Taariq Mohammed has never had a problem keeping academics ahead of sports. The captain of River Hill High's state championship wrestling team recently entered a wrestling camp on the morning he was to discover how well he did on the ACT, the college preparatory exam.
Right as camp was set to begin, the rising senior checked the online ACT score report from his cellphone. He discovered he had accomplished a feat rarely performed by ACT exam takers: He had earned the highest possible score of 36.
Later, Taariq received a letter from Jon Whitmore, chief executive officer of ACT Inc., lauding his achievement.
"Your achievement on the ACT is significant and rare," Whitmore wrote in the letter. "On average, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all test takers earn the top score. Among ACT-tested U.S. high school graduates in the class of 2011, only 704 out of more than 1.6 million students earned a composite score of 36."
"I was really happy because I did a lot of preparation," said Taariq, 16, who said he also scored 2350 out of a possible 2400 on the SATs. The achievements are high points of an exceptional high school career for a student who enters his senior year with a slew of local and national scholastic achievements.
In addition to his ACT and SAT scores, Taariq earned national honors this year on the Advanced Placement college-level exams, completing eight AP tests with a score of 5 (on a 5-point grading scale) on each of the exams. As a junior, he scored a 5 on three AP exams.
"I was happy with [my SAT score], but I was trying to get a perfect score," said Taariq, who took the ACT in June. "When I got a perfect score on the ACT, it was really fulfilling."
Lin Storey, an English teacher who has taught at River Hill since the school opened in 1996, has privately tutored students for the SAT and ACT for 25 years. She said that though she has known a few students who have achieved perfect scores on the SAT, she hadn't known any to do so on the ACT until Taariq.
"It's quite a feat," said Storey. "In my estimation, it is much more difficult to achieve a perfect score on the ACT. There are more tests, there's science involved and science practices, different kinds of reading comprehension questions. The essay is a little longer and much more focused."
Taariq is a drummer in the school's percussion and wind ensembles. He is also a member of the school's Human Rights Club, which is studying whether the stigma of having AIDS affects the health care that patients receive.
Taariq said he credits his close-knit family and dedication to Islam for his success inside and outside the classroom.
"I can commit myself to something and commit myself fully," said Taariq. "Right now, we are fasting, and I've been going to mosque every night, and that religious behavior of doing something with dedication applies to a lot of things I do, like academics, with taking a lot of practice tests, or wrestling, with going to the gym, lifting consistently and going to off-season practices."
He said he told only a few people about his perfect score on the ACT, but word about it has spread.
"He's always trying to get better," said River Hill wrestling coach Brandon Lauer, who was among the first people Taariq told. "He works extremely hard and is always tactical and precise with his training."
Taariq, who aspires to become a doctor, is considering the Johns Hopkins University, which would make him the fourth member of his family to attend the school. His brother Saud, 22, recently graduated from the school, and his brother Isa, 20, currently attends. His mother, Nasreen, recently earned a nursing degree from Hopkins.
"My brothers definitely helped me a lot, on practice tests mainly. They guided me; I could not have done that without them," Taariq said.
Storey said that Taariq's perfect score on the ACT is indicative of a stellar rising senior class at River Hill, which Howard County school officials said ranked among the top 10 percent on Newsweek's 2010 list of America's Best High Schools and was named the Best Overall School in Maryland by Businessweek in 2009.
"Within my group of students this year, two other students achieved perfect scores on the SAT," Storey said. "This 11th-grade class at River Hill is unbelievably outstanding."
Storey said Taariq "is a marvelous writer, and part of that is because of his acute and astute perceptions about life. He has an uncanny ability to merge information from a variety of subjects and infuse them into his writing."
Taariq's father, Sayyeed Mohammed, keeps thick folders with documents of all of his sons' accomplishments. Born in Trinidad, he and his wife came to the United States about 22 years ago to give their family more opportunities.
"Our goal was to see if we could try to do something better for our kids," said Sayyeed, an IT manager. "To me, success is providing an opportunity for our kids. For me, I didn't expect it has been a dream come true … a successful career that would enable you to lead your kids, so they can take it the next step further."