CANTON TWP. — On test day, Canton South High School senior Dinah Ward wakes up about 90 minutes early to squeeze in breakfast — and a few more practice questions.
“You don’t want to be warming up on the first passage of your actual test, you already want to be ready,” said Ward, who also takes a small bag packed with pencils, extra batteries, a drink and granola bar.
She leaves her house “way earlier” than she needs to so she can be settled and ready for when the test begins.
“I like to be able to be completely focused only on the test and nothing else,” she said.
The routine — and all the hours of studying — paid off.
Ward earned a perfect score on the both ACT and SAT college entrance exams.
It’s a feat so rare that veteran local educators can’t remember someone else accomplishing it locally.
Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates fell 10 points shy of perfect on the SAT, and Apple founder Steve Jobs scored only a 32 on the ACT.
There’s no figure available for how many people have scored a perfect score on both the ACT and the SAT but consider this: Only 0.195 percent of the 1.9 million test takers in 2018 scored a perfect 36 on the ACT and only 6.8 percent of the 2.1 billion SAT test takers scored higher than 1400 (a figure on how many scored the perfect 1600 in 2018 wasn’t available).
Canton South High Principal Jeff Moore said what’s even more impressive than Ward’s academic achievement is her personality.
“Even with being so intelligent, she’s one of the nicest, down-to-earth students I’ve met,” he said. “I have nothing but wonderful things to say about her.”
Hoping for Columbia
Like many students, Ward took both tests more than once, hoping to improve her scores and better her chances of being admitted to prestigious Columbia University, where she hopes to study English. She wants to become a book editor and help writers publish their own books.
Ward, who already had scored a 32 on the ACT and a 1470 on the SAT, hired Ryan Sweet as her tutor. Sweet directed Walsh University’s tutoring lab and taught English, math and history for 19 years.
“Math is one of my weaker points because it’s doing algebra and geometry and I haven’t taken (them) for a couple of years because right now I’m taking calculus,” said Ward, who also used the free online resources through Khan Academy and purchased the Barron’s SAT book to study. “Having to review those subjects takes up a lot of time.”
She estimated that she spent three to four hours each week studying leading up to the tests. That was on top of the many activities she’s involved in at Canton South, including serving as president of the National Honor Society, vice president of Tri-M Music Honor Society, a speech and debate member, captain of the Academic Challenge team and a student representative to the school board.
“I had to make it a priority for that month and a half,” she said. “I probably didn’t get as much sleep as I needed to but I think it was definitely worth it. You just have to prioritize and have a lot of time management to get what you want done.”
She received her scores in December.
“I obviously was really happy,” she said. “For me it was relief that I did as much as I could to be a real contender for my colleges.”
The mellow, soft-talking 18-year-old said the news isn’t something she’s widely shared.