When Sophia Marhoul was taking the ACT Exam last year, she sensed that it was going well.

“I felt like I was doing well, I felt like I knew what I was doing,” Marhoul recalled recently.

How well did it go?

Well, the 17-year Riverside-Brookfield High School senior got the highest composite score on the ACT than a person can get. She scored a perfect 36 composite score, but she is the first person to tell you that she has not always been a perfect student.

About two-tenths of 1 percent of those who take the ACT score a 36, said Ed Colby, a spokesman for the ACT. 

Among members of the class of 2018, the last year that ACT has data for, only 290 of the 62,626 students in Illinois who took the ACT scored a 36. Nationwide 3,741 students out of 1.9 million scored a 36.

Marhoul, a Riverside resident, was the first RBHS student to get a 36 on the ACT since Marly Santora did so in 2015. Santora, a one-time grade school spelling bee phenom from North Riverside, is now a student at the University of Chicago majoring in art history and minoring in linguistics.

Marhoul was startled when she and saw her ACT score.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s better than I expected it be,'” Marhoul said. “I was kind of surprised that I had done quite as well, because when I had done the practice tests I had been like 33 or 34.”

She took the SAT about six weeks after taking the ACT, and her composite score on that exam was of 1,560 (780 on both the evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section) showed that her 36 ACT score was no fluke. The maximum possible SAT score is 1,600; a 1,560 is in the 99th percentile.

Marhoul has always tested well and she has sympathy for those who don’t, especially those who suffer from test anxiety. She said she didn’t tell too many people about her 36 on the ACT.

“On one level I am kind of like sort of gleeful and a little bit proud and I kind of want to share the fact that I was happy, but I know that there are so many people who struggle with test anxiety,” Marhoul said. “I’ve told some friends. I didn’t really feel inclined to shout it from the mountaintops.”

Marhoul, who wants to study electrical engineering in college, has not always been a perfect student. She does not have a straight-A average by any means and has struggled at times in certain classes. 

She says she does not rank near the top of her class and that her unweighted grade-point average is in the 3.3 range, though her weighted GPA is 3.924 because of all the Advanced Placement classes she has taken.

“Given the [ACT] score you might expect perfect, and I am a terribly, terribly imperfect human being.” Marhoul said. “I have had alphabet soup grades before.”  

Ironically, she took the ACT at time last year when she says that she was really struggling in school. The 36, and general growth and maturity, helped her pull out of her struggles. She received straight A’s in the first semester this year despite taking four AP classes.

“I was very pleased with myself this semester because for the first time since I was probably 10 years old I managed to get all A’s with one A- minus,” Marhoul said. 

Marhoul applied to five universities, and, so far, she has been accepted to the University of Illinois, Milwaukee School and Engineering and Missouri University of Science and Engineering. 

In addition to reading, math, and science, Marhoul has danced since she was about 7 years old and also takes after-school art classes.

“I am not a gifted dancer by any means,” Marhoul said. “It’s a really wonderful physical activity. It kind of balances the artistic and the more purely physical. I think it’s taught me a lot about how to interact with other people, because it’s is a very group-based thing.”

She enjoys the problem-solving aspect of engineering and wants to use her talents to make the world a better place. 

“I want to make the best of whatever gifts I have been given and do something good for the world,” Marhoul said.