Personal Experience with 7th Grade Duke TIP

pros and cons of the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP). So I thought I’d share my positive personal experience. This past fall my daughter came home from school with a letter inviting her to participate in the 7th grade Duke TIP by taking either the SAT or ACT. We got past the fact the “counselor lady” at school was mistaken when she said taking the SAT in 7th grade would “look good to colleges” (colleges have enough to consider without going back to one’s 7th grade accomplishments!). My daughter really wanted to participate and see how she would score.


We had a number of conversations emphasizing what I felt were key points:
  • The SAT & ACT are challenging for high school students; they will be even harder for a 7th grader.
  • Scoring well on standardized tests has its benefits (mom’s business is one example) but many top students are not great test takers.
  • Duke TIP does not determine if you are smart. This program doesn’t determine one’s academic ability or potential for future success.
  • We are only doing this for the fun of having a challenge. This is not something that should cause stress.
So I signed my daughter up to take the December ACT. (More about my decision to take the ACT instead of SAT here.)


Yes, I actually practice what I preach! We did not do any test prep for the ACT. What I did do was show my daughter a practice test. We discussed the organization and scoring of the ACT and I continued to stress that my high school students struggled with this exam and they had four more years of math than she did. In the week before the ACT we had time for her to take two of the four sections timed and look over the rest. We checked her work, scored it, and discussed how she could approach the test on Saturday. Looking back, it may have been better to allow time to do all four sections, but I didn’t want to push. Getting a chance to look over a practice test gave my daughter confidence going into the ACT. She also knew to expect questions, particularly in math, which she wouldn’t be able to solve. Getting a chance to score those practice sections gave me greater confidence. I knew she was good at the English grammar section and even though she hasn’t taken Algebra I, I knew she wouldn’t panic on the math portion. (Translate: I knew going into the test she had a fair shot of qualifying for Duke TIP recognition. Earning recognition wasn’t a high priority for me, but I didn’t want to spend three months trying to rebuild the confidence of my 13-year-old daughter once scores came back. I had a good idea that we were setting her up for success not disappointment.)

The Experience

There were two other seven graders taking the December ACT that day; the rest of the students were high school juniors and seniors. The older kids were intrigued by these 7th graders and kept asking if they were geniuses. My daughter got a real kick out of the attention. The test went as expected and when I picked her up, her first comment was, “That was fun!” (That’s my child!) We went out to lunch to celebrate. Taking the test was an accomplishment. We weren’t looking for anything else. She met the challenge with confidence and we were proud of her.


We received ACT results in the mail a few weeks later. I was familiar with the Duke TIP criteria and knew she qualified for state recognition. The current recognition criteria are:

ACT English > 21

ACT Math > 21

ACT Reading > 21

ACT Science > 21


SAT Reading > 510

SAT Math > 530

SAT Writing > 500

Students may also qualify with three ACT sections at 20 or above or with two of the three SAT scores R=500, M=520 or W=490. We talked about the ACT scores at home, stressing how well she did on a test that was meant for high school juniors and seniors. Update: The SAT changed in March 2016 and now has only two graded sections, meaning students have only two chances to qualify if they take the SAT. Additionally, Duke TIP has increased the scores needed to qualify for state recognition. Students must now score:
  • ACT English > 22
  • ACT Math > 22
  • ACT Reading > 23
  • ACT Science > 22
  • SAT Evidence Based Reading & Writing > 550
  • SAT Math > 540


In the past few months Duke TIP items have been arriving in the mail– first a letter of congratulations, then an invitation to attend a state recognition ceremony, and a certificate. We’ve also received invitations to participate in summer institutes, online classes, and other enrichment opportunities. Last weekend we drove to Dallas to attend one of the state-level recognition ceremonies for students in Texas. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit a college campus and hear from speakers who emphasized that this was just the beginning of a pattern of academic achievement. As a parent, the recognition has been the best part of the Duke TIP experience. Maybe it is just my daughter, but 7th grade can be hard. Sometimes she questions herself, her value, and her ability. To receive certificates, medals, and praise reinforcing her academic aptitude has been great.

What Duke TIP Was

Duke TIP was
  • An opportunity to take a challenging test.
  • A chance to face an unfamiliar and potentially stressful situation of taking the ACT with a group of high school students and come out feeling successful.
  • A confidence building experience with external reinforcement and recognition.
  • A chance to talk about college admissions and standardized tests (“mom’s work”).

What Duke TIP Wasn’t

We took great care to avoid the problems many families face with the Duke TIP process. For us, Duke TIP was NOT:
  • A high-pressure situation with the goal of qualifying for recognition.
  • Endless test prep. (Believe me, I have the materials and ability to do FULL test prep, but didn’t.)
  • A way to judge ability or success. We celebrated taking the test more than we celebrated the scores.
  • A way to start college application building for my 13 year old.
I doubt my daughter will attend any of the Duke TIP summer institutes. Yes, they look interesting; students can live in the dorms on a college campus for three weeks studying topics such as psychology, engineering design, creative writing, biology, and architecture. I know many students love the summer programs and benefit from finding peers who share the same passion for learning. I have always maintained that the down side to these programs is the cost, which averages $3750. We are going to save our $3700. Instead my daughter will spend one week on the church mission trip repairing the homes of families in need right here in Texas. She will spend another week at Girl Scout camp, but that costs just under $400! In the future, we may take advantage of some of the Duke TIP scholar weekends or online courses, but we have no plans to do so this summer.

“So How Can I Get In On This?”

The Duke TIP process was a positive experience for our family this year. As a parent I’m always on the lookout for experiences that will benefit my children. How can you get your child involved? Duke TIP recognition is based solely on test taking skills. Students are invited to participate because they have done well on tests given at the state or local level. Check with your school guidance counselor or visit the Duke TIP website for more information. Trying to take an average test taker and force him or her into the Duke TIP program will backfire. Instead of confidence and pride in overcoming a challenge, you will have a stressed out student or one who feels worse about him or herself for failing to do well on a test that was never intended for seventh graders. If you don’t have a natural born test taker, there are other things you can do.
1. Look for confidence boosters. Recognition comes in many forms. Find an area in which your child can excel and receive recognition for his or her achievement. Students can
  • Take a leadership position in religious youth group
  • Advance in Scouting and earn awards for achievements
  • Try out for a part in a school or community production
  • Help with Special Olympics or similar local programs
  • Earn a new belt in martial arts
  • Audition for a higher chair in the band or orchestra
  • Volunteer to help younger students (tutoring, sports, etc.)
2. Find enrichment opportunities. Duke TIP sponsors summer camps, scholar weekends, and online courses, but they aren’t the only game in town. You can find plenty of enrichment opportunities to meet your child’s interests, talents, and abilities.


We had a positive experience with the 7th grade Duke TIP program, but we also had everything go right—a strong test taker who wasn’t nervous on test day and thought the experience was fun. The Duke TIP program isn’t for everyone, even if they are super test takers. We didn’t have a stressed out child who panicked when faced with test questions she didn’t understand. We didn’t have to watch peers receive recognition while feeling bad because our best efforts still weren’t good enough. We didn’t have to experience any of the potential drawbacks. Duke TIP can be a positive experience, but you have to determine what is best for your child and your family.  ]]>

7th grade ACT, 7th grade SAT, Duke Talent Identification Program, Duke TIP, seventh grade ACT, Seventh grade SAT

Comments (24)

  • Great story, Megan, thoughtful and measured. At my daughter’s middle school, all the 7th-graders took the SAT. It didn’t even occur to me that it might stress her out! What was I thinking?

  • We had the boys take the ACT to qualify for the “C-mites” program at Carnegie Mellon. Rob had to admit he enjoyed the challenge. In retrospect, though, they didn’t benefit much–we decided as fun as the weekend C-mites programs are, free weekend days are priceless.

  • Both my kids did the Duke TIP summer studies program. They both absolutely adored their experiences (and they are very different kids). They explored subjects intensely (they even do half a day of class on Saturdays–and love it), on the college level, and did so with peers who shared their passion for learning. They also spent their off time in great social programs–TIP believes these kids need just as much focus developing social as well as academic skills. In fact, both kids were depressed to the point of tears when their last summers were over and they could no longer go back (and I am told this is not unusual). Was it expensive–yes, we are middle class but rather than go on vacations ourselves for a few years, our kids have gone to TIP–and loved every second of it. And the experience has made them more mature–they have to do their own laundry and take care of those needs while away–and ready and eager for the college experience. I always find it sad when people seem almost proud that they didn’t send their kids to TIP–like being proud your kids are missing out. If you can afford it, it’s worth every penny.

    • Thank you for sharing your children’s experience. We’re sending our daughter to the summer program this year and hearing your story makes it much easier!

      • How was your experience last summer? We just received an invitation after a good ACT score. It costs $4,300 this year! Just trying to do some research to see if it is worth it.

    • Tris MacWilliam Yates

      My daughter was invited to participate in the Duke TIP program. She is registered to take the ACT this December. One thing I found to be a bit strange is that when my daughter returned to her honors reading class very excited, after picking up the Duke TIP packet from her guidance counselor, her reading teacher dismissed it saying “everyone in 7th grade gets those. It’s not that big of a deal.” But upon researching the program, I found that it’s for the “more” advanced honors students.
      I’m hoping we are able to send her to one of the summer camps. I think it will be a truly enriching experience to be around other students with an equal thirst for learning.

  • Thanks. My daughter who is 7th grader took SAT on January this year and received results in FEB. She got 1440( 740- math and 700 – Reading) without preparation. But, she took one
    full sample test a week before and got similar score( 1410). Attending Ga state ceremony on 18th May and Grand ceremony at duke on 22nd May in NC. So far overall test experience seems positive for her and we don’t have any plans to send her for summer studies.

  • Thank you for this! My daughter is a gifted perfectionist and your point (“we didn’t have a stressed out child who panicked when faced with test questions she didn’t understand”) would certainly be her downfall. I’ll keep her on the theatre stage in her spare time, for now (which you also mentioned). 🙂

    • All are different i suppose. My daughter took the ACT without any prep. and was admitted to summers program (Academy). I didn’t let her take any basket weaving as first up was Algebra which we didn’t do to jump a grade but set her up to really rock it in school. Then Robotics, The Brain and 4th year alittle break with Criminal Law (although helped her critical thinking). My two comments to folks considering this is if you send them the first year, count on your all in. The “Cult Like” experience will have them wanting to go back or in tears if you don’t let them. This leads into my second point as an overprotective dad with a daughter…My normally evenkeeled daughter, along with most are in tears when you pick them up. Took me about year 3 to figure it out..Sleep deprivation with a tough schedule. Rules are very lax, something I brought up each year with Shayne Goodrum/Shawna Young. They really need to put rules (and adhere to them) like a Y camp. They are really opening themselves up to (and your children) alot of risk. About 20k later (all in costs), would i do it again given what I know…probably not, but a tough call. My daughter learned alot (no basket weaving ;)) and it was a unique experience, prepping her for college life. I think I would have tougher conversations with administration though, upfront.

  • This is my daughter’s fourth year going to the 3 week summer studies programs in the Duke TIP program. She took the test in the 7th grade to get to go to the summer programs and has been to one 5 day program at Eckerd College (her first away camp experience) and to my surprise wanted to go to the 3 week summer studies the next year. She has been to 3 of the 3 week programs, and has loved them so much that she looks forward to them all year, and eagerly awaits the list of available camps that come out. She has friend from all of her camps from all over, and they keep in touch and talk about which camps they plan to go to each summer. Sometimes when she is upset about school (she is not a fan of homework) she will say things like “I just want this year to be over so I can go to Duke camp”. She loves the traditions like the TIP prom, and has been exposed to subjects that she probably would not have tried otherwize, since there are no grades (and no consequenses for not doing well academically). It has been a great experience for her. She hopes to come back and be a counselor when she is in college. She is in the 10th grade now and is eagerly awaiting going to summer studies this year. It is expensive, and I don’t know if it helps a kid look good on college applications. I am not sending her to these camps in hopes of beefing up her applications though (if that is the only reason she wanted to go she could just do more volunteer work or something free). She has gotten a real love of learning from the experience that is missing in school, and I think that it has been great for her. Even if it does not help her get into a better college, it has helped her become a better learner, have more interests, and be less afraid to get out of her comfort zone (she is usually a bit introverted). Overall it seems like the summer studies programs have been great for her even though they are expensive.
    She took the qualifying test in 6th or 7th grade (I cannot remember). If you don’t plan to have your child do anything but take the act or sat early I don’t think there is a big reason to do Duke TIP, since I can’t see a big advantage for paying to just take a test that they will be taking later.

  • I am a Tipster, and will be going back for my 4th year this summer. I say, if you have the opportunity and the finances to pay for it, it is totally worth it. While it does look great on college applications, the main reason I love it so much is the once-in-a-lifetime experience it can give you. The summer before my eighth-grade year, I went to the Mock Trial program at Trinity University. While I loved the class, I was very introverted, and was nervous to make new friends. However, I made some of the closest friends I have ever made, and I wish I still kept in contact with some of them. This past summer, after my freshman year, I went to the Neuroscience program at Georgia Tech. Even though the friends I made live across the country, I still keep up with these people closer than I do with people who went to middle school with me. I love the academic side of the program because of the interesting classes that I would not be able to take at my school, like neuroscience. I also love that all of the people in the program are equally as excited to learn as I am. One of the things I struggle with most about school is that I am one of the only people who is genuinely interested in the subjects. When I went to camp, I found people who were interested in gaining more knowledge and broadening their horizons as I was. The social aspect of the program is also very valuable. The activities after class have been some of the best times I have ever had. From Tip Prom, to going to a basketball game, to TipSync (lip sync competition), everyone has a blast. It has been the best part of my summers thus far. This summer I am planning on taking the anatomy course at Duke West. I hope to meet up with some of my friends from last year, and catch up with them. If my post is kind of confusing, the video on this page sums it up perfectly:

  • All of the comments are greatly appreciated. As a college professor, I am confident that almost anyone can be trained to crush the ACT. Yes, it is a learnable test as with most of these ridiculous by necessary measures, including the IQ test.
    We took the challenge, but only with the mind frame of having fun with the process. We gave zero pressure with repeated assurance that actually taking the test along with completing the task would be the success story – our motto “if the scores are strong great, if not then no big deal – the future provides plenty of opportunity to slay the dragon.”
    One suggestion – we had an app that provided a few questions a day. That was a perfect balance between no preparation and extensive preparation. The entire family would chime in on some of the problems, and we all learned in the process. The results were mixed, but we made it! Not sure about the cost factor, but will probably bit the bullet, pack the bags, and head east!
    In closing, is there anyone who, given enough conditioning, could not smash this silly test? One thing you may want to point out to your child – how much the ACT is NOT testing!!!! There is a whole other world out there – this test is not even an atom of it all.

    • Thank you for sharing! My (beginning of the year) fourth grader received an invitation to this program. I am researching and trying to learn about it. I am excited that we got the letter but I’m not understanding how a 9 year old could benefit from this? From what I gather he would be testing on 8th grade material? Any insight for such a young child would be appreciated. He definitely would not be going on overnight stays.

      • Tracy, I wouldn’t send a fourth grader for an extended overnight program either. If you think your child will find the experience fun and challenging, do it. But you can find many other enrichment options if you decide the Duke TIP program isn’t right for your family.

  • Do you think 7th graders prepare for these tests? I just let my daughter browse through the practice test a week before the test, as the students were supposed to not practice for this test. But I see some 7th grade students scoring 100% (being recognized at the recognition program) on one or more subjects.
    How is that even possible without any preparation for a 7th grader? Are they geniuses?

  • This is an amazing program, I am a current 3rd year student and i love every year that I go. But the people at this program hold different beliefs than me. This has never caused any tension, but this year as political tensions are rising in the united states, students with different views than the rest of the student body are being targeting and many students have been trying to get others kicked out for their beliefs. I would recommend not to give business to the program, and find other, more affordable, more politically neutral programs that truly treat students equally. I will not be returning to Duke TiP next year.

  • I’ve read with interest the comments about the DTIP program. After what I read, I must tell you all OUR experience with these people. Our daughter was one of 3 who were invited to join the DTIP program. After researching it, we were excited to give her the opportunity to gauge her level of education. Presently, she scores high in reading, writing, and literature skills. We contacted them and set up a test date of November 3. My wife received an email stating that my daughter needed to review her sample test booklet and make sure she had her ticket to gain entry on the test date. Test booklet? Ticket? We had received neither. So, my wife spent HOURS on the phone yesterday with one careless individual after another and never found out why we had not received the test materials. We had a letter that said it served as her admission ticket but then one of the ladies pointed out that we could not use the letter to gain admission. So, finally, they said they would email us all of what we needed since there was no time to mail it. But, in the email, there was a rule that was going to cause a major problem: Only one break in a 4 hour period. Our daughter is a type 1 diabetic that wears 2 medical devices: a Dexcom G6 and an Omnipod wireless delivery system. BOTH can make noise if there is an issue. She wants to appear as normal as possible which is why she wears them. Plus, no snacks, drinks, or breaks were allowed outside of the 2 hour break time. My wife mentioned this to the lady on the phone and the lady told her that my daughter could NOT test with all the other kids and had to reschedule for another test date with ‘special needs’ children and only with a doctor’s order saying that she had to have these special exceptions. Cost to reschedule? $30.00. Test location? Birmingham, AL, 2 1/2 hours away instead of 15 minutes from home. You can only imagine that my wife is pretty outraged at this point. Had we tried to slip her in with the devices and an alarm had gone off during testing, we would’ve been ‘fined’ $29 for the disturbance. But being forward and honest about it caused us to owe a rescheduling fee of $30. Since DTIP has decided she is a special needs child, we can only assume they are complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Oops! By law, you can’t create an obstacle of any kind that prevents a disabled person from enjoying the same rights and privileges of a non-disabled individual. That means they are clearly in violation by refusing her admission to the test site we originally registered for and by ‘fining’ us $30 for rescheduling. We are both mad as hell at this point and have cancelled the testing outright. Oops! Fee for cancelling? $29. We intend to handle this through an attorney at this point since we are fed up with these kinds of behavior toward our daughter. Until we fight back, we are going to continue to be walked on.

  • My 12 year old son took a DukeTIP ACT (7th grade talent search) and got a composite score of 33 (English=36, Math=29, Reading=35, Science=31). He did it because he wanted to compete with his HS brother. I dropped him off the library a few couple as he requested but never did a heavy prep. We don’t intend on accelerating him or letting him take college course (unless he requests it) since we want him to enjoy being a kid. It was a fun experience for him since he beat his brother’s composite score. In my opinion, the biggest advantage of taking the ACT this early is that the next time they take it in Junior HS, the jitters will be a lot less due to the experience.

  • My 7th grade daughter will be taking the ACT in December. I understand parents aren’t allowed in the testing area but can we walk her in just for check-in? Is that totally helicopter parent of me?

    • Leah,
      Different testing centers will have different policies. Some will let you walk her to the front door; others will welcome you to stay until you see her walk into the testing room. You should be able to get her to the check-in area, but be ready to say your goodbyes then.
      As a former teacher / counselor, I saw too many parents hover over their seventh graders on the morning of the SAT / ACT. We found parents trying to look through the windows of the classrooms while students were testing. The kids did a lot better when we stopped letting parents enter the wing of the building where we administer the exams. So if you are encouraged to drop off your daughter and leave, this may be why.

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