I’m not suggesting we begin test prep at an early age, but many seventh graders will take the SAT or ACT this winter to qualify for the Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP). The TIP program is NOT affiliated with Duke University, so this won’t be a foot in the door for admission to Duke. It is an enrichment program for academically gifted students, which offers local activities, a summer program at Duke, online programs, and opportunities for independent study. I’ve outlined pros and cons of the program here. In order to qualify, seventh graders must take either the SAT or ACT leaving many parents wondering about the best way to help their child prepare.
SAT or ACT For Duke TIP?
The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests for college admission geared towards high school juniors and seniors. Both contain multiple-choice questions with math, reading passages, and grammar. Overall, they are more similar than different. (I discuss which test is easier here.)
Some students will prefer one test to the other. Usually the difference in scores is slight, but for Duke TIP, just as for college admission, sometimes that slight difference can be the difference between getting in and getting denied.
The only way you will know which test is best for your child is to experiment with both. Unfortunately, Duke TIP does not allow you to take both tests for the program. However, you can take practice tests at home using official SAT and ACT tests and make the determination on your own. A full length SAT is available online from College Board and both the SAT and ACT make full-length tests available to schools. Check with the guidance counselors at school; you may have to contact your local high school if your middle school or junior high does not have the tests.
Is Test Prep Helpful For Duke TIP?
Once you decide which test your child should take, you want to make sure he or she is prepared. Many parents consider a test prep course. I’ve been in the test prep business for 18 years and know that most test prep courses are not necessary for the Duke TIP qualification process.
Here’s why. Your child needs the following to perform well on the test:
- Understanding of the material
- Familiarity with the test structure and grading
A full SAT or ACT preparation program may actually erode the confidence of many seventh graders as they continue to see questions they are academically unprepared to answer. In a two month SAT class, I can help high school students who have already taken Algebra I and Geometry prepare for the math they will encounter on the SAT, but I can’t offer test strategies AND teach the curriculum of two years of math in that time. In attempting to enhance students’ understanding of the material, a prep course may significantly undermine their confidence.
I recommend students gain familiarity with the test structure and grading. This may be done in a session or two with a quality instructor, but taking official practice tests at your kitchen table can also do it. Both SAT and ACT have free materials on their websites. For the purposes of Duke TIP, a limited amount of test practice is often the best preparation.
You Know Your Child Best
I intentionally listed confidence first under the three elements your child needs to perform well. These seventh graders are already good students used to getting questions correct on all their tests. They tend to be high-achieving students who are often perfectionists, people pleasers, and hard on themselves when they don’t get things right.
As a counselor, I used to hate giving the December and January tests because I’d see all the little seventh graders come into test at the high school looking like deer in the headlights. Some looked terrified before we even began the exam. Many were afraid they would let their parents down if they didn’t score well. You know your child best. Will he or she enjoy the challenge? Or will it be too much pressure on an already anxious child?
Additionally, will the Duke TIP program be right for your child if he or she qualifies? Do you plan to take advantage of the enrichment programs? If not, is it the right decision to make your seventh grader take a test that is hard for high school seniors, just so you can have a certificate to add to your scrapbook?
You know your child best. Evaluate the pros and cons of the Duke TIP program. Help your child decide if the SAT or ACT is best. Offer limited opportunities for preparation but don’t over do it. Focus on confidence and the fun of having a challenging experience. Finally, don’t hesitate to say no if this opportunity isn’t right for your child or your family.