8-year-old from Surrey, B.C., among top scorers in Johns Hopkins academic test

Zhiji Dong, who goes by Jimmy, was honored in a ceremony held by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth after becoming one of the top scorers on an above-grade-level test. (Na Liu - image credit)
Zhiji Dong, who goes by Jimmy, was honored in a ceremony held by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth after becoming one of the top scorers on an above-grade-level test. (Na Liu - image credit)

At first glance, Zhiji Dong, who goes by Jimmy, might seem like an ordinary eight-year-old who loves sports and video games.

But the South Surrey third-grader is also one of the world's smartest pupils.

In February, Dong received a grand-honour award from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) for being one of about 4,000 top scorers in above-grade-level tests, which identify students in Grades 2 to 12 with high academic abilities.

"It was super exciting," said Dong's mother, Na Liu.

"It is the first time that he [attended] this test [and] he beat 99 per cent of the students who attended the test."

The CTY is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing the talents of K-12 students through advanced classes and counselling services. Students around the world can take its online School and College Ability Tests (SCAT).

Dong took the test in December 2021 as a second grader at Rosemary Heights Elementary School in South Surrey.

Students who pass can participate in CTY's summer camps across the U.S., which feature advanced courses in engineering, languages, history and more.

"My mom told me … that if I pass the test, I could go to one of the world's best summer camps. I was really excited about that," he said.

WATCH | Surrey eight-year-old talks about his award from Johns Hopkins Center:

Dong says the test's math section was his favourite — and the easiest — while the vocabulary section "was just hard."

Liu says the test has two sections: mathematics and vocabulary, each with 55 questions that students need to complete within a time limit of 20 minutes.

In a release, CTY says nearly 15,300 students from 76 countries took the tests during the 2021-22 academic year, but only 27 per cent qualified for high or grand-honour awards based on their scores.

"This is not just a recognition of our students' success on one test, but a salute to their love of discovery and learning … they have accumulated in their young lives so far," said Amy Shelton, CTY's executive director.

"It is exciting to think about all the ways in which they will use that potential … in their communities and in the world."

CTY says the tests "help families and schools understand ... how advanced the students' academic talents are" and how to nurture those skills through advanced courses.

'Many more steps of learning' to go

While Dong is pleased with his results, he says he was excited to "play video games all day" as soon as the test was over.

"I'm not the guy who likes to … study all day. I find sports much more enjoyable," he said, pointing to a wall adorned with medals and colourful ribbons from his favourite sport, speed skating.

Liu says neither she nor her husband expected Dong to do so well in the assessments.

She says they prepared for the test by reading together and going through CTY's practice questions, which became a learning opportunity for them both.

"I don't even know [some of the words], so we just [checked] to learn together," she said.  "He can work the logistics thinking very quickly, much quicker than I can."

Provided by Na Liu
Provided by Na Liu

Liu says given Dong's age, they're not quite ready to let him attend a CTY summer camp by himself, but they hope he can attend one in 2024.

Meanwhile, Dong's not sure yet what he wants to do in the future, but for now he's open to multiple options.

"It depends on my interest … if I'm interested in science, I might be a scientist. If I'm interested in sports, then I'm going to be an athlete or something," he said, adding he has a lot more to learn despite his results.

"It is a good achievement, but not exactly great since there's still many more steps of learning you have to actually do."