CEDAR FALLS — Leah Fairchild did very well on her first attempt at the ACT college entrance exam.

But the Cedar Falls High School senior wanted to do better when she heard a classmate had earned a composite score of 36 on the tests. “Then my mom said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up,’ and I wanted to do it all the more,” she recalled.

It’s very rare for test-takers to achieve a 36, which is a perfect score. Fairchild accomplished it when she took the exam again in October.

So did Alex Glascock, a 14-year-old Cedar Falls junior who took the ACT at the same time. “I had gotten a 35 last time I took it, and I really wanted to get a 36,” she said.

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Glascock, who skipped some grade levels in early elementary school, first took the tests when she was a 10-year-old seventh-grader and earned a 30. She got the 35 as a freshman.

Fairchild, who is 17, earned a 33 on her first try at the ACT as a junior. The third Cedar Falls student, senior Xiang “Shawn” Zhao, earned a 36 after taking the ACT during the summer. The Courier wrote a story about him last fall.

“I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between a 35 and a 36, but it is a draw for colleges to have a perfect,” said Glascock.

“That 36 is a cool thing to have on your application,” added Fairchild.

The ACT is made up of English, reading, math and science tests plus an optional essay. The girls noted it is possible to miss a couple of questions in some sections of the exam and still achieve the “perfect” score. Both said they got a few answers wrong.

They offered some tips to those who would like to repeat the feat.

“Definitely do study, because it helps, especially essays,” said Glascock. “The first time you take it, don’t stress yourself about it. It’s not going to be as bad as you think.”

The two also noted there are some better ways to go about preparing than they did.

“I was up until 2 a.m. the night before,” said Fairchild. “Which is not good, because you should sleep the night before.”

Procrastination had kept her from preparing, so she stayed awake to take three practice tests.

“I had the SAT (another college entrance exam) the weekend before,” said Glascock. Immediately after completing it, she went out and bought the official ACT study guide to begin preparing for her third try at the tests. She worked on practice tests in the subjects of math and reading, which she had the most difficulty with in the past.

“I knew math was my problem section the first time,” said Fairchild. She worked through the math “more carefully” and did a better job of managing her time while taking the timed test.

Since she’s a senior, Fairchild already has applied to colleges. Her goal is to be accepted into the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. Others she has applied to are the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and California State University at Long Beach.

“So, I’m trying to go out of state and then the University of Iowa would be my backup,” said Fairchild. She wants to study in a field that incorporates dance in some way. Another possibility is to study physical therapy.

Glascock’s “dream college” would either be Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology. However, “I’m going to be 16, so I’m going to stay in-state.” She will attend the University of Iowa and work with a program at the Belin-Blank Center which helps students who start college early.

Glascock plans to study bioengineering and perhaps go on to one of the other colleges for graduate school.

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