Andy Ying / Takoma Park MS ⮞ Blair HS

My rise to the magnet programs was one that was thrilling at every turn. My history with the Dr. Li Program can be traced back to 5th grade, in which Dr. Li greatly assisted me with getting into Takoma Park, an extremely competitive middle school. I knew that those 3 years I spent in middle school were not meant to be thrown away and wasted, but that every precious second I had was to ensure that I had an edge in high school applications.

After a 3-year hiatus from Dr. Li, I returned to start preparing for applications into the Blair magnet program and the Richard Montgomery IB program. When I was young and naive, I thought Takoma was competitive, but high school was a whole new playing field. Every move I made mattered now as time management was key. I quickly realized that I needed to prioritize my to-do list, what classes to take, and who to spend time with. As Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” I took this advice deeply and stepping into 8th grade, I immediately began to sort who I would study and spend time with.

Additionally, I realized that it’s not just what you know, but who you know. During those 3 months, I had to prepare myself a strong group of people that can support me academically. I built up connections with people from different high schools through extracurriculars such as swimming and debate. Not only that, I made sure I talked to all of my teachers, and to establish strong connections that can bolster my recommendations, which were crucial to my success.

Coming back from 5th grade, Dr. Li was a completely different experience. Now the formatting of the magnet test was different as it was highly centralized around CogAT. This was something I’ve never seen before. The logic and reasoning, as well as the vocabulary, was a whole new beast compared to the testing for middle school. Given that there was no time to waste, I began to load up on the vocab as well as analyzing the paper folding and pattern recognition. This was grueling work but soon I had a deep understanding of each vocab word I memorized and all the possible ways to pick apart a logic problem.

Finally, I had to learn the art of crafting a meaningful essay. This is what makes or breaks your magnet test. Luckily, my class was fortunate enough to be pre-emptively told by Mr. Li that we must use a literary source in our essay. This was my wake up call. I finally realized that I had been reading junk literature for too long. At long last, I had to go to the library to immerse myself in a wide array of classic literature such as “1984”, “Crime and Punishment”, “Les Miserables”, and many more. After a disappointing start of only and 11/20, I quickly learned from my mistakes and the further I understood my literary source, the higher my score. At the end of the magnet prep, I was able to consistently score 17s and 18s out of 20.

At the end, 3 months had passed. This is how my time has been spent over the hard preparation. When I opened my letter and I saw that I got accepted to both Blair and RM, I wept tears of joy. I was able to score a respectable 99th percentile in all 3 categories and a perfect 52/52 on the quantitative reasoning section. This was enough to show that my efforts had come to fruition.

Although Dr. Li was meant as a GT prep program, the most valuable part wasn’t the packets that drilled our pacing and accuracy on CogAT or the advice on how to forge a flawless essay; I will soon forget those questions and how to do them. What will always stick to me are the words of wisdom my teachers have given me that will help me on a much greater scope than getting into my choice high school. For this, I can thank Mr. Li the most. He truly turned my world upside-down and the way I see life. Some memorable quotes from him that are always ingrained in me are that “School is a rich person’s buffet” and “To be boring is the kiss of death”. Most of all, he is truly dedicated to helping students like me, being there for any question I have and putting his wholehearted effort into answering and explaining it to me.

Overall, I’m extremely grateful for the doors that Dr. Li has opened for me in the form of being able to choose from 2 extremely prestigious high schools. Even so, this is just the beginning of another chapter in my life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not the destination.”