Acting the SAT

The certifiably smart Warwick High student is a Russian immigrant.

NEWPORT NEWS - High school senior Maria Chevtsova is perfect.

At the Scholastic Aptitude Test, that is.

Chevtsova is one of just 10 students in Virginia and fewer than 240 nationwide to earn a perfect combined 2,400 on her SAT. That's out of 1.4 million students who took the test.

What makes the 17-year-old's accomplishment even more amazing is she is a Russian citizen who moved to the United States when she was in the fourth grade.

Chevtsova remembers when her family first came to Newport News, following her father, Pavel, to a job as a physicist at Jefferson Lab. She was 9 years old.

"I didn't know any English, and my mom and I spent the first month in a hotel studying from a book," she said.

It wasn't the first new language Chevtsova had had to learn. She was born in Protvino, Russia, a town about 60 miles south of Moscow, and lived there until the family moved to Germany when she was about 3. So while Russian was the first language Chevtsova spoke - and is still the language she speaks at home - the first language she learned to read and white was German.

And now, as part of the Japanese Club at Warwick High School, she is learning Japanese.

That's not surprising for a student the International Baccalaureate coordinator at Warwick calls "a sponge."

"Some of the teachers say she is smarter than they are," said Louisa Slagle, adding that when Chevtsova hears or reads something once it is committed to memory.

But Slagle said you wouldn't suspect it when you first meet her.

"I remember when I first met her," Slagle said. "She's so unassuming."

Chevtsova's advice to others who want to succeed academically? "Manage you time. Don't procrastinate. Set priorities."

In fact, Chevtsova does homework on Friday nights and has never gotten a single B.

Less than two months into the school year, with a 4.59 grade-point average, she already is a leading candidate for valedictorian.

She also sent her early decision application to Princeton University more than two weeks before the deadline.

"Now I just have to wait until Dec. 15th to find out," she said.

"I'll quit my job if she doesn't get in," Slagle said, adding that Chevtsova is a well-rounded student who plays tennis and swims and can often be seen walking through the halls with friends.

She's not a geek, Slagle said. "She's just a lovely young woman."

Chevtsova said she really didn't have to prepare for the math portion of the SAT. Math and science come naturally to the 17-year-old daughter of a physicist and a biologist, which leaves her more time to study other subjects. "Everybody in my family is smart," she said.

To prepare for the verbal portions of the test, now broken into writing and critical reading, Chevtsova read a lot and wrote a lot of essays.

She took the SAT five times, the first time when she was in seventh grade, and got 800s in the math and critical reading portions of the test in June 2005. She earned her final 800 in writing in April.

"I always feel uncertain about the results," she said, adding she didn't know she aced the test until she received the results in the mail a few weeks later.

"It's so long, I was just glad to be done with it," she said, adding the test takes more than five hours to complete.

Chevtsova said she plans to apply for U.S. citizenship when she turns 18 in May.

"I don't think I'll have a problem with the test," she said.