For Hamza Zahurullah, when it came to taking his ACT tests, the third time was most definitely the charm.
The saying is a tired cliché, but Hamza’s perfect composite score of 36 – a ranking achieved by less than 1 percent of the nearly 2 million test takers each year – is most certainly not.
Hamza, a 17-year-old senior at Auburn High School in Rockford, IL, first sat for the exam last spring as part of his school requirement. He scored a 34 that time around.
“After I got that score I was really excited for my prospects,” he said.
Determined to retake the test and boost his score to a 35, Hamza dedicated many of the following summer months to studying.
“After getting a 34 I told myself that even if I can’t get to a 35 I had to take it one more time just to prove to myself, for my own sake, that the 34 wasn’t a fluke,” he said.
However, even with concentrated preparation, he faltered somewhat during his second try in August, earning a 33. Despite his intentions going into the second exam and his drop in score, Hamza wasn’t ready to give up and decided to try again, devoting the month of September to study time in order to be ready to retest in October.
But this time, he had a little help.
“My parents and I put in a lot of time studying,” Hamza said. “Every night in September my dad and I always took at least an hour to an hour and a half completing practice questions in English and math. It definitely wasn’t fun when I was doing it, but now that I have the results to show for it I’m happy I put in the time.”
Hamza’s father Fazlur said he and his wife Sameena were more than willing to put in the time for their son if it meant helping him to reach his goals. In fact, Fazlur said they often had different roles to play in keeping Hamza motivated and moving forward.
“These tests make a big impact (on your future studies) so we decided to invest the time with him to make sure he was organized and making the most of his study time,” Fazlur said. “Sometimes we were his cheerleaders, and sometimes we had to be harsh and lay down the law.”
The plan worked, and when Hamza received his perfect score he could finally breathe a sigh of relief. He admitted he was never certain of earning a 36.
“It was a shock to see that score,” he said. “In a way I was prepared to get that score, but going into the third test I was more stressed than I had been in the other exams so I felt my chances were worse.”
Now, armed with stellar ACT marks – 36 in English, reading, science and writing and a 34 in math – and top-notch grades in high school – he holds a 4.4 grade point average and is ranked fifth out of his class of 301 – Hamza is focused on applying to a myriad of universities including Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, Brown, Northwestern and other top-tier and Ivy League institutions.
“I’m not sure yet where I will go, but any one of these schools I’d be happy to attend,” he said.
As for what field of study he plans to pursue, Hamza said he’d like to explore his life-long love of film.
“Movies are always something I’ve been fascinated with since I was a child,” he said. “I like to analyze films, and I’m interested in pop culture. It’s fun to know about different actors and different quirks involved in moviemaking.”
Hamza said his ultimate career goal, should he achieve it, would have him heading west.
“I hope to combine film study with business or economics,” he said, adding, “I would love to work at the corporate level of a major Hollywood film studio.”