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A couple of points off the mark of a perfect ACT score might not seem bad to any student, but for Micah Johnston and Jacob Brown, settling was not an option.
Johnston and Brown, seniors at Hillcrest High, scored 36 on their ACT exams after having come close to the perfect score on previous attempts.
"These kids are incredible," said Susan Malone, Hillcrest High principal. "They shot for the moon, and they made it."
For Johnston, third time was a charm and gradual success led him forward. He earned a 34 the first try, then a 35 before finally securing the perfect score in June.
"It was actually pretty exciting to get a 36," he said.
The ACT, or American College Testing, is a standardized test that high-school students take for college admission. It consists of four timed sections in math, reading, science and English and an optional writing section.
The first couple of attempts, Johnston performed well on certain sections of the test, but he struggled to keep up with the math and science parts.
"I found that consistently doing all of it together was most challenging," Johnston said.
He said he didn't have a particular reason he wanted to take the test again, but as the option was available to him, he wanted to aim higher. He reviewed the topics he struggled on in previous attempts and soaked up as much information as he could.
Although he still has his senior year to complete in high school, Johnston said he feels ready to tackle higher education in the future.
"It kind of makes you feel confident about going to college," he said. "It shows that I can perform well on an assessment."
Johnston and Brown are National Merit Scholar semifinalists due in part to their perfect scores.
Brown took the ACT in the ninth grade; so much time had gone by that he said he didn't really think about it. He missed the perfect mark by two points, scoring 34 the first go.
"When I took it in the ninth grade, I didn't actually finish the math section because I ran out of time," he said.
Still, Malone commended Brown, calling it "rare" that somebody at that age should score so well on the first attempt.
Brown said he didn't stress out too much about prepping for the ACT.
"I didn't really pay attention to it except for taking classes that I knew would help me," he said.
Brown took the test a second time in March. He was on a school trip to Logan when his parents called him on the phone.
"I could hear some papers being ripped," he said.
Brown's parents were opening his ACT result that arrived in the mail. Then their excitement rang out in the background, announcing to him that he had scored 36.
He said he's glad to earn a perfect score, but who he is remains the same.
"I'll do the same things," he said. "It doesn't change anything."
Brown is involved in Future Business Leaders of America. He said he considers going into business, but he also keeps an open mind.
"I really don't have preferences," he said. "I really love all my classes."
He said he gets asked frequently about what school he wants to attend.
"I put a little bit of thought into it, but I haven't come close to it," he said.
Ed Mondragon, FBLA adviser at Hillcrest, has had three years to see Brown progress in the club. He said Brown excels in FBLA state competitions, winning events in the economics category.
"It's pretty impressive because we don't teach an economics class here, but he basically just really researched and learned on his own for the most part," Mondragon said.
For Johnston, he said his path probably lies in the science field, either physics or neuroscience. He's looking into attending the University of Utah.
Jonathan Miller, International Baccalaureate physics teacher at Hillcrest, called Johnston a sociable student and a deep thinker.
"Micah, he's definitely set for success," Miller said. "He has a work ethic that will transfer to university setting well."
Ken Herlin, who teaches IB math, had both students in his standard-level math class last year.
"Both are outstanding math students," he said. "Both of them had A's all four quarters and not just barely squeaking by, but high A's."
He said Johnston displayed diligence and quiet leadership and shows good influence among his peers. Since Johnston took AP calculus his sophomore year, he was able to help out fellow classmates.
"He was already one step ahead of most of the class," Herlin said. "He's really helpful working with other students."
Herlin said he was impressed with Brown's eagerness to learn and ask questions to clarify concepts.
"He's the one student who will ask the questions that everyone else is thinking but uncomfortable asking," Herlin said.
The young men's ability to excel, such as scoring 36 on the ACT, doesn't surprise him, Herlin said, and although he oversaw them in a math class, he foresees numerous possibilities for Johnston and Brown.
"They have high goals, high standards for themselves," he said. "They have a wide range of abilities."