Why start enrichment & test prep early?
Build strong academic foundations. The most successful students are those who build a strong academic foundation as early as possible, setting the stage for high achievement in high school, college, and beyond. Because children learn and retain material more easily when they are younger, and because they do not learn everything they need to know in school, I recommend that students embark on meaningful enrichment programs starting no later than 5th or 6th grade. My classes for younger students focus on the following "core" skills:
Writing and grammar
Reading and vocabulary
Math (computation, word problems, mental math)
Critical thinking and logic (e.g., analogies)
Indeed, Harvard recommends that students start preparing for college no later than junior high; the 7th and 8th grades are critical years for building the necessary foundations for future success. Moreover, test scores from 7th and 8th grades determine admission to selective high schools (such as Payton, Whitney Young, and Northside College Prep), as well as high-school course placement. Thus, waiting until 7th or 8th grade to start enrichment is usually a mistake.
In my classes, younger students often outperform older students. In my SAT and ACT prep classes, freshmen and sophomores are always among the top scorers, and some 8th graders outperform some juniors by wide margins. In my enrichment and Core Skills classes, most 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are faster and better at completing multiplication tables and memorizing decimals, percents, and squares than most 7th and 8th graders.
Develop and demonstrate full potential—in school and on standardized tests, such as high-school entrance exams and the SAT / ACT. Starting SAT & ACT prep early is critically important. These tests measure students' skills in key areas: Writing, Critical Reading, and Math. Therefore, preparing for the SAT & ACT is really about ensuring that students have the necessary skills to succeed in college and in professional life. The earlier students develop these skills, the better they will perform throughout high school and on the tests.
I recommend that all students start SAT/ACT prep as freshmen and work steadily until they achieve strong scores. Because my test-prep classes focus on substantive knowledge and skills—grammar, writing, reading, vocabulary, and math—students consistently tell me that their performance in school improves along with their test scores. (My students' GPA and class rank typically improve as they take classes with me.)
Students who start early, work hard, and do well can finish their test prep and take the SAT or ACT before junior year, thereby avoiding the overwhelming junior-year crunch (the multiple burdens of test prep, AP or other challenging courses, and intensive sports or other extracurriculars). My most successful—and relaxed—students are those who start test prep early. For example:
A student who started taking my courses the summer after eighth grade earned a perfect score on PSAT math and a near-perfect score on PSAT writing -- as a sophomore! Her PSAT score exceeded the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff for juniors. As a sophomore, she received recruitment letters from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Brown, Caltech, Williams, University of Chicago, and NYU, among others. And she scored 34 (composite) on the ACT in April of her sophomore year: English 34, Math 34, Reading 35, Science 33, and 10 on the essay. She also scored 2,180 on the SAT in June of her sophomore year. She reported those sophomore-year scores when she applied to colleges as a senior.
After a year of test prep, an eighth-grader was outscoring many of my juniors on all sections of the SAT and ACT. She earned a 28 on the ACT Reading test in the spring of eighth grade.
A freshman scored 2,040 on the 2400-point version of the SAT after taking only 14 two-hour-long test-prep classes with me. As a sophomore, she earned a perfect 36 on ACT Math and a 34 on ACT English, as well as a 9 on the ACT essay.
In contrast, students who wait until junior year to start test prep simply cannot achieve their full potential on the SAT and ACT—or in school. Some students delay test prep because they feel that they are too busy as freshmen or sophomores—but they end up being even busier as juniors. By then, however, they can no longer wait to start test prep, so they enroll in prep classes but can devote little time to prep homework. And because they are older, busier, and more stressed out, they do not learn as effectively as younger students. As a result, students who enroll in my prep courses as juniors generally progress more slowly and do not perform as well as the freshmen and sophomores in my prep courses. Those who start test prep as juniors may never score as well as they could have if they had started test prep earlier.
I encourage students to start establishing the right habits and learning advanced skills early—well before they are scheduled to take entrance exams for high school or college.