Ask Hong Hsu whether he’s proud that his daughter, Cecilia, was the only Howard County student this year to score a perfect 2,400 on the SAT, he’ll laugh and tell you: “It’s weird.”
Weird, he explains, not because his daughter hasn’t worked hard for it. Over the years, the Centennial High School junior has earned accolades in everything from singing and history to calculus and poetry.
What’s odd about her perfect score, Hsu explains, is that his only child grew up speaking not English but Chinese, the native language he and his wife still speak at home.
“We are very strong in the math part,” says Hsu of himself and his wife, Liqun Qi, both of whom work in computer science. “But not the English part. That was all herself, her intellectual talent. It shows English is something you can conquer.”
Nobody who knows Cecilia could be shocked by her ability to conquer English or anything else she puts her mind to, including the SAT. After all, the first time she took the test she scored 2,260, including a perfect 800 on the math portion.
And that was in seventh grade.
Cecilia’s preparation for her second SAT began with weekly practice exams starting in September, a couple of months before she took the exam. She also saw a tutor, first weekly and then twice a week as the test neared.
What she says also helped her do well, in a counterintuitive way, was how incredibly busy she was the week before the test practicing for Centennial’s annual Winter Spectacular, a music show in which she sang. “I thought I was going to be like totally off and distracted for the SAT,” she says. “But it actually put me in a good mood. I was more calm about the test.”
To put her achievement in perspective, not only was Cecilia the only Howard County student to ace the test this year, she was just the third in the past three years. Of the nearly 50,000 Maryland students who took the SAT, only 12 scored 2,400.
Cecilia also might just be the last Howard County student to score 2,400. Beginning next spring, the exam will revert to the original 1,600-point scale used until 2005.
Cecilia, 16, celebrated her achievement as many teenage girls might. First, she woke her parents to give them the good news. “And then I blasted through Taylor Swift’s 1989 album,” she recalls. “I’m a big Taylor Swift fan.”
Neither Cecilia nor her parents have thought much about which college she will attend or what her major will be. In a perfect world, Cecilia says, she’d major in her first love: music performance. But the kid with the perfect SAT scores has no illusions about making a living as a singer.
“I realize I probably shouldn’t go with that,” she says. “If I did, I’d probably end up homeless or something.”
Now that would be weird.