30

I'm trying to find a word (preferably a verb) that signifies getting every question of an exam right and therefore scoring 100%.

For example, here are some other ways to describe success or failure in an exam:

  1. I attempted the exam
  2. I flunked the exam
  3. I completed the exam
  4. I passed the exam

I can't think of a good way to express any greater extent of success than "passed". One option would be "I did really well in the exam", it does signify more than just passing, however it's rather inelegant and doesn't precisely signify 100% success.

The best I've come up with so far is using an adjective to modify the verb, as in: "I flawlessly passed the exam", which does at least express the meaning, but is still quite clumsy.

  • 14
    If you allow yourself more than one word, you can say "I earned a perfect score on the exam"—which sounds more precise (and a bit less informally cocky) than "I aced the exam." – Sven Yargs Oct 13 '15 at 0:36
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    "I got 100 on the test" would be a perfectly normal statement (for some students). Or "I got a perfect score." – Hot Licks Oct 13 '15 at 2:06
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    Who needs adjectives anymore? 💯 – Dan Bron Oct 13 '15 at 7:53
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    You need to specify if you are interested in a verb that expresses passing an exam with exactly 100%; (e.g 100/100) or "similar" close to that mark. I think you mean anyone who passes an exam very comfortably and impressively, for example a score of 94/100 would be an excellent pass. – Mari-Lou A Oct 13 '15 at 10:34
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    Not a single-word (and not necessarily meaning a perfect score), but “breaking/busting the curve” means getting the highest score on a test (and pissing-off the rest of the class). – Papa Poule Oct 14 '15 at 14:08

10 Answers 10

121

To ace an exam is to complete it with high marks - typically referring to a 100% or higher (in the case of bonus marks). Per Oxford Dictionary, ace:

(North American) achieve high marks in (a test or exam): I aced my grammar test.

  • 6
    @Jake - Yes, I am referring to the difference between "100%" and "high marks" - 98% would be high marks, and would definitely qualify for acing the test, but it is not the same as "100%". There is some debate, though, as to whether the OP literally wants "100%" or not (see comments on question) - I am awaiting clarification from the OP before (potentially) revisiting all of my downvotes. With regards to your anecdotal evidence vs mine: they are both as valid; I was trying to use the dictionary definition as the arbiter. – AndyT Oct 13 '15 at 12:48
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    Ace absolutely always meant “highest possible score” in every school I’ve attended (New York City for primary and secondary school, Los Angeles and New York again for college). 98% wouldn’t be acing in my experience. – KRyan Oct 13 '15 at 14:36
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    Generally "ace" is typically used to mean a "perfect" instance of something. An ace is the highest possible card in card games; card for card it can't be beat. An ace up your sleeve (also called a trump card) is one that will best anything else. Also, an ace in sports is considered a perfect maneuver/attempt/move (a service ace in tennis, for example). There's no arbitrary number like "90% and above means you aced it". A 98% score would not qualify as having aced the test. – TylerH Oct 13 '15 at 15:04
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    I agree with those who say that "ace" has the implication of perfection. I think the reason "ace" is often equated with "A" is (in addition to the letter association) that on a grade scale of A-F with no greater precision, "A" is the highest grade. – called2voyage Oct 13 '15 at 15:18
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    "aced" to me has always meant perfect. i'm just one person obviously, but if you got a 99% on a test, you did not ace it. – ell Oct 13 '15 at 20:55
43

In Commonwealth English at least, the phrase "full marks" is commonly used to refer to the highest score that it is possible to get, i.e. 100%. If you find MacMillan's definition to be slightly ambiguous ("the highest score that a student can get" could be taken to mean "the highest score that a particular individual is capable of"), the Wiktionary entry is less so: "the maximum marks obtainable in an exam or test."

In a sentence, therefore, "I got full marks in the exam" would be used. Although this is not a verb or single word as your question states you would prefer, in my opinion the verbs given in the other suggested answers do not unambiguously indicate that the score was exactly 100%, as opposed to being a score that the speaker would personally consider more than expected / satisfactory. Someone struggling with a certain subject could subjectively consider a personal high score for exams in that subject to be very good and describe it as such ("nailed", "aced", etc.), without that score being anywhere near 100%.

  • 4
    +1 Woohoo - an answer that actually does what the question asked for! Welcome to ELU Wolfie. A quick note: the links you have provided may, in the future, cease to work. Your answer could therefore be slightly improved by quoting the relevant text from your the Wiktionary link. (I notice you have already quoted the MacMillan link). – AndyT Oct 13 '15 at 9:44
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    Thanks for the tip Andy, I've edited my answer accordingly. – Wolfie Inu Oct 13 '15 at 9:49
40

Consider,

I nailed the exam.

nail (Slang):

To perform successfully or have noteworthy success in: nailed the dive; nailed the exam. The American Heritage® Dictionary

To accomplish (a task) completely and successfully. I really nailed that test. Your Dictionary

To execute or accomplish flawlessly: the gymnast nailed her routine. Webster's New World College Dictionary

I passed the exam with flying colors.

pass with flying colors: with complete or outstanding success: passed the exam with flying colors. (American Heritage® Dictionary)

EDIT:

One other possibility would be to say,

I got a full score on the exam. WordReference

  • 1
    I think nailed is the best one. The other suggestions say more about how easy it was for the applicant to pass the test, not so much about the score itself. nailed in my opinion focuses more on the result itself. – Justus Romijn Oct 13 '15 at 6:44
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    -1: I have never heard of any of your words meaning "to get 100%", and your dictionary quotes don't support it either. – AndyT Oct 13 '15 at 8:11
  • Not sure about "sailed" (or "breezed") ... To me that's more that I found the exam to be easy - could answer all the questions and did it quickly - not that I necessarily did well (although I'd probably did pretty well since I found it easy). It's something I'd say to my pals when the exam was over, before getting the result. It could even be a bit negative (esp. for "breezed") - something a teacher may use to describe a student not taking the exam very seriously, but had hurried through. – Baard Kopperud Oct 13 '15 at 8:11
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    @Mari-LouA - I quote from the OP "One option would be "I did really well in the exam", it does signify more than just passing, however it's rather inelegant and doesn't precisely signify 100% success". Given the use of "precisely" I do not think the OP was being hyperbolic. – AndyT Oct 13 '15 at 10:20
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    @Mari-LouA - No, I would not deny an A to someone who scored 97/100, but that's irrelevant. What is important is what the OP is looking for, hence I have now commented on the question to ask for this. [And so, it turns out, have you :) ] – AndyT Oct 13 '15 at 10:34
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The most common way to say that you got 100%, without using "100%" itself, would be:

I got a perfect score on that test

The other answers (so far) all give phrases which mean "I got a very high score", and probably "I got the highest grade possible", but none of them carry the connotation of 100%.


This answer is from personal experience, I haven't found a good reference for "perfect score". But I can give one for "perfect", courtesy of dictionary.reference.com, meaning 2:

excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement

  • 1
    This is the term I would use if I wanted to specifically indicate no errors, rather than just "did really well". Teachers in my (Southern American) high school used it frequently. – Gus Oct 13 '15 at 19:22
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    Only Perfect and Full Marks mean definitively 100%. – James Oct 13 '15 at 20:32
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    "aced" carries the connotation of 100%. – ell Oct 13 '15 at 21:03
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    I would go with perfect score over the other answers. At least in the UK "to ace an exam" would commonly be understood to score highly (e.g. 90-95% when the pass rate is 60%) but would not mean 100% exclusively. – Matt Oct 16 '15 at 10:00
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    @DCShannon I disagree, none of the other answers (except AndyT's and mine, which AndyT also agrees with) unambiguously denote "passed with 100%," as opposed to "passed with a more than satisfactory score." Even if a 100% score is a possible interpretation in those cases, it is not the only interpretation; so the other answers don't "precisely signify 100% success," and therefore do not answer the question. – Wolfie Inu Oct 17 '15 at 10:40
6

The word perfection may also be used:

I achieved perfection in the exam.

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    i find it hard to imagine any native english speaker saying this. it's perfectly correct english, just sounds way too stuffy. – ell Oct 13 '15 at 21:04
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    I must work in a word where people speak like this; but then I set, mark and talk about exam results all the time! – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Oct 14 '15 at 6:59
2

Very informal, but "I owned that exam" to me would imply having done as well as possible.

Usage 3 in google's dictionary reference* states that the informal usage of "own" is: "utterly defeat or humiliate." Dictionary.reference.com** similarly defines it as: "to totally defeat, gain control over, or dominate in a competition: I totally owned the last two levels of the game." Both seem to agree with what I would judge intuitively, which is that you couldn't say you'd "owned" an exam unless you'd gotten full marks. The implication is "utter" or "total" defeat, thus perfect performance.

For formal usage, though, I would agree with those saying that "I got a perfect score" or "I got full marks" would be the most appropriate. "I nailed that exam" above is also a nice informal solution.

Interestingly, I think this discussion is showing a real difficulty in (at least American) English in distinguishing between perfection and merely doing very well. There's a lot of difference of opinion and usage around "Aced" for instance (for me growing up, it was always synonymous with "got an A") and I don't think anything has clearly emerged as completely unambiguous around a perfect score that isn't also awkward or not particularly idiomatic. Even my suggestion wouldn't be quite wrong in describing a 98% or 99%.

*https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=owned%20definition **http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/owned

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    It’s I pwned that exam for them kids. – Crissov Oct 16 '15 at 14:37
0

I mastered the exam

Unfortunately doesn't explicitly imply a perfect result, and is still a little awkward.

I got top marks on the exam

Might be a little more appropriate?

  • 2
    Welcome to ELU. You may be right that it's more appropriate, but I'd suggest that it still leaves something to be desired. 'Top marks' to me simply means that you did better than everyone else. Feel free to argue your case, though - and for future reference, it's always a good idea to offer supporting evidence with your answers. This might be in the form of definitions, cited sources or published examples etc. – JHCL Oct 14 '15 at 13:42
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    Thanks for the welcome! I hadn't considered that top marks might be only in comparison to others, you're correct. I'll ensure I provide citation in future, sorry! – ScottFromDerby Oct 14 '15 at 13:48
-1

Many elegant suggestion here to express doing very well on the exam. But we seem to be struggling to show that the attempt got a perfect score, which the OP seems to be asking for.

Best I can come up with is:

I swept the exam

"Swept" invokes to "make a clean sweep" in a competitive event (usually [always?] with multiple matches). I believe a "clean sweep" always indicates that no matches were lost (though not that no points were dropped).

The cadence and structure of this quote also matches the cadence of your examples ("I ____ed the exam").

Admittedly, I have never heard this phrasing used to describe an examination score. While I expect the average North American English speaker would follow without major effort, it would be a non-standard thing to say.

  • 1
    It's "I swept through the exam" Which doesn't mean you achieved the highest score. It could be that you found the test easy, it was a piece of cake, it took you no time at all to complete it. Yes, probably you did well, but not necessarily you scored 100/100 – Mari-Lou A Oct 17 '15 at 16:35
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    Hi @Mari-Lou A. Agreed that "I swept through the exam" has the meaning you described. However, that is not the same as "I swept the exam". "Sweep" can have the meaning "to win all the games or contests of". Here is a wikipedia page that uses the phrase "The Orioles won Game 4, 1–0, and swept the World Series." Indicating their perfect record (which I actually had to google to confirm, since the writing on that page assumes the reader's comprehension of the phrase). – Zach Oct 17 '15 at 20:51
-5

It's a feature of the language that rare events don't, as a rule, have a single word to describe them. For a word to gain currency it must be used routinely. A word for a rare event will rarely be used, unless that event is of enormous potential significance (apocalypse ?).

You'll have to use an existing word and a modifier.

  • 7
    This answer is contradictory and confusing - you say it's "a rule" that we don't create words to describe rare events, then you immediately provide a contradictory example and no good explanation of what qualifies it as an exception (how "significant" does a "rare" event have to be, and to whom? and is "apocalypse" even a rare word, when so many "zombie apocalypses" appear in modern media, for one example?). This answer is also wrong: thousands of perfectly valid words see use only rarely. Gaining currency is only relevant when discussing new words, which has nothing to do with this question. – talrnu Oct 13 '15 at 13:00
  • -1 for being completely wrong. Words exist for this. – DCShannon Oct 17 '15 at 3:31
-5

I passed with flying colours. Is an English term of high marks. But AndyT's answer is probably best.

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    Inferior duplicate of Elian’s earlier answer. – Crissov Oct 16 '15 at 14:48

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