10% of one school's seniors ace a portion of the SAT

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SARASOTA - Only one out of every 1,000 students who takes the SAT makes a perfect score on one of its three sections. In this year's senior class at the Out of Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch, the number was 1 in 10.

If you want to ace the SAT, it helps if you start with a bunch of students who are abnormally bright, fiercely motivated, and who go to a school that stresses the importance of the test, and begins preparing them for it in the 8th grade.

“You can improve your score just by learning what kind of questions they ask,” says Payton Henson, who scored the maximum 800 on the reading portion of the test. As in the advanced placement classes, SAT success comes more from meticulous preparation than from natural talent.

“I ran through countless practice tests,” says Alex Ruschau. It “just helped, knowing what to expect.”

ODA encourages students to take the SAT for real numerous times. And students say they got steadily better, until perfection seemed possible.

“I could kind of see it coming after my third test,” Ruschau says.

“It was the sixth time that I actually got the 800,” says Melanie Mason, of her perfect score on the reading section. Note use of “the 800.” The pinnacle. The singular achievement in standardized tests. Except for Kevin Moody.

“I got it 3 times,” he says of the three times he aced the math section. Now instead of getting SAT tutoring, he gives it. “I give people certain tips and tricks,” he says. “Really it's a matter of practicing.”

With an 800 normally so rare, school officials say they still never had reason to suspect anything wrong. “No,” says college counselor Michael Salmon, “because this is such an exceptional class. I don't know how I'm counseling them because they're smarter than me.”

Because colleges weigh the SAT so heavily in the admissions process, the school stresses it, too, giving the PSAT to its 8th graders. Salmon says that just as you don't wake up one morning and run a marathon, you don't just walk into an exam room and expect to score well on the SAT, even if you normally do well in classes.

Mason credits tutoring for helping her improve. So, while five students with perfect scores might be highly unusual, it's not entirely unexpected. “These are kids who are in a ton of my classes, who I know are brilliant,” says Gabriella Costa, who earned her 800 in math, a 150-point rise from her previous best, thanks to intense practice. “So it wasn't all that surprising.”