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Duke TIP and the SAT for 7th graders

November 15, 2012

Every year, at around this time, gifted and talented 7th graders are invited to participate in the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP), a talent search program that “works with students, their families, and educators to identify, recognize, challenge, engage, and help students reach their highest potential.” To participate in the talent search, your seventh grader has to take either the ACT or the SAT test.

Yes, I did say they take the ACT or the SAT test, the standardized tests that high school students take for college admission. I have to admit, I was more than a little skeptical when my daughter received her invitation to take the test. I had so many questions. Why were we putting our seventh graders through this random act of torture? Which test should she take? Does she need to prepare for the test? Wasn’t I putting too much unnecessary pressure on my 12 year old? Would these scores count when she would apply to college? I decided to tackle each question individually.

First though, a bit of history. The concept of a talent search was developed by Dr. Julian Stanley, a psychology professor at Johns Hopkins, and an advocate of academic acceleration for academically gifted children. He felt that the usual standardized tests that students take, like the ITBS, do not provide an accurate measure of the ability of GT students, because they hit the “ceiling of the test” by getting nearly every question correct. In his studies, he found that above-level testing, like giving seventh graders the SAT, was a more reliable indicator of their academic ability. The goal of  this kind of above-level testing is to identify exceptionally talented youngsters and provide them with advanced academic opportunities.

Why take the test?

  1. Experience with testing. Your child gets to experience the test in a non-stressful environment, a kind of a “preview” to the actual test, with absolutely nothing to lose.
  2. To be eligible for advanced academic programs and summer camps offered by Duke or Johns Hopkins.
  3. Recognition as a TIP scholar.
  4. To know where your child stands on a standardized test in which he cannot possibly get a perfect score, and also perhaps to understand where your child stands on a national scale.
  5. Last but not least, perhaps your child wants to take the test because everyone else is taking it, not so much to fit in or to give in to peer pressure, but to level out the future playing field.

Which test should your child take?

Assuming you’ve made the all-important decision to let your child participate in the talent search, you have yet another important decision to make. Should he do the ACT or the SAT? I attended the informational session, organized by the school district. (Disclaimer, the speaker was a representative from Knowsys, which offers SAT/ACT prep classes.) In a nutshell,

SAT ACT
Tests Math, Reading, Writing Tests Math, Reading, Writing, and Science
Required essay Optional essay
10 sections; 10-25 min each 4 sections; 45-60 min each
Scores added for a combined score Scores averaged for a composite score
Predictor of achievement in college Measure of what has been learned in High School
Tests more general thinking skills Tests more curriculum related knowledge (trigonometry, logs etc)

It was suggested at this meeting that for 7th graders, the SAT is probably more appropriate, for the following reasons:

  1. The ACT sections are longer, and a 7th grader might find that more tedious.
  2. The ACT tests material that students may not have learned yet (trig, logs etc), whereas the SAT tests more general thinking skills.

Should your child prepare for the test?

Once again there are plenty of options, and your decision could very well depend on the amount of time and/or money you want to invest at this stage.

  • Your child does not prepare for the test and goes blindly into the test.
  • Your child can take a practice test provided by Knowsys and attend a “Score report review”. ($25)
  • Your child can take 5 training sessions provided by Knowsys, on how to take the SAT and improve his score. Each session runs for about 3-4 hours and there will be homework. These classes are similar to the high school classes but geared toward a seventh grader. ($200-$325 depending on when you register)

Duke TIP does not recommend that your child take a test prep course. “Taking the ACT or SAT as a member of the talent search will give you an idea of your current level of educational performance and a sound idea about your potential for success in future study. It will give you a perspective on the level of challenge you should be seeking in the courses you plan to take as you finish middle school and proceed to high school. Have you ever put a thermometer next to a light bulb to give the impression that your fever is higher than it really is? Doing that doesn’t measure your actual temperature and is therefore misleading. Similarly, taking a test prep course may lead to an inaccurate educational assessment, which will not be the most helpful result for your planning purposes.”

That said, it would be helpful for your child to have a familiarity with the test structure and grading. Doing the practice tests and/or the classes might help reduce any anxiety your child may be facing about the test.

Will the test be too stressful?

The answer to this question really depends on your student. Ask yourself the following questions-

  • Does your child get test anxiety?
  • Will your child be affected by a lower than expected test score?
  • Is 4 hours too long for your child to be in a testing environment?
  • Will he or she enjoy the challenge?

 Do these scores stay on your child’s record?

When your student takes the SAT in middle school, his scores are automatically removed (unless you request otherwise) from his record before he enters high school.

So to summarize, you know your child best. You are in the best position to decide whether he should participate in the talent search and take the qualifying test. You know which test will work best for him and whether he should do a prep class. The perspective while signing up should not be the final score, but the overall experience of taking the test in a “nothing to lose” setting. With recognition as a TIP scholar or access to advanced academic programs/summer camps as an added bonus, for students who excel.

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