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Middle School

How to Prepare for High School Academics

How to Prepare for High School Academics

Is Your Middle Schooler Ready for High School Classes?

Strengthen Your Student's Academic Foundation During Middle School 

Mother Helping Son With Homework At Home

You've probably heard that your student's academic performance in 9th grade is a strong indicator of how they will do in subsequent grades. You may have heard teachers, counselors, or other parents talk about how to prepare for high school academics. But what does that actually mean? In this article, I'll break it down for you.

The transition from middle school to high school is a big one. When your student enters 9th grade, grades start to matter more, social dynamics among classmates shift, and your student has to familiarize with a new school, all while preparing for college. There’s a lot for your son or daughter to experience and a lot for you to try to figure out as a parent! 

In this article, I walk you through how to prepare your student for high school by strengthening their academic foundation in middle school. I'll help you:

What is a Strong Academic Foundation? 

One of the essential goals of your student's middle school career should be to create a strong academic foundation. “Creating a strong foundation” is different than merely getting good grades. As so many students know, it’s quite possible to get an A in a course without feeling like you’ve really learned much (or grown in that area of study in a way that will impact your long-term academic progress). 

But how is a strong academic foundation built during middle school?

A strong academic foundation occurs when your student practices and develops essential learning skills, as well as fundamental skills in math, science, English, and social studies. Success in high school classes are dependent on these skills being in place.

Identify and Pracitce Essential Skills

High school preparation is more than just being good at math, or English, or science, or social studies. It's also about the overarching skills that are used in all learning activities.

Regardless of your student's academic and/or career path, your student should begin developing the following three essential skills in middle school to be successful in high school and beyond: 

  1. Learn independently 
  2. Think critically 
  3. Write with clarity 

When you were in school you probably wondered, “what’s the point of learning how to write a thesis statement?”. I bet your son or daughter has wondered that, too. Well, if you can help your student connect an activity in school to one of the three skills, you can help them think of it as important training instead of a chore. Seeing learning as an opportunity will set them up for success in the future.

Essential Skill 1: Learn Independently 

learning to learn independently is an essential skill for success later.Regardless of where life takes your student, there will definitely be times they will need to learn a thing or two on thier own. We might also call this “learning to learn.” I still remember my mother telling me that the purpose of going school is to learn how to learn, not to master all the material immediately. 

Sure, it’s absolutely fine for your student to ask you lots of questions and to seek clarification when they are confused about an idea or assignment. However, it’s equally important that they learn how to seek those answers for themselves.

So how do you get good at this? Practice. 

Next time you feel like your student doesn’t understand something, try encouraging them to patiently read over the material again. Keep a positive attitude: tell them that you know that they are totally capable of finding the answers to their questions since they have all the information in front of him. 

Of course, you will still want your student to ask for help when they need it, but when they figure something out on their own it will give them a contagious boost of confidence. 

Essential Skill 2: Think Critically

No doubt you’re familiar with the mysterious phrase “critical thinking,” but what does it mean? To “think critically” is to carefully evaluate information and make a judgment based on reason and facts, rather than emotion, bias, or any other predisposition. This is easier than it sounds, though it takes practice to make critical thinking a habit.

This process involves learning to consider alternative perspectives, recognize one’s own biases, develop an eye for important details, and to “think outside of the box” to imagine creative solutions to problems.

In order to practice active, reflective thought, try to encourage your student to learn critical reading habits. Have your student implement the following approach to reading: pause after each paragraph to assess 1) its main idea and 2) how the paragraph contributes to the overall purpose of that text. This strategy can work for any kind of reading.

Essential Skill 3: Write with Clarity 

Father and daughter using laptopIt’s easy to think of writing as a skill that only matters for English class. Your student may wonder, “in what real-world situation will I ever need to know how to write an effective topic sentence or thesis paragraph?”. This is certainly a fair question. The purpose of learning the structure, organization, and strategies of academic writing is to improve the clarity of your student's communication. 

Writing challenges your student to collect their thoughts, organize them, and articulate them in a focused way in order to achieve a goal. There are lots of ways to become a good writer, but the biggest, most overarching skill to practice is writing with clarity. 

The best way to practice writing with clarity is to take the process of revision seriously. Make sure your student takes the time to revise all written work. During this process of revision, consider the following: cut unnecessary words, shorten longer sentences where possible, choose active verbs, eliminate unnecessary repetition of words/phrases, transform passive voice to active voice, and (most importantly) make sure each sentence communicates exactly what the writer is trying to express.

Communication is only effective if it is understood. By carefully choosing their words and structuring arguments in a logical way, your student can become a great communicator, which will help them in all of their high school classes.   Get the High School Readiness Quiz

Understand Key Skills by Subject

There are key skills by subject that your student should master or at least be familiar with by the time they enter high school. After I list the skills by subject, I'll provide links to a few tests you can use to easily assess your student.

Now, I'll show you how to prepare for high school coursework in 9th grade.  It's important to be aware of the key skills your student should master for each subject by the time they enter high school. 

The skills are sometimes called “learning standards” or “learning objectives”.  Please note that they can vary by school, district, or state. For a more specific list of standards, ask the teachers and/or guidance counselors at your student's school.

Key Math Skills 

In general, the best way know if your student has a strong math foundation is if they can not only apply fundamental math concepts but also articulate why they work.  Your son or daughter's math foundation should include computational skills, or how to do things without a calculator, as well as an understanding of the following general mathematical principles (from Maneuvering-the-Middle):

Key Science Skills

At the end of middle school, your student should have some familiarity with life science, earth science, and physical science. Ideally, they should be comfortable with the following scientific skills and processes:

The list above was inspired by this Catholic School’s roundup of middle school science benchmarks by grade. For more information on science standards by grade and topic, visit the National Science Teacher’sAssociation

Key English Skills 

The three essential skills that I mentioned earlier (learning independently, thinking critically, and writing with clarity) are critical for your student to succeed in high school English classes. They should also be familiar with:

The list above is based on my own experience as a middle school English teacher and reflects the common core standards for English Language Arts.

Key Social Studies Skills  

According to the National Council for Social Studies, the ten themes that form the backbone of social studies for grades pre-K through 12 are:

Your student should have a basic familiarity with each of these themes.

Assess Your Student's Skills  

Want a way to check your student's proficiency in critical thinking, math, reading, and other middle school skills? Use our middle school readiness quiz  to help you gauge your student's readiness. Have your student take one of the following assessments to identify skill gaps.

Get the High School Readiness Quiz

Read Test Results with a Growth Mindset 

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. [...] In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”  - Carolyn Dweck

I still remember how important the growth mindset was in my own education. I once came home in tears from elementary school because “I couldn’t do take away.” My mother reassured me that I was going to school to learn and I just hadn’t learned subtraction yet

When looking at your student's test results, use a growth mindset. If they have a skill gap in math, it just means they haven’t mastered that skill yet. If their reading level is not quite at grade level, it just means they haven’t reached that level yet

The power of the growth mindset is that it transforms effort and difficulty into an opportunity to get smarter, instead of another chance to fail. Watch this 11-minute TED Talk featuring Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, to learn more about growth mindset.  

Close Skill Gaps  

Address your student's skill gaps in math, reading, and writing before they enter high school. Enlist the help of their teachers, school counselors, or tutors for help and resources. The solutions may be as simple as targeted practice time or one-on-one sessions with a teacher, tutor, or school specialist.

For a more comprehensive solution, Apex Learning Virtual School offers math and English foundations courses. Each course is two semesters in length. Your student may only need to take one semester depending on their skills gaps.

Your student can take these online courses anytime, anywhere, and at their own pace. They can complete them after school, on the weekends, or over the summer.

These courses will challenge your student to learn independently, but they won’t be alone. A certified teacher will grade work, provide individualized feedback, and offer guidance. Plus, online tutors are available to help in real-time, Monday through Friday.

Get the High School Readiness Quiz


One of the best ways you can help your student prepare for high school is to make sure they have a strong academic foundation.

That means that your student develops three essential skills in middle school: learning independently, thinking critically, and writing with clarity. 

It also means that you discover and address your student's academic skill gaps before they enter high school, especially in math and reading. You can use inexpensive tools like the ADAM K-7 math assessment and the DORA reading assessment to see your student's strengths and weaknesses. 

middle schoolerEncourage your student to use a growth mindset of “I don't know how to do that yet” when you review the results with them. This will help your student challenge themselves to learn skills they haven't yet mastered, rather than lead to feelings of failure. 

To help address skill gaps, enlist the support of your student's school. Work with their teachers and counselors on ways to address the skill gaps inside and outside the classroom. Or, consider enrolling your student in an online course that reviews skills learned in grades 3-8. 

A comprehensive course taught by a certified teacher will help your student gain confidence and understanding with lots of practice and support. I recommend Math Foundations I, Math Foundations II, and English Foundations I, and English Foundations II from Apex Learning Virtual School. 

Academics is a huge part of high school. Your student's transition from middle school to high school will be much smoother if you know how to prepare them for high school academics.

But academics aren’t the whole story. That’s why in my next blog post I’ll show you how to make sure your student starts to build healthy social, organizational, and personal habits before they enter high school.

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