Senior is top not only in Carson, but across the nation | NevadaAppeal.com

Senior is top not only in Carson, but across the nation

Joanna Welch Appeal Staff Writer

Nick Johnson, an unassuming 17-year-old Carson High School senior, prefers to downplay his academic prowess which has propelled him into the 99th percentile of the nation’s college-bound students.

Johnson took the usual steps when taking the Scholastic Assessment Test in early October. He said he went to bed relatively early the night before the exam, but not too early.

He avoided last minute studying and tried to relate to those who prepared the exam as he worked his way through the questions.

“I tried to think about how the person writing the test thinks,” he said. “But I tried not to overanalyze the questions, especially on the verbal (test.)”

A little over three weeks later, his penchant for logical thinking and methodical behavior paid off: Johnson scored 1,600 – a perfect score on the SATs.

“It was just a test score. I took the exam like everyone else. It’s just that I happened to score a little higher,” Johnson said. “It was the right test for me. I’m not a genius or anything.”

High school teachers and administrators, however, say the perfect score was something special.

In 24 years of teaching advanced math, like calculus, and computer science, Leisa Findley says she has taught plenty of outstanding students, but Johnson’s score was a first.

Findley described Johnson as bright, extremely thorough and gifted in math and computer programming.

He speaks only when he has something to add or when he catches an error on the chalkboard, she said.

Findley learned of Johnson’s triumph when she overheard him discussing the scores with a friend.

“I though he was pulling the kid’s leg, but when I heard him say it again in a second class I asked to see the (official score) paper and there it was,” she said.

Similarly, Carson High School counselor Tim McCarthy admits that he did a doubletake as he reviewed the test scores.

Johnson’s score was a first in McCarthy’s six years at the school.

“We have students who score 800 in one portion of the exam, but not 1,600,” he said. “It was quite something.”

Johnson’s preference to downplay the test result is typical of a gifted student, Findley said.

“Most of the kids who are really up there (academically) are humble,” she said. “They think there is always someone better, someone who knows more than them.”

The exam is one of two, nationwide tests that college-bound students take.

Students take a three-hour exam and answer 140 questions. It is split into two: math and verbal. Each portion carries a maximum of 800 points.

This fall, 1.2 million seniors took the exam and 730 students achieved a perfect score, according to data compiled by the College Board, the nonprofit group that administers the test.

There is a downside to acing the exam, Johnson said. The pressure is on to get accepted into a good school.

“That’s the worst thing. I’m expected to go to a good school, because if I don’t, everyone will think I’m slacking,” he said.

Johnson’s college aspirations include Berkeley and Stanford, both University of California schools; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the University of Washington.

Computer science will probably be his major.

The arrival of the test score didn’t prompt a celebratory party, but Johnson hoped that scholarships and college offers would be forthcoming, smoothing the way to higher education.

“I thought it meant guaranteed admission, but I found out that’s not the case and that’s kind of disappointing,” he said.