Akhilesh Khakhar’s journey to a perfect ACT score started with a bump on the noggin. Well, okay, it was a little more than that.
Walking to school one morning in the winter of his ninth-grade year he slipped and fell on the sidewalk and got himself an unholy concussion that depleted his mental skills. It took months of physical therapy to get him back to normal and even then, he said, his homework and studying would take so much longer than it used to.
But something worked. This winter, Khakhar got a perfect score on the ACT exam.
He attributed that success to a study method he used during and since his rehabilitation, and now he’s created a mobile app to bring that method to high school students across the country trying to fill their brains with knowledge in advance of the SAT and ACT. It’s called PrepUP and it’s been downloaded more than 15,000 times so far, Khakhar told Technical.ly Brooklyn.
“Students can log in through social media and compete in a live, head-to-head match,” Khakhar, now a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School, explained by phone. “I also created the PrepUP online platform, which sees what students answer incorrectly and gives lesson plans and practice tests to eliminate weaknesses.”
We gave it a whirl at Technical.ly Brooklyn HQ and quickly got absolutely whipped by some high schoolers with a much sharper grasp on how to manipulate logarithmic functions, for one (we cleaned up on the writing questions, though!). The game is a little like HQ Trivia, except you’re playing head-to-head against other people on the app, who show up with a profile and picture.
You battle for five questions, and you get more points for answering more quickly. You build up points, which allow you to level up. The levels in the app are named after colleges, so you start as a City College of New York student and work your way up to Harvard. I’m still quite a beginner but I’m listed as a UCLA student, which does track.
Khakhar said he developed the idea for the app while recuperating from his brain injury, working on active learning. He created two sets of flash cards for upcoming tests and would compete against his mom and friends. In the beginning, he said, he kept losing, but gradually he started winning more often, and the progress he saw by making his studying into a game stuck with him.
“I found this to be a fun and more effective way of studying,” he explained. “I thought, ‘How can I bring this way of studying to the most people possible?'”
And so he did what any 14-year-old does and undertook more than 130 hours of online education courses to learn how to prototype, develop and market a mobile application. He said he began the developing of the software, but soon looked online for help with that, which he found in a company in Russia.
“Throughout my sophomore year I would wake up at three in the morning almost every morning and have a Skype meeting with them and go through bugs and beta testing,” Khakhar said.
Khakhar lives with his mother, a doctor, whom he said, was dubious about the undertaking and early wakeups that came with it.
“In the initial phases she was very skeptical and wanted me to pursue medicine,” Khakhar said. Last year, he was named on Crain’s 20 under 20 list for 2017. “After I started making progress she started to really support me and that lifted a kind of a contention in the house.”
As Khakhar moves into the spring of his senior year, he has plans to keep himself busy as he waits to hear from colleges. PrepUP is free for users, but he’s looking into licensing it with specific test makers as a product for them to offer to supplement their practice tests.
“Very soon, I think I’ll be partnering with a company in Florida to create an online course and live tutor webcam test prep service as well,” he said.-30-