A brilliant Brooklyn student took a frightening injury and turned it into amazing success in the classroom.
Seventeen-year-old Akhilesh Khakhar, a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School, has created an award-winning learning app that has not only helped other students improve their ACT and SAT scores, but also helped him receive a perfect score of 36 on the ACT.
It all started, literally by accident, when Khakhar was a freshman. “I was walking to school, and I slipped and fell on ice and was knocked out,” he explained. “It turned out I had a concussion. After going through a couple of months of physical therapy, when I came back to doing school work, I found that it took much longer.”
The post-concussive symptoms actually impacted the way Khakhar studied and after a couple of frustrating weeks, he realized there had to be a better way.
“I read a bunch of research papers online, went to different websites and studied the psychology behind learning,” he recalled. “I learned that active learning increases memory by three times. The major component of learning is competition so I applied that directly to my tests in ninth grade. I competed with my mom and I would lose every single time. Then I competed with my friends and I would still lose, but over time I won more and more, and my test scores reflected this.”
It was also a much more fun way to study. “When you’re competing with your friends, it balances the seriousness of learning and also the passion and energy of competing,” he said.
This line of thinking led to his best idea yet in his rising student career. “The biggest tests I could think of at the time were the SAT and ACT so I created PrepUp, an SAT and ACT prep app,” he said. That itself took time and effort — indeed, he took a 130-hour online course to help him design the app.
The Fort Greene resident started creating the app during his freshman year, developed it as a sophomore, and beta-tested it during his junior year. He finally soft launched the app this past April and found immediate success.
“I hadn’t put a single dollar into marketing or advertisement, but through people searching for an app for these tests and people telling each other, it got pretty good traction in the SAT prep community,” he said. “Within the last three weeks, I actually had 2,000 downloads just from China, so it’s on its way to becoming more viral than it has already.”
On October 7, Khakhar took the ACT and received a 36, a perfect score. Others have also benefited from his studying techniques and app.
“All of my friends use it and I can see from our data that with the first couple of users, the percent of questions answered correctly increases by 20 percent,” he said. “That could be something like 12 points on the ACT, which is crazy.”
Khakhar’s app has also won several competitions, including first place in the 2017 i.Invest National Youth Business Competition.
“It’s amazing that after all these years working on PrepUp, it’s finally being seen by all these people. It makes all the years of work worth it,” he said. “When I first found a new way to study, I felt relieved and happy that I could go back to performing at an adequate level for getting good grades. Being able to help all these less fortunate children who can’t spend hundreds of dollars on test prep material, having a free ACT/SAT app for all those thousands of students, it makes it all worth it.”
His parents were hesitant at first about the venture. “My parents wanted me to get good grades and become a doctor,” Khakhar said. “I want to become an entrepreneur because you can follow your passions in life and get happy that way. At the beginning, they really didn’t want me to do this entrepreneur thing but after winning these competitions and the success of the app, they’re embracing it and have supported me throughout the process.”
Although he doesn’t know what college he’ll be attending, Khakhar has already applied to Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Princeton in order to continue to build his skills. He also has advice for other teens.
“Age isn’t going to hold you back,” he said. “It’s going to help you. People want to help kids. Everything is available to you. It’s all about learning from your mistakes and taking action.”