JCA student aces ACT test
By Tony Graf email@example.com May 9, 2012 10:08PM
Joliet Catholic Academy junior Michael Bannon scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 11, 2012 10:19AM
JOLIET — Michael Bannon stands at an academic peak, a height reached by only a small fraction of 1 percent of all ACT test takers.
Bannon, a junior at Joliet Catholic Academy, scored a 36 this spring, the highest score possible on the national college admissions exam.
To place this in perspective, consider last year’s results: More than 1.6 million high school students took the ACT exam and graduated in 2011, and only 704 received a top score of 36, according to ACT, based in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Typically, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all test takers earn that score,” ACT spokesman Ed Colby said Wednesday. “It’s a very strong achievement.”
Bannon took the test April 14 at the high school, at Larkin and Ingalls avenues in Joliet. He was notified of his top score April 30 — one day before his 17th birthday.
“That was a pretty good birthday present,” Bannon said.
Michael is the son of Joseph and Karen Bannon of Joliet.
Top of the arc
The 36 score is the top of the arc for Bannon. Last fall, he scored a 34 on a practice test at JCA, and earlier this year he scored a 35 at the end of an ACT preparation course.
As the real test date neared, and the pressure increased, Bannon only got better. In April, when the score counted, he achieved his best score yet: a composite 36 score and a 36 on each of the four parts of the test: reading, English, math and science.
“What a phenomenal achievement for Michael,” said Jeffrey Budz, principal and chief executive officer at JCA. “You rarely hear about perfect scores of 36 all across the board, but it is a testament to how hard he has worked in the classroom. It’s a tremendous tribute and a tremendous honor for such a great kid.”
“I’ve had good teachers all up and down,” Bannon said of his time at JCA.
Bannon’s favorite subject is math, and he is considering business or accounting as his potential college major in the future.
He tries to take as many advanced placement classes as possible at JCA. He took two this year — U.S. history and European history — and has signed up for four during his upcoming senior year.
Bannon credits math teachers Frank Golf and Jan Brill.
“They’re different styles of teachers, so I’ve learned a lot from both of them,” he said.
Bannon also credits English teachers Scott Allgood, Christine Scheibe and Betsy Quas. He credits Allgood for getting him into the advanced placement history classes.
“He’s the one who really pushed me to take AP Euro. And I’m definitely glad I did that, because it’s been fun. History’s another one of my favorite subjects,” Bannon said.
Bannon believes that his advanced placement classes — which allows students a chance to earn college credit in high school —helped him on the ACT, even though history is not one of the four subjects.
“With the AP classes, you’re doing so much reading and writing,” he said. “It helps with the English section and reading section, just getting better at those skills.”
Bannon, who also went to St. Mary Nativity School in Joliet, credits his parents for their role in his academic life.
“They’ve always been very supportive,” he said. “They’ve always helped me with what I need to succeed.”
Bannon’s parents paid for an ACT preparation course at Student Formation in Joliet, with instructor Dave Laib.
Bannon went through a 10-week course, every Saturday from January to March. For the first eight weeks, Bannon went through two weeks with each of the four test sections.
“We just would take practice tests and go through how the test is structured and how much time you should spend on each question,” Bannon said.
JCA offers its own ACT prep course, or students can take private courses. A very high percentage of students at the school take some kind of course to prepare for the test, spokesman Bill Scheibe said.
In fact, the percentage of JCA students taking the ACT is in the high 90th percentile, he said.
When test day arrived, Bannon was focused and well-rested.
“It helps a lot that we took the test at the end of spring break — because that Saturday, we’d been off all the week beforehand,” he said. “So I wasn’t thinking about any other homework from school or anything.”
The ACT test is mostly multiple choice, with a writing portion at the end. It requires academic knowledge, to be certain, but it also requires time management and other practical test-taking skills.
Bannon brought all these skills to JCA on April 14 — skills refined by 10 weeks of preparation, years of studying in the classroom and years of support from his parents.
Then this support system had to step back. Bannon was alone with his test. Alone, he ascended to the peak.