MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Nothing is perfect, except when it comes to ACT scores for one Twin Cities family.

“Math is always my most logical sense to me,” said Claire McMahon, a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall (CDH), a private Catholic high school.

She knows the equation to score a perfect 36 on the college entrance exam. Unlike the physics homework she was working on as we talked with her at the school, she says nailing the ACT isn’t rocket science.

The first step is preparing how to handle the time allotted for each portion of the exam.

“I practiced timing methods and pacing methods to get through the sections as fast as possible while still getting the accurate answers,” she said.

Then, you add in her three years so far at CDH.

“Studying hard in course work, working hard, learning from understanding rather than just a unit test at the end,” she said.

Plus one more variable: a sibling rivalry

“Being the youngest of the family with top scores, obviously I’ve had pressure on me since a young age,” she said.

Claire’s two older brothers, Michael (a 2017 graduate) and Matt (a 2015 graduate), both scored a 36.

perfect act scores claire mcmahon If You Can Get A 36, I Can Get A 36: Siblings Rivalry For Perfect ACT Scores

Claire McMahon (credit: CBS)

Claire actually scored a 34 the first time she took the test, but knew she had to take it again when Michael’s perfect score came back on the same day.

“At that moment I was like, ‘If you can get a 36, I can get a 36,'” she said.

Several months later, she did.

“Our kids work really, really hard in school and they like to learn,” said Connie McMahon, their proud mother.

Two more of her children notched quality scores. Her eldest daughter Kathleen got a 35 while her eldest son Jack got a 33. Connie said jokingly,

“He’s requesting to get a redo, even though he just graduated college,” Connie joked. “He’s like, ‘Can I go back and take it again?'”

Connie is a math teacher at the school, but she gives much of the credit to the other educators in the building who taught her children. They never had her as a teacher, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t learn a thing or two watching her at home.

“I’d be at home grading notebooks or looking over tests saying, ‘You’ve got to show your work. Can you believe this person didn’t even try? Just left it blank,'” she said. “So I think they always thought, ‘I don’t want to be that kid.’ So I think they worked very hard in school and that’s what reaped the benefits with their score.”

Her children used that to hit the books hard, but that’s not to say they didn’t have other interests. Claire is on the tennis and lacrosse teams and takes part in theater and student council.

Her focus has always been academics, but then there’s always the competition between brothers and sisters.

“We always kept saying ‘Your first score is good enough, you don’t have to retest,’ and they wanted to because they wanted to prove they were equally as smart,” Connie said.

All of those factors together add up to another young McMahon ready for some higher learning.

“I know it’s only one test and it doesn’t describe the total person of who you are, but it definitely makes a difference, especially looking at colleges for next year,” Claire said.

All four of her siblings went on to attend Georgetown University. Claire just wrapped up a college visit at Columbia University. Her other schools of interest include Brown University, Northwestern University and, of course, Georgetown.

She’s currently planning to go pre-med with her studies.


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