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Lemont student tops ACT three years after sister’s perfect score


No joke: Less than 1% of ACT test takers get the maximum score of 36.

Nora Thornber was one of the last to do so. The Lemont High School junior became the eighth student at her high school to score a 36 and the first student to score a 36 since 2021, joining her older sister, Molly Thornber.

“I have a habit of turning everything I do into a joke, so I think it’s helpful to play it that way since I don’t respond very well to compliments,” Nora Thornber said. “But still people are very nice to me and congratulate me and stuff, but it’s a little weird.

“It’s definitely weird when a friend points at me as I’m walking down the hall and I go ’36’ five times a day. But it’s very funny. It can be a bit embarrassing when teachers congratulate me and so on. Frankly, I appreciate everyone being really nice about this, but I don’t really know how to respond to this kind of thing, so it’s been a little weird, but that’s okay.

Despite the ACT results, neither of the Thornber siblings initially thought the tests were good.

“I felt like I wasn’t doing my best, so we planned another one,” Molly said. One reason may be that he took the exam amid the chaos and uncertainty at the height of the pandemic.

“I remember when I got my score I asked my mom if this (36) was my score or if this was an example of what it would be like because I didn’t think I did that well,” he said. “When I saw a bunch of 36 scores in all categories except science, I thought: ‘Did they send me a sample score to show me how to interpret this?’ “We both looked at it again and said, ‘I think this is the real thing,’ so we didn’t get our $70 back because we had already planned the next one.”

When Nora first took the test last summer, she received a score of 34.

“She was totally happy with it,” said Patti Thornber, Nora’s mother. “Both of my kids joined marching band, so I suggested to Nora that you sign up before band starts and do another one in the fall, it would be great if you did better.

“Honestly, I knew she would do better than this because the section she scored lower on her first exam was maths and normally Nora knocks maths out of the park. “He is very good at this.”

My mother was right.

“I don’t think I did very well,” Nora said. “I picked it up in the morning and remembered I was a little tired and felt like I wasn’t doing very well and then the score came back and I sat in my room and looked at it and was like, this isn’t right. I reloaded the email a few times and it was still the same.”

In addition to sharing selected companies across the country based on their test scores, it’s clear that the Thornber brothers share a great deal of humility.

“I usually underestimate how good I am, but I’m still surprised by it because I didn’t think I would score this high,” Molly Thornber said. “I don’t know why I’m so confident in my performance but I tend to underestimate it a bit and I come home thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I did very well’ and I did a lot better than I did before in thought.”

Molly Thornber and her sister Nora Thornber passed the ACT college exam three years apart with a perfect score of 36. (Patti Thornber)

They have always been excellent test takers. A few years before taking the ACT, Molly, then in eighth grade, accompanied her cousin Kathleen Pankow to the Naperville Public Library to take a practice test. Coincidentally, Pankow also scored a 36 on the ACT while attending Metea Valley High School in Aurora.

“So we sent Molly to do this with him, not knowing they graded at the library, but it was one of those tutoring places that grade you and then hire you and bring you in to prep for the test.” Patti Thornber said. “Molly scored really well in that subject as an eighth-grader, and people there said, ‘We have to be honest with you, we have students here that we teach that would kill to get a score like that. so we’re not even going to act like we have to tutor you,’ and that’s when we realized they were going to be really good at it, and again, they’re kind of underselling their performance.”

Their father, Brian Thornber, admitted that he had high expectations and faith that his children would do well in the exam.

“Obviously we’re proud of them both, not to brag but I thought they both had that ability because they’d both done some practice tests before and obviously they’re both pretty smart, but they’re both really good testers and receivers as well,” he said. “I thought if they paid attention and kept their nose to the grindstone, I’d think they had it in them.”

Nora said her older sister’s success helped set the stage for her performance, but it also brought some additional pressures.

“I remember my band teacher (Frank Alongi from Old Quarry Middle School) and he had Molly as a student, and he said, ‘I’m going to wait until three years from now and I’ll see your name in an article or something. “These lines,” he said.

As the test time approached, the pressure dissipated.

“I have detached myself from it enough for it not to be something that affects me too much,” Nora said.

It also helped him get a head start. Nora started at Lemont High School as a junior and took accelerated math classes on campus as both a seventh and eighth grader at Old Quarry.

In addition to academics, he is a member of the school’s marching band, concert band and honor symphonic band. Additionally, the school’s math students compete as part of the Scholastic Bowl and speech teams.

He was inducted into the school’s chapters of Tri-M Music Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society. She has already completed two Advanced Placement courses, is currently enrolled in two AP courses and a college-level advanced math course, and is scheduled to take three more AP courses during her senior year.

Group and speaking “is a huge time commitment, but doing these things with a lot of people has improved my people skills and helped boost my confidence, so I think I can perform better academically. That’s one side of it,” Nora said. “I think having a more comprehensive program and having more things to do makes me better at everything I do. I like things that have many facets, so I think I’ve always enjoyed school, which helps me get better grades in exams.”

Molly Thornber is in her second year at Michigan State University, pursuing a dual degree in computer science and linguistics.

“I had never taken a computer science class before freshman year,” he said. “I thought I would like it and I hoped I would, but what I was interested in was the natural language process. I always had a hard time explaining to people what it was until about halfway through my first semester when ChatGPT came out. That’s what I want to get into and I really enjoy that path, so hopefully something like that in the future.” I will do it.”

In her recent past, Molly, like her younger sister, was involved in various groups, clubs and teams in Lemont.

“There are a lot of extracurricular activities in high school that people can participate in,” he said. “I think it’s really hard to graduate from Lemont High School without getting involved in anything because there’s so much to do.”

C.R. Walker is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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