ITHACA, N.Y. — Rowan Lynch, a senior at Ithaca High School, has achieved a rare academic accomplishment by being one of 16 students in the world to earn a perfect score on last year’s Advanced Placement United States History Exam.

In high school, students have the option to enroll in AP classes, which help them earn college credit or advanced placement if they earn qualifying scores on the AP exam. Every AP exam is scored on a scale of one to five, where five is equivalent to an A grade. Last May, Lynch, 18, was one of more than 500,000 students who took the AP U.S. History Exam, according to the College Board. He was not only among the 10.7% of students who earned a top score but among 16 students worldwide who earned every possible point on the exam.

After taking the AP exam in May 2018, Lynch said he was able to access his score in July on the College Board website. Though he knew he scored a five on the exam, he said he only found out he earned a perfect score when he received a letter from the College Board in March 2019.  

“It took me a little bit to figure out exactly what it meant,” Lynch said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what ‘perfect score’ meant because I knew I got a five. I mean, it was sort of exciting, but it doesn’t really get me anything.”  

The AP U.S. History Exam includes multiple choice questions, a short answer section and two essays. Lynch said he didn’t spend much time reviewing for the exam right beforehand but said that keeping up with the daily textbook reading assignments and paying attention in class helped with his success.

But his AP U.S. History teacher at IHS, Phillip Jordan, gave Lynch a little more credit.

“He’s very intelligent. He’s an excellent student who performed well in the class, but he’s not somebody who’s in your face with how smart he is. He’s just a pretty unassuming, quiet, polite and responsible young man,” said Jordan.

Lynch said Jordan fosters an engaging learning environment by having daily class discussions about the content. “He really initiated discussions in the class that forced you to think seriously about the material rather than just try to memorize it. It makes you think more critically about the information which causes you to learn it better,” Lynch said.  

Despite the perfect history score, Lynch’s passion has always been for music and he plans to major in jazz studies in college. 

He started taking private violin lessons at age 7 and switched to learning the saxophone in fourth grade. He currently plays various instruments at Ithaca High School including the alto saxophone in the jazz band, soprano saxophone in the saxophone quartet, bass clarinet in the wind ensemble and occasionally the clarinet in the symphony orchestra. While Jordan described Lynch as a quiet student in class, he said Lynch’s personality comes out the most when he plays the saxophone.

Next fall, Lynch will be taking his skills to Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.

Jordan said the biggest testing advice he gives his students is to think about events in historical context, adding that critical thinking will help students be successful on the AP exam and as an active citizen in today’s world.

“What I always tell kids is that studying history is always about learning how to take things and place things in context, and understanding where things come from and what they’ve led to. That’s critical in being an active citizen in today’s world. Understanding our past is critical to being able to develop an understanding of who we are as a people, and where we’re headed as a country. It’s critical to understanding the dynamics that play out in Congress and in our government today. It’s critical to understanding a number of current events that are happening today.”

On average, IHS students scored higher than other students who took the AP U.S. History Exam. According to Jordan, out of the 83 IHS students who took the exam last year, the average score was 4.193 out of 5. Additionally, 94 percent of IHS students scored a 3, 4, or 5 opposed to 51.8 percent of all test takers. I think that is a reflection of the excellent education offered by ICSD — and is not a reflection of the work of any individual teacher,” Jordan added.  

While Lynch will be focusing on music in college, he said he hopes to continue studying history in the future.

“There are so many stories that you wouldn’t expect that you can stumble upon … really in every period of history in every part of the world. There are little nuggets in there that are really surprising and often bizarre, and really interesting to learn about.”

Featured image: Rowan Lynch at Ithaca High School. (J.T. Stone/The Ithaca Voice)

J.T. Stone

J.T. Stone is a contributor for The Ithaca Voice and a 2020 graduate of Ithaca High School. Questions? Story tips? Email him at jt22stone@gmail.com.