Alex Shen scored 2300 points, out of the maximum of 2400, on the SAT when he took the test as a junior.
Impressive. Better than 99.6 percent of the students who took the test. Good enough to give him a shot at any college in the country.
But his parents, Gary and Linda Shen, were not satisfied.
"They were proud of me," the 17-year-old Palo Verde High School senior said. "But they were like, 'Let's try again.' "
So Alex spent much of his summer vacation preparing for the college entrance exam. He took online practice questions and focused on critical reading, the one area that give him trouble the first time he took the test.
He took the SAT again in October and aced it -- a perfect 2400.
"I didn't have friends over for two weeks," said Alex, who was surprised because he thought he rushed through the essay. "It was worth it, definitely worth it"
Kathleen Steinberg, the senior communications director for the College Board, the test provider, said earning the SAT's maximum score is a "rare achievement."
Last year, only 382 students out of the 1,547,990 test takers from the class of 2010 got the highest possible score. None of the 9,460 test-takers from Nevada's class of 2010 scored a 2400.
The College Board does not release SAT data by season or test date, only by class or "cohort group," Steinberg said. So Alex's perfect score will be included in the data for the class of 2011 to be released next year.
Alex's accomplishment is a source of pride for the staff and an inspiration for the students, said Jessica Pinjuv, the assistant principal of Palo Verde, 333 Pavilion Center Drive, near Alta Drive and the Las Vegas Beltway.
"They look and see, 'Wow, someone has done it,'' Pinjuv said. "So it's achievable."
Alex's advice for academic success: "Get your priorities straight."
"For me, my No. 1 priority is God," said Alex, who described himself as a conservative Baptist who believes in the practical application of the Bible. "My second priority is family. My third priority is school. I try to focus on school before friends and a social life."
He also believes that each student has the ability to do well in any subject -- with enough hard work.
"If you put effort into anything you do, you will succeed," he said. "There's nobody who is inherently bad at math or English or history. You have to put effort into it."
Alex enjoys math but struggles with English. His English teacher, Andrea Resnick, helped him improve on the critical reading questions for the SAT.
In his English classes at Palo Verde, Alex developed an appreciation for "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad's classic novel set in the Congo during colonial times. It was a tough read, he said.
"It has a lot of description and hard language, which is why a lot of people don't like it. I went over whole chapters again to get it into my head," Alex said. "If you get past all of that, it has a very deep message and is very perceptive about human nature."
He summed up the book's message: "We all have darkness in our hearts we're hiding. If we're not careful, it can consume us."
Alex is not all academics. His favorite music is "trance," a style of electronic dance music; his favorite movie, "Toy Story III."
In his free time, he likes to write music on his computer. Alex is currently working on a music soundtrack for a "fan-made" or amateur movie he found that the Internet. The movie is based on the "Redwall" series, Brian Jacques' fantasy novels about the adventures of woodland animals, such as mice, badgers and hedgehogs, in a medieval setting.
Alex also plays varsity golf at Palo Verde and participates in Varsity Quiz and Science Bowl. Last year, Palo Verde went to national competition for the Science Bowl.
The family had shopped around for a high school for Alex, who went to the Las Vegas Day School for elementary and middle school. Because of the extracurricular and academic opportunities available at Palo Verde, the Shens decided to send Alex to the public school instead of a private school. Alex's sister, Brenda, 15, is a freshman at the school.
Alex's dad is very happy with their decision.
"Alex takes the honors classes, all the advancement placement classes," said Gary Shen, who is a a general surgeon and a teacher on the staff of the University of Nevada Medical School. "The teachers have been spectacular. He has received an outstanding education."
To go with his perfect SAT score, Alex has a 4.8 grade point average based on his advanced placement classes. He wants to study computer science in college. His top choice is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he is also interested in Harvard, Stanford and Princeton.
Alex said he is grateful to his parents. "The best advice they gave me is that if I work hard now, I can reap the rewards later."
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-374-7917.