Union student earns perfect 36 on ACT

Union High School senior Gabriel Jesse stands next to a plaque in the high school hallway displaying the names of students who have earned a score of 30 or higher on the ACT through the years. Jesse earned a perfect score of 36 this past June on the college admission exam, something that is rarely ever done. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

A perfect score.

Union High School senior Gabriel Jesse received a perfect composite score of 36 on the ACT college admission test he took this past June — something that hasn’t been done by a Union student since 2013, according to High School Counselor Amy Kriz.

The average composite score for the ACT in Iowa among 2020 high school graduates was 21.1.

But Jesse is taking it all in stride.

“I haven’t told very many people,” Jesse said. “I felt pretty good [following the test], but I really didn’t think I got a 36 especially since I about ran out of time.”

Jesse previously took the ACT when he was in 8th grade as part of the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS). He received a score of 33 at that time.

In the lead-up to his ACT test date this year, Jesse said he didn’t study too much as he had already been preparing heavily for the SAT college admission test — he took the two different tests about a week apart.

Jesse received a 1510 on the SAT — the highest composite score possible being 1600.

“For about a month I studied for [the SAT]. I took two practice tests in [the week between tests] and I read some articles about common mistakes people make,” Jesse said. “Especially with the time limits you need to practice. I was running out of time on the reading [section]. The other tests I had time to check answers.”

Last school year Jesse attended high school virtually which meant Monday, August 23 was the first time he had seen any of his teachers in person for over a year — many congratulated him, he said, on his score.

“They’re all impressed, yes. One of them gave me something wrapped last week.”

“Gabriel [Jesse] is very talented and definitely has the work ethic that it requires to even have a chance at a 36,” Union High School Mathematics Teacher Justin Parsons said via email.

“I had the opportunity to teach upper level math to [Jesse] and mentor him through AP Calculus where he scored a 5/5. He is very thorough and his attention to detail is unparalleled. I am proud of him for such a monumental accomplishment.”

Jesse’s plans for the future include hopefully attending the University of Northern Iowa and majoring in chemistry or biology. He then would like to head to Iowa State University to attend veterinary school.

“I’d like to come back to this area someday.”

RIght now Jesse is focusing on his senior year — he’s part of FFA, plays clarinet in band, and enjoys reading as much as he can.

And he still finds school challenging.

“I still feel challenged here, yes. I’m taking some challenging classes. I work hard in everything I do.”

The morning of his test date Jesse said he didn’t do anything special or specific that may have led to his outstanding test results, but he did enjoy the breakfast his mother Chris Jesse — a teacher at Central Middle School in Waterloo — made for him.

“I ate a few homemade muffins my mom made. They were chocolate chip.”

Jesse’s math teacher Mr. Parson tried to sum up the enormity of his student’s accomplishment: “It is quite rare that kids score 36. I was trying to compare it to something, and the best I have is that it is about as rare as seeing Haley’s Comet twice in a lifetime.”

In any given year, less than one-half of 1 percent of students taking the ACT college admission test receive a perfect composite score.