These high school students not satisfied with average

Matthew Neeley is proud to share his Dec. 16 birthday with Beethoven.

This teen from Idaho looks up to the 18th century composer - one of the greatest musicians in history.Like Beethoven, Matthew is not satisfied with being average. He hopes to become the best at whatever he chooses to do in life.

So far, he is right on track.

Matthew, the son of Pat and Linda Neeley and a member of the Idaho Falls 31st Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Central Stake, is the only LDS graduating high school student, identified by the Church News, to have received a perfect score on both the American College Test (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The standardized tests are required for admittance to universities and colleges across the country. At least 11 other Church members received a perfect score on either the ACT or SAT.

Ford Stevenson, associate dean of BYU Admissions and Records, called perfect ACT and SAT scores "somewhat of a rarity," and noted that it is exciting to see so many Church members excel on these standardized tests.

Out of the 1.6 million high school students who take the ACT every year an average of about 75 - or one in 20,000 - receive a perfect 36 score, said Kelley Hayden, director of media relations for ACT Inc. About 1.8 million high school students take the SAT each year. In the 1996-97 testing year (the year that Matthew took the SAT) only 453 earned perfect 1600 scores, said Kevin Gonzalez, of Educational Testing Service media relations.

Brother Stevenson said there was a time not long ago when no BYU applicants received perfect scores. This year, he noted, a larger group of students with perfect ACT or SAT scores applied to BYU than in any other year.

Matthew said he studies a lot - but not more than most of his friends. His secret is making the most of his study time. "I try to understand the concepts behind things," he explained. "So even if I don't remember the facts, I can reason my way through on a test."

He added that if he gains an understanding of a topic early then "when it comes around to reviewing for the test, it is really reviewing."

This year he graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and at least 15 semester hours of college credit, after passing advanced placement tests in chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics and biology.

While in high school, Matthew served as first assistant in his priests quorum and in a stake calling as one of two youth conference chairmen.

He also plays the piano and alto saxophone and participated in his high school symphonic and jazz bands.

But the best part of Matthew, according to his mother, is that he is a nice guy who is very grounded.

"The thing I always try to remember is that getting these perfect scores is great," he said. "But standardized test are not an exact measure of intelligence. I see people who have a lot of great ability that you cannot measure in a test like that. Maybe these people do not get as good scores, but they are not less intelligent."

Other Church members, identified by the Church News, who received perfect scores on either the ACT or SAT tests include:

  • Jedediah Brinton, Highland Ward, Mesa Arizona Mountain View Stake; son of Eliot and Bethany Brinton. His perfect score on the SAT test, Jedediah said, was just one way he is following in his older sister's footsteps. "She was a National Merit Scholar and I am too," he explained. He said his biggest advantage on the test was his love of reading. "I have always enjoyed reading and have always done a lot of it," he said. He plans to attend BYU for a year and then go on a mission.
  • Jonathan Chan, Schenectady Ward, Albany New York Stake; son of David and Stella Chan. Besides being an excellent student who received a perfect score on the SAT, Jonathan also enjoys playing the saxophone and piano and composing music. Next year he will attend BYU where he plans to major in computer science and minor in music. He also hopes to study English, including writing and poetry, and is planning to serve a mission. He thinks his greatest advantage in the college admittance process came because he just portrayed himself as he was in essays.
  • Joseph Cooper, Vermont 2nd Ward, Orem Utah East Stake; son of Brian and Janet Cooper. To achieve a perfect score, Joseph had to take the ACT three times. "It would have never crossed my mind to take it again," said his mother, explaining that he did extremely well on his first two attempts. "But he took it again knowing that he could do better and he did." Joseph said next year he plans to live at home, save money for a mission and attend BYU, where he will major in computer science. He selected BYU over other schools in the country because he was impressed that BYU started its recruiting meetings he attended with prayer.
  • Carly R. Davis, Peavine Mountain Ward, Reno Nevada North Stake; daughter of Keith and Lori Davis. Carly took the ACT test four times to achieve her perfect score. From her experience she has this advice for other high school students: "If you are not happy with your score the first time, take it again. I was really happy that I kept trying." Carly said she never questioned where she would attend college. She has always dreamed of going to BYU, she explained, where she plans to major in microbiology.
  • Brigham R. Frandsen, La Canada 1st Ward, La Crescenta California Stake; son of Russell M. and Christie Frandsen. Brigham, who is planning to attend BYU as a physics major for a year before serving a mission, said he was following the academic path of his three older sisters when he began preparing for the ACT. The perfect score was the result, he said, of a "habit of studying and reading early."
  • Benjamin C. Jones, Lindsay Ward, Mesa Arizona Red Mountain Stake; son of Clifford and Sharon Jones. Benjamin is planning to leave in mid-August on a mission. When he returns he plans to attend the University of Arizona - one of only a few schools that offer his selection of optical engineering as a major. Because of his perfect score on the SAT, Benjamin said other students are constantly asking him the secret to his success. "I know these tests are important," he said, "but, most of all, relax. If you are not worrying about it, you can worry about other things that are more important."
  • David Ketcheson, Ventura Ward, Albuquerque New Mexico East Stake; son of Roger and Linda Ketcheson. David expected to do well on the SAT test - but was delighted when his score was perfect. He took the PSAT - a test similar to the SAT - twice, missing only one question each time. David, who was accepted to both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Technical Institute, has decided to attend BYU. After growing up in Orem, Utah, David said BYU "feels like home to me." David also has plans to serve a mission.
  • Lindsay Leininger, Windsor Hills Ward, Ogden Utah Burch Creek Stake, daughter of R. Gregory and Jackie Leininger. When Linsday received her ACT score she thought they hadn't marked her total. "It didn't hit me that I had received a perfect score for a couple of minutes," she said. "I had no idea that I could do that." Lindsay, who plans to attend BYU as an English major, said learning has always been an important part of her family. "It is not something that is pressured, but viewed as a part of life that is exciting and fun," she said.
  • Taina Matheson, West Jordan 14th Ward, West Jordan Utah Stake; daughter of Philip and Jolene Matheson. Taina plans to attend BYU next year, but has not decided on a major. Taina said she did not study for the ACT - but just has a natural talent for taking tests. The advice she offers others preparing for college and taking standardized tests is "not to panic."
  • Charlotte Pound, Sparks 8th Ward, Sparks Nevada Stake, daughter of Brenda and Wesley Pound. Before taking the SAT test, Charlotte read information about it. However, she said the biggest reason for her success was "hard work and a lot of luck." Next year, she plans to attend Utah State University in Logan, where she is looking forward to living near her grandparents.
  • Jason Walther, Anchorage 12th Ward, Anchorage Alaska North Stake, son of Bryon and Lori Walther. Jason plans to attend Stanford University as a chemical engineering major for one year and then serve a mission. He found it helpful to complete practice tests before taking the SAT, but cautions other teens not to worry too much about their standardized test scores. "It is better to learn real things than techniques for a measuring device, such as a standardized test," he said.

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