Chaska High School senior Sam Peterson scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT, but it's not something he'll make a big fuss about.
"I've received a fair amount of attention," he said. "In all reality, I just filled in the bubbles. It's not something that is defining of me."
And, he confessed, "I don't know if I could do it again."
But this was no accident.
Peterson was prepared when he sat down to take the tests.
While many students do little to get ready beyond taking a sample test or two, Peterson said he began preparing for the SAT when he was in seventh grade. Through a program offered through Northwestern University, he began taking the test for fun.
During his sophomore year, Peterson said the format for the exam "changed dramatically" when an essay portion was added. That changed the perfect score from 1600 to 2400. Despite the changes, he scored a 2140 as a 10th-grader.
Last winter, when Peterson was a junior, he had taken the ACT just a few weeks prior to the SAT and had scored a 35 out of a possible score of 36.
So when he went to take the SAT in March, he said he wasn't sweating it. "I was pretty relaxed. It felt like it didn't matter."
A few weeks later, Peterson checked his score online one morning before school. When he saw the perfect score, "I screamed for a few minutes."
Only eight students in Minnesota achieved a perfect score on the SAT in 2008, according to the College Board, which administers the test.
Andy Powell, Peterson's psychology teacher and cross- country coach, has taught Peterson in three classes. Powell said he is most impressed by the curiosity Peterson displays and the attention he pays in class. Powell said Peterson remains so engaged through eye contact that it might seem "unsettling" at times for a teacher. "I think what I have to do is pay more attention to what I'm saying," Powell said. "It brings out the best in me."
Powell said he occasionally tries to stump Peterson by asking him questions not in his lesson plans. He recalls a few times when he made up the questions and Peterson still tried to find the answer. "If Sam feels he doesn't know, he wants to know," Powell said.
Peterson is one of the top students in the state in both Knowledge Bowl and Quiz Bowl, according to his coach, Chris Lenius, a science teacher at Chaska High.
But through all Peterson's successes, the most striking trait is his humility, Lenius said.
"Everyone knows that he is the best," Lenius said. "He might get 15 of the questions while his teammates get only one or two. But he's more excited about their points than his own."
He's also found success in high school sports. The senior is a varsity letter winner in cross-country and track and field and was all-conference in cross-country. He hopes to be able to run in college.
And he has served as a student representative to the Eastern Carver County school board and participates in the student council.
Peterson has been accepted at Yale and is awaiting word from the University of Chicago, Princeton and Stanford, but he said he's holding out for his top choice: Harvard.
When Peterson visited the Harvard campus in the fall, he said there was a sense of curiosity there that was appealing to him. He will know whether he has been accepted to Harvard on March 31.
Peterson said he's in no rush to finish his senior year, however. "I've had a great time in Chaska," he said.
Joy Petersen is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.