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When Joel Knighton settles down for four hours of nightly homework, he takes a swig of Mountain Dew and relaxes to the soothing, melodic recorded sounds of his favorite harpist.
What else would you expect from a caffeine-addicted, spelling bee-conquering, violin-playing, science fair-winning, French-speaking teenager who just happened to earn perfect scores on two college entrance exams?
It's just business as usual for Knighton, a humble wunderkind who, as an elementary school student, slid science fiction novels out of his desk to pass the time when he finished assignments.
"He just does well in everything," Tracy Knighton said of her son, "but he doesn't want to tell anybody."
The Coon Rapids High School senior posted perfect scores on the ACT and SAT, a rare feat: Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of test-takers do either.
The chances of acing both are so slim that Knighton, a math whiz, has yet to calculate the odds.
Knighton is one of only 24 high school seniors to earn the top ACT score in Minnesota, and one of only five statewide to do so on the SAT.
At least two other students, one in Overland Park, Kan., and one in Franklin, Tenn., have earned perfect scores on both tests this year, but it remains a long, long, long shot.
Didn't break a sweat
In an age when more and more students immerse themselves in test prep books and hire tutors to boost their scores, Knighton didn't study for the ACT or SAT, then aced both on his first try. His mother said he never even glanced at a practice exam.
"When I walked out, I felt like I did pretty well," he said.
Knighton credits teachers, past and present, and his parents, Tracy and Craig, with giving him freedom to pursue his interests.
A class schedule of college English, Advanced Placement government, Advanced Placement French 5, honors physics and honors independent science research consumes Knighton's days.
Though Knighton is an academic standout, the Coon Rapids High assistant principal assigned to him barely knew his name before this year.
"I deal with a lot of discipline problems and I don't see the kid," said assistant principal Terry Johnson.
A National Merit semifinalist ranked first in his class, Knighton has applied to Harvard, Cal Tech and Reed College in Portland, Ore., along with area favorites Carleton College, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wants to work as a math professor after earning a doctorate.
When Knighton received word of his SAT score last week, his parents suggested celebrating, something he'd balked at after his ACT scores arrived. This time the family did mark the occasion: The 18-year-old opted for dinner at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Roseville.
"He will not make a big deal out of it at all," his mother said. "He's a good kid."
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491