Chemistry students set LAHS record in ‘brutal’ exam competition

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Los Alamitos High School AP Chemistry students from left to right Gabriel Mee, Zachary Zonni, Juan Carrion, and Katelyn Ngo. They set a school record in The American Chemical Society’s exam competition this year.

If there is a possible equivalent in high school chemistry to running an Ironman race, The American Chemical Society’s exam competition could be it.

“It’s brutal,” said Timothy Jones, the Advanced Placement Chemistry teacher at Los Alamitos High School in a recent Zoom interview. Packed with 60 multiple choice questions covering a range of chemistry concepts, Jones said the average score for a student this year was 33.

This year four of his AP Chemistry students performed the best the school has ever done, earning 5th place in the local competition against teams from 26 other Orange County high schools. That’s better than a 6th-place finish earned by an LAHS team in 2019. 

Juan Carrion, Gabriel Mee, Zachary Zonni and Katelyn Ngo, who will be juniors at LAHS next school year, were honored for their achievement at the Orange County ACS High School Chemistry Awards Banquet in Irvine on May 17.

What’s remarkable is that the four students chose to pursue this challenge. Early in the school year, Jones tells students about the ACS exam. Interested kids are encouraged to study and participate in a test over a weekend. The students with the top four scores make the team.

Jones remarked that just showing an interest in taking the test reveals a lot about the type of student who is up for this challenge.

“Any kid that’s willing to show up on a Saturday morning to take a nasty chemistry exam is already pretty prepared,” Jones said.

And according to the students, they were excited about it.

In a Zoom interview last week, Gabriel, Zachary and Katelyn shared their thoughts on taking part in the exam and all of them said they enjoyed the experience.

“Chemistry is really fun to me and I wanted to challenge myself,” said Katelyn. “I find it thrilling.”

When asked about placing 5th in the competition, the students all said they were surprised.

“It was pretty shocking that we were the first ones to place this high,” Gabriel said.

Excelling on the exam earns students recognition and could help them stand out when applying to colleges like CalTech, UC Berkeley or MIT. “This is the kind of thing that really helps you look that much better” to universities, Jones said.

And there’s another benefit to taking the ACS exam. It’s given before the AP exam and, according to Jones, it makes the AP Chemistry test seem easier. “It totally changes their perspective.”

Jones wants the community to know that in addition to all the achievements among student athletes and student artists at LAHS, his students are also celebrating successes.

“If the kids do well, they should get some credit for that,” Jones said. “It shows a lot of dedication on their part.”

Zachary said he spent twenty hours alone taking practice tests.

“It’s a very rewarding experience,” said Zachary.

The students say their message to others is to challenge yourself when you can.

“I hope others would be motivated by it and push themselves,” Katelyn said.

Gabriel said he would want to do it again, but also encouraged others to try.

“I thought this was really fun but if someone else would want the opportunity, then I would encourage them.”

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Chemistry students set LAHS record in ‘brutal’ exam competition