SM Northwest student earns A-plus on ACT
As the saying goes, “Third time’s the charm.”
For Shawnee Mission Northwest senior Nick Leyden, however, two times was all it took to earn a perfect score of 36 on his ACT college entrance exam.
A perfect score is quite an accomplishment as, on average, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of all students in the country achieve it each year, said Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson during last week’s school board meeting.
Leyden said he took the test the first time in his junior year, and his score wasn’t too shabby then, either — he was just shy of a perfect score by two points.
“They wanted me to do the best that I could,” Leyden said of his parents, who at the time asked him if he wanted to take the test again. “And I was like, 'Sure.’”
When he found out in December about his latest ACT score, Leyden said he was “very happy.”
“Because I’d known that I’d made my parents proud, which is like, ‘yay!’’ he said. “So I was just happy.”
Leyden admits he has a tendency toward being a perfectionist, though only in subjects such as math that he really likes. But he doesn’t spend all of his time on classroom-related pursuits. The double bass player has been heavily involved in the school’s orchestra program all four years of high school.
To prepare for the ACT both years, Leyden said he took a lot of practice tests.
“That was mostly what I did because I didn’t really need to review the basic material,” he said. “I just needed to get comfortable enough to not make stupid errors of concentration when I took the test.”
The ACT itself, a largely multiple choice test divided into four subject areas of English, mathematics, reading and science, “isn’t the most exhilarating” experience, Leyden said. “It’s very boring.”
Still, there are some good rules of thumb that other students can use to do well on the test, he said.
“Get sleep the night before, don’t pull an all-nighter,” Leyden said. “Also, put a bit of effort into it. Like, know that it’s important and respect that, but try your best not to freak out and get overwhelmed with it. Like, if you’re trying to take five different (practice) tests every day, it’s not going to work. You’re going to overclock yourself and burn out before the test. You’ve got to take it slightly easy.”
Leyden hasn’t yet nailed down a specific career he wants to pursue — though he said it would likely be something in the math field — and is also still undecided about what college he will ultimately attend next school year. Though a perfect ACT score doesn’t necessarily guarantee acceptance to any particular university, it certainly widens the playing field and makes Leyden a strong candidate for any institution he desires to attend. Leyden said he has already applied and been accepted to Kansas University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But he is also looking at other institutions, including the University of Alaska Anchorage, Northwestern University and Princeton University. He is still in the process of applying to the Ivy League school, for which he will soon be meeting for a sit-down interview with a Princeton graduate as part of the requirements, he said.
“Ironically, if I went to Princeton, it’s one of the cheapest options, because they have an amazing financial plan,” he said.
A perfect ACT score isn’t the only feather in Leyden’s cap this school year, though. He is also one of five students in the Shawnee Mission school district to be named a candidate for the U.S Presidential Scholars Program, one of the highest honors a high school student can receive. Those students chosen to be scholars earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. in June.
“Nick makes a positive impact on our school and we are proud of his accomplishment,” SM Northwest principal Lisa Gruman said.