Four Downers Grove South Students Earn Perfect ACT Scores

South High students Emma Chaplin, Marjorie Fera, Ammar Kalimullah and Samarth Malhotra each earned a composite score of 36 on their ACT tests as juniors earlier this year.

Four Downers Grove South students earned perfect scores on their ACT college entrance exams earlier this year.

Seniors Emma Chaplin, Marjorie Fera, Ammar Kalimullah and Samarth Malhotra each received a perfect composite score of 36 on the exam, which is administered to high school juniors nationwide.

Malhotra earned his score in December 2011, while Chaplin, Kalimullah and Fera earned theirs on the statewide testing day in April.

The ACT is a three hour exam—four with the ACT Writing Test—that covers English, Math, Reading and Science. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of students who take the exam—about 1.6 million each year—earn perfect scores, according to Community High School District 99 officials.

“To have not just one student, but four students earn a perfect score on the ACT is incredible and rare,” South High Principal Steve Bild said. “Emma, Marjorie, Ammar and Samarth are hard workers, and each one very deserving of this accomplishment.”

Patch recently sat down with Chaplin, Fera, Kalimullah and Malhotra to talk about their perfect scores, college plans and advice for future test-takers.

Emma Chaplin

Age: 17

DGS Activities: Treasurer for student council, president of senior class board, editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, freshman mentor, National Honor Society member, plays bass in the school orchestra, National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

Number of ACTs taken: 2

Preparation: None

Reaction to earning a perfect score: "I had just taken my AP Psychology exam, which I was nervous about, so I actually wasn't sure if I did well on my ACT," Chaplin said. "I got a good score the first time I took the test, so I thought there was a chance I could get a 36. It was still surprising, though."

College plans: Hopes to attend Northwestern University, Princeton, Duke or the University of Dallas.

Advice for future test-takers: "I think it helps to take the test more than once," she said. "The more familiar with the test you are, the more comfortable you'll be."

Marjorie Fera

Age: 17

DGS Activities: National Honor Society, plays the trumpet in several DGS bands and serves as a section leader, National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

Number of ACTs taken: 3

Preparation: None

Reaction to earning a perfect score: "I got a 34 on my practice exam and a 34 when I took the test right before the one in April, so I was happy with that," Fera said. "I was obviously shocked when I saw that I actually got a perfect score."

College plans: Hopes to attend the University of Notre Dame, Yale or Duke.

Advice for future test-takers: "Eat breakfast and drink some coffee," she said. "People underestimate how important breakfast can be when you're taking a long test like the ACT."

Ammar Kalimullah

Age: 17

DGS Activities: Vice president of the National Honor Society, peer leader, tutoring, speech team (was a top 60 speaker at the national speech competition last year), National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

Number of ACTs taken: 2

Preparation: "I bought a book, but I honestly didn't study too much," he said.

Reaction to earning a perfect score: "I definitely didn't expect it," Kalimullah said of earning a 36. "It was exciting, knowing it could possibly open up more opportunities for colleges and scholarships."

College plans: Hopes to attend the University of Chicago or Columbia, possibly to study economics.

Advice for future test-takers: "Just be relaxed," he said. "At the end of the day, it's just a test. It's important, but it's not the end of the world if you don't get a perfect score."

Samarth Malhotra

Age: 17

DGS Activities: President of the state chapter of DECA, an organization that prepares leaders and entrepreneurs for careers and education in marketing, finance and other business areas; president of the National Honor Society; member of the math and chess clubs; three-year tennis player; freshman mentor, National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

Number of ACTs taken: 3

Preparation: In Malhotra's case, practice really did make perfect: he took 21 practice exams before earning a 36 on the real ACT in December 2011. 

"I actually studied all summer last year, probably about two or three hours each day," Malhotra said. "The practice absolutely paid off in the end. I wouldn't do it any different."

Reaction to earning a perfect score: "My goal was a 34, so I was shocked when I got a 36," he said. "My parents went crazy."

College plans: Hopes to attend Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania or Princeton to study economics, finance or accounting.

Advice for future test-takers: "I think anyone can get a 36 if they're willing to put in the work," he said. "What helped me was to be intimately familiar with each part of the ACT, and to relax and not feel too much pressure. If you can visualize success, you can reach it."

Looking for more District 99 stories?

  • Share Your Downers Grove Homecoming Photos on Patch
  • 12 District 99 Students Named National Merit Semifinalists
  • Downers Grove North Senior Named National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar
  • Downers Grove Commissioners Serve as 'Alumni Ambassadors' to District 99 Education Foundation

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From Darien or Woodridge? We've got you covered:

Susan Carroll October 10, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Good job, DGS students (and teachers and parents!)
michael johnson October 11, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Davey Lopes October 11, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Very nice.


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