Is Duke TIP a Legitimate Program & Should My 7th Grader Take the SAT or ACT to Participate?

(Please share this with parents you know who have 7thgraders.)

Every fall the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) sends out invitations to high performing 7th graders. Students are invited to compete for a place in the Duke TIP program by taking the SAT or ACT as seventh graders.

Most parents who receive the initial invitation have questions:

  • Is this legitimate?
  • What is Duke TIP?
  • How can the program help my child?
  • Can seventh graders even understand SAT or ACT questions?
  • Are we making a mistake if we do (or don’t) choose to participate?
Over the years I’ve shared a lot of information on this topic. As a counselor and parent, I’ve seen positive and negative experiences with the Duke TIP program. I want to share updated information so you can make the decision about whether Duke TIP is it right for your family.

What is Duke TIP?

Duke TIP is a non-profit organization working to provide support to gifted students and their families. The organization provides programs and information for students grades four through twelve.

Think of Duke TIP as a resource if you have one of those unconventional kids who is bright, but sometimes an out-of-the-box thinker. Many of these kids need something beyond what they receive in school to adequately challenge their curiosity and direct their inquisitiveness in a positive way. Duke TIP offers articles for parents and students, weekend courses throughout the country, online e-courses, and three-week summer study programs held on various university campuses.

How can the program help my child?

The Duke TIP program can offer a number of benefits from the actual programs to the less tangible factors of awareness or confidence.

My current college freshman participated in the program, taking the ACT in 7th grade, and I describe our process and benefits[HERE]. The experience of taking the ACT with a group of high school students and later receiving a medal at the state level recognition ceremony gave her confidence— a huge boost just when she needed that most. The programs themselves were ok; she loved her 8th grade scholar weekend, but found the e-course taken in 10th grade to be too simple.

I hear from a lot of students every year who found their time at Duke TIP summer camp to be the highlight of their year. These students explain that they finally found a group of like-minded people. As a parent, you might benefit from the information Duke TIP provides. Getting the opportunity to talk to your 7th grader about the SAT, ACT, and plans for their future might be another added perk.

One thing to note— I did not mention anything about Duke TIP helping with college admissions. Yes, my daughter listed her e-course in psychology on her college applications, but she listed a number of things more prominently including speech & debate, Girl Scouts, a summer psychology program at a university, and service through our church. She did NOT list Duke TIP as an award / honor. First, it was not earned in high school and second, she had other more recent and notable accomplishments.

Consider Duke TIP an enrichment program. As such, it offers a number of benefits, but it does NOT offer a “leg up” in college admission. Students who can qualify for a program like this should continue to demonstrate above-average abilities throughout their high school years.

Can seventh graders even understand SAT or ACT questions?

Yes and no.

The ACT and SAT are not designed for 7th graders. Both exams involve college-bound reading, grammar, vocabulary, and problem solving. The math sections ask questions involving algebra, geometry, basic trig, and, in the case of the SAT, concepts found in second-year algebra courses.

Bright seventh graders will be able to do some SAT and ACT questions, but should understand they are not expected to know all the material.

Here is where your understanding of your child and his or her personality is key. Do you have the type of 7th grader who will think the test is fun, like a puzzle or challenge? Or do you have a kid more prone to stress, anxiety, and worry that he or she may fail to meet expectations (their own or ones they assume you have)? One type of kid will be just fine taking a test designed for high school students while the other might be better off skipping the experience.

The standards to earn state-level recognition for the SAT or ACT are clearly outlined and you can administer a full-length practice test at home to help prepare your student for the experience. In looking at the question types and discussing the scoring, you will find that students can earn state level recognition by answering 50 – 65% of questions correctly*.

Test / Section Qualifying Score % of Questions Correct to Earn Qualifying Score*
ACT English 22 65%
ACT Math 22 52%
ACT Reading 23 63%
ACT Science 22 55%
SAT Reading / Writing 550 60%
SAT Math 540 55%

*The percent calculation is an average. SAT and ACT have scoring keys specific to the individual exams. For example, on one ACT 21 out of 40 questions correct may be enough to earn a student a 22, but on another test the student would need 23 correct responses.

[NOTE: Notice how there are four listings for the ACT in the above chart, but only two for the SAT? This means students have four opportunities to earn recognition if they take the ACT, but only two if they take the SAT. I recommend the ACT for Duke TIP for this reason.]

Are we making a mistake if we do (or don’t) choose to participate?


The Duke TIP program is one of many opportunities. It is not the only way to add enrichment; you can find plenty of online courses, summer camps, and programs specifically for gifted students in your area (and often at a fraction of the cost.) Duke TIP will not affect a student’s ability to get into college or move ahead with future career plans.

I have met some high school kids who had such negative experiences with Duke TIP in junior high that they dragged their feet when it came to preparing for the SAT / ACT or attending summer programs. In these cases, the benefits gained in 7th grade were far outweighed by the unpleasant experiences and the lasting resistance to anything they saw as similar.

I’ve also met high school kids who can’t stop raving about how Duke TIP has been the best things they’ve done. A lot of the experience can be shaped by how you as a family discuss, prepare, and respond. You also need to know your own child and decide what is right based on his or her academic and emotional maturity.


Duke TIP might be right for your family, but it is NOT a “must do.”

My daughter participated when she was in 7th grade and had a positive experience. This year my son has been invited to compete and he’s looking forward to outscoring his sister. I have him signed up to take the December ACT. Although I have all the materials to do full test prep, we won’t. I think we will invite a couple of his friends who are also taking the ACT over one Saturday and we will have a casual look at the test— talking about what to do to answer questions and what to do when you don’t know (guess). We’ve already talked about what the program can and can’t do and explained that there are no expectations for the ACT.

If you have questions, please post them on the College Prep Results Facebook page:


For further information:

(1)Should 7th Graders Take the ACT or SAT for Duke TIP?

(2) Preparing to take the SAT or ACT for Duke TIP

(3) Personal Experience with Duke TIP

(4) Podcast: Is Duke TIP Right for Your Gifted 7thGrader?

(5) Duke TIP website here.


ACT for seventh graders, Duke Talent Identification, Duke TIP, SAT for Seventh Graders

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