Nearly 2 million high school students have taken the ACT test since June and only a tiny fraction of them earn the highest score possible. Even fewer get a perfect score on their first try.

Robbinsdale Armstrong High School senior Mio Aoki-Sherwood did.

"I was definitely happy when I learned about my score, and a little surprised because it was my first time taking the test so I really did not know what to expect," Aoki-Sherwood said, according to a news release issued by Robbinsdale Area Schools.

Aoki-Sherwood also is in line to earn another prized academic honor. She is a semifinalist in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program. Winners will be announced this month.

The ACT test is a standardized entrance exam used by many colleges and universities to make admissions decisions.

Students answer 215 multiple-choice questions covering English, math, reading and science. A fifth area, a writing section, is optional. Students receive a composite score between 1 and 36 based on the average scores in each of the four sections. A writing score for students who take it is computed separately.

The national average for students in the class of 2020 who took the test was 20.6, the lowest composite score in a decade, according to the Iowa-based testing company. Students from traditionally underserved racial and ethnic groups don't fare as well on the test and had an average score of 17.7.

In Minnesota, the average score was 21.3, ACT officials said. Only 169 out of 56,706 ACT test-takers in the graduating class of 2020 earned a 36, said Tarah DeSousa, a test company spokeswoman.

Only about half of 1% of test takers get a perfect mark, DeSousa said. Many students take the test more than once, with more than half achieving a higher score on subsequent tests.

"I am very grateful that I have been lucky enough to have access to a supportive educational environment which has allowed me to succeed at the ACT and other academic measures," Aoki-Sherwood said. "I'm proud, and my family is also proud of this accomplishment. But both my family and I don't like to put too much emphasis on standardized testing scores as these scores do not define or measure an individual's worth."

Aoki-Sherwood will enroll at Cornell College in Iowa in the fall and is interested in studying environmental science or a similar field, she said. She also wants to participate in orchestra and cross-country running, the school district said.

Her perfect score caught the attention of Democratic state Rep. Ginny Klevorn of Plymouth, where Armstrong is located.

"When we invest in our students and our public schools, we're investing in Minnesotans' future, and our shared success as a state and community," Klevorn wrote on Facebook.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768