of students in a given graduating class achieve the top score, according to American College Testing Inc. statistics. Among ACT-tested U.S. high school graduates in the class of 2012, only 781 out of more than 1.66 million students earned a composite score of 36.

“To score a 36 is awe-inspiring, especially as we realize that this is an achievement reached by fewer than one-10th of one percent of all ACT-takers,” says Paul Hogan, Jesuit High School principal. “Varun has been an academic star ever since he began with us as a freshman. What a wonderful accomplishment by an amazing young man.”

Varun, who attended Stoller Middle School and Findley Elementary School, is captain of the Jesuit science bowl team whivh placed third in the largest regional competition in the nation, and was an honors recipient in the 2012 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad. When he took his SAT college admissions test in December, he received a composite score of 2,330 out of a possible 2,400. Satisfied with the preparation he put into the ACT test early this year, Varun still didn’t expect perfection.

“I did a few practice tests ahead of time,” he says. “I did decently well, but I didn’t get any 36’s. I just wanted to do as well as I could.”

As word got out about his ACT score, accolades began to trickle down, beginning with his academic mentors.

“I got a lot of congratulations from teachers. They all got told,” he says of the news. “And I kind of expected it from my peers once they found out.

Among his varied academic and extracurricular adventures, Varun has held summer research internships at Oregon Health Sciences University and Intel, serves as a student leader of the Jesuit math club and as captain of the school’s varsity chess team. He hasn’t nailed down specific plans for an area of study in college, but Varun plans to major in computer science, engineering or mathematics.

Naming math as his favorite subject, he admits the discipline only comes “somewhat” naturally to him.

“Now, I’m only taking number theory,” he says. “I like most of my classes — all of them, actually. I prefer science and math, I guess.”

He may have the academic arsenal to pick any institution of higher learning he chooses, but at the moment Varun — who estimates spending at least two hours per evening on homework — isn’t putting any pressure on himself to plan his post-high school career.

“I don’t know yet,” he admits. “I just want to get in college at this point.”

While it’s not surprising, his father, Anurag, and mother, Suneeta, who both work at Intel, were “pretty happy” about their son’s promising test score. Varun even attracted praise from his younger brother, Ashwin, an eighth-grader in the Stoller Middle School Summa program.

“He said, ‘Good job,’” Varun recalls, quickly deflecting the notion of any jealousy on his brother’s part. “He’s pretty smart, too.”

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