Just a few seats apart in the violin section at the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony sit Silas Wallen-Friedman and Julia "Jolie" Berg. Berg admits she doesn't know Wallen-Friedman very well, but the pair has some success in common.

Both high school juniors scored a perfect 36 on their ACT in February. They also play in the Symphony Orchestra, the top section at the Greater Twin Cities Symphony.

Amir Kats has been the art director and conductor of the symphony orchestra for two years and has taught both Berg, an Eden Prairie High School student, and Wallen-Friedman, who attends Edina High.

"They both do extremely well. They're both part of the first-violin section," Kats said. "That is especially hard to get into."

Berg said music has been a key to her success. "I think violin is a good activity for me because it helps with academics, too. In some ways they're kind of related."

Kats agrees. Studies have shown students who study music, regardless of their socio-economic background, do better academically, he said.

A 2001 study found that high school music students scored higher on verbal and math portions of the SAT than those without music or art education. The study was compiled by the Music Educators National Conference from information provided by the College Board in its "Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers."

Different tactics

So, what's the secret to scoring a perfect 36?

Berg and Wallen-Friedman approached the test in different ways.

To prepare, Wallen-Friedman said he took the Ivy Insiders practice test and a few others. Berg took practice tests as well.

However, Berg said her older sister, Jenny, helped her the most. "She's taken the ACT before, so she's been a good role model." Though Jenny didn't quiz her younger sister, Jolie Berg said her sister did let her take all her test-prep materials.

Wallen-Friedman -- who is also a debater and took first place at the Minnesota State High School League Tournament this year -- didn't observe any specific rituals before he took the test. But Berg said she was worried she wouldn't wake up on time, so she went overboard with wake-up devices: "I had about nine alarms set that day."

She had good reason: She had missed taking the SAT earlier in the year because she overslept. This time things were different. "I got up and had a good breakfast, and I thought I felt good about having that much done," she said.

Wallen-Friedman said the most difficult part of the test for him was the reading portion. Science was the most challenging for Berg.

When the time came for the results to be posted, both students checked their scores online.

"I was really happy," Wallen-Friedman said. "It meant I didn't have to take it again," Berg said.

Both have only begun looking at colleges and aren't sure where they might enroll.

Diverse interests

Berg and Wallen-Friedman rehearse with the orchestra once a week, and get to perform in large venues such as Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota. Kats said they also perform for people who don't normally have access to this kind of music -- at the Courage Center, homeless shelters and nursing homes.

They also have other hobbies and interests in addition to violin.

Wallen-Friedman is a juggler with Jugheads Youth Juggling Company, an organization out of Edina that teaches more than 120 students of all ages. With 20 other high schoolers, Wallen-Friedman is looking forward to traveling to North Carolina for a juggling competition this summer.

He also plays the trumpet and can't say he favors one instrument over the other.

In addition to playing the violin, Berg said she reads constantly, plays soccer and loves to travel.

"I'm going to Australia this summer, and I'm really looking forward to that."

Joy Petersen is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.