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Lemont student aces ACT three years after her sister’s perfect score

No joke: Less than 1% of those who take the ACT test earn a top score of 36.

Nora Thornber became one of the latest to do it. The Lemont High School junior is just the eighth student at her high school to score a 36 and the first since 2021 when her older sister Molly Thornber earned a 36.

“I have a habit of making everything I do into a joke so I think it’s been helpful to play it off like that because I do not respond well to compliments,” Nora Thornber said. “But still people are being really nice to me and congratulating me and stuff, but it’s a little weird.

“It’s definitely weird to walk down the hallway and have a friend point at me and just go ’36’ like five times every day. But it is funny. And having teachers congratulate me and stuff — it can get a little embarrassing. Obviously, I appreciate everyone being really nice about it, but I don’t know how to really respond to that kind of stuff very well so it has been a little weird, but it’s all right.”

Despite their ACT results, neither of the Thornber sisters initially thought they tested well.

“I felt like I didn’t do my best so we scheduled another one,” Molly said. One factor may have been that she took the test amid the chaos and uncertainty at the height of the pandemic.

“When I got my score I remember I asked my mom is this (36) my score or is this an example of what it would be like because I hadn’t felt like I had done that well,” she said. “So seeing a bunch of 36s in all the categories except for the science, I was like ‘Did they send me an example score to show me how to interpret it?’ And we both looked again and she was like ‘I think this is the real thing’ so we didn’t get our $70 refunded because we had already scheduled the next one.”

Nora scored a 34 when she initially took the test last summer.

“She was totally content with that,” Nora’s mother Patti Thornber said. “Both my kids did marching band so I suggested to Nora that before band kicks in you should sign up and do one more in the fall and if you do better, great.

“Frankly, I knew she would do better than that because the section she scored lower on was math on her first test and normally Nora just knocks math out of the park. She’s so good with it.”

Mom was right.

“I did not think I did very well,” Nora said. “I kind of took it in the morning and I just remembered being kind of tired and I was like I probably did not do very well and then the score came back and I was kind of just sitting in my room and looked at it and was like this isn’t right. I reloaded the email a couple times and it was still the same.”

In addition to sharing select company nationally by their test scores, it’s obvious the Thornber sisters share a great deal of humility.

“I usually underestimate how well I do, but I am still surprised with that one because I did not think I’d be scoring that highly,” Molly Thornber said. “I don’t know why I was so uncertain in my performance, but I do tend to underestimate a little bit and came home saying ‘Oh, I don’t know if I did too well’ and I did a lot better than I thought.”

Molly Thornber and her sister Nora Thornber both aced the ACT college exam with perfect 36 scores, three years apart.
Molly Thornber and her sister Nora Thornber both aced the ACT college exam with perfect 36 scores, three years apart. (Patti Thornber)

They’ve always been excellent test takers. A few years prior to 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 earned a 36 on the ACT while attending Metea Valley High School in Aurora.

“So we sent Molly to go do it with her not knowing that they graded it at the library, but it was one of those tutoring places that give you the score and then try to recruit you and bring you in to do test prep,” Patti Thornber said. “Molly scored really well on it as an eighth grader and the people in the place were like ‘We’ve got to be honest with you, we’ve got students here that we’re tutoring that would kill to get a score like this so we’re not going to even pretend that we need to tutor you’ so that’s when we realized that they’re going to do really well on this and again they kind of undersell their performance.”

Their father, Brian Thornber, acknowledged that he had high expectations and faith that his kids would excel on the test.

“Obviously we’re proud of both of them, and not to brag or anything, but I thought they both had it in them because both had taken some practice tests before and obviously both are pretty smart, but they’re both really good test takers too,” he said. “I thought if they paid attention and put their nose to the grindstone I thought they had it in them.”

Nora said her older sister’s success helped set the stage for her performance, though it came with some additional pressure.

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

The pressure dissipated as test time approached.

“I separated myself from it enough that it wasn’t something that super affected me,” Nora said.

It also helped that she had a head start. Nora started at Lemont High School as a middle schooler, taking accelerated math classes on campus as both a seventh grader and eighth grader at Old Quarry.

Besides academics, she is a member of the school’s marching band, concert band and honors symphonic band. She also competes as part of the school’s mathletes, Scholastic Bowl and speech teams.

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

Band and speech are “a very big time commitment, but having those things with a lot of other people developed my people skills and helped build up my confidence in myself so I was more capable of I think actually being able to perform better in the academic side of things,” Nora said. “I think having a more well-rounded schedule and having more things to do makes me better at all of the things that I’m doing. I like things that have multiple aspects to them so I think I’ve always enjoyed that about school which helps me do better on the tests.”

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

“Before my freshman year I had never taken a computer science course,” she said. “I just thought I might like it and was kind of hoping I did, but what I was interested in was called natural language process. I would always have a tough time explaining to people what it was until halfway through my first semester when ChatGPT came out. That’s the stuff I want to get into and I’m really enjoying the path so hopefully I’ll end up doing something like that in the future.”

In her recent past, just like her little sister, Molly was involved in a variety of bands, clubs and teams at Lemont.

“The high school has a ton of extracurriculars for people to be involved in,” she said. “It’s honestly difficult, I feel, to graduate Lemont High School having never gotten involved in something because there are just so many things to do.”

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

C. R. Walker , 2024-03-13 15:58:58

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