Opinion: Ode to the joys of KhanAcademy

Amy Wang, Web Editor

Art by Grace Tseng

It is with great honor that I must announce that I, like 2.7 million other high school students, have subscribed to the cult of KhanAcademy. Initially, I began using the platform’s official SAT prep course as a part of a promise to myself that I would work harder in school. Since then, however, what was supposed to be a loosely-negotiated New Year’s resolution has snowballed into much more than that. Energy points and a dashboard full of miniature, brightly colored badges have become my motivators, coaches, cheerleaders, and the false idols that I chase, all at once. It’s a rare day when I have not continued my question streak, and the green badge of KhanAcademy’s logo has become a permanent fixture on my desktop. 

It isn’t often, especially in a year that has overflowed with screen time due to online schooling, that a student is happy to sit down in front of their computer and wade through math practice problems. But with KhanAcademy, whereas I once might have found the idea of doing daily SAT practice problems entirely out of the question, the outlandish has become the reality. 

Since the beginning of 2021, I have spent fifteen minutes every morning doing practice problems for the SAT under the guidance of Sal Khan’s curriculum. To the loved ones and friends who know me best and understand that it is out of character for me to put such a constant daily effort into one thing, I can only say that I have finally succumbed to the lure of becoming a good student.

And it feels good. 

What is the black magic that keeps me coming back for more, you might ask. There is simply something so seductive in the upward tick of energy points. Something so addictive in the way every minute I spend toiling over a structural biology concept brings a boon, albeit a digital one that has no impact whatsoever on my daily life.

If you’re a desperate parent looking for resources for your child, have hope. KhanAcademy’s interface is easy to access and use, and in the case of certain courses such as the SAT prep one, has allowed me to set daily goals, ones that are a continual motivation to keep fulfilling. Beyond this, however, there’s also the simple satisfaction of beginning a streak and continuing it. Each blue star on the tiny, adjustable calendar on KhanAcademy’s SAT prep dashboard is another reminder of how far I have come. 

Moreover, SAT prep isn’t the only academic course that I’ve taken. As I’ve fallen further down the wormhole that is KhanAcademy’s search bar, I’ve begun using it for AP Biology supplements, as well. If I don’t fully comprehend a concept mentioned in class, an official course video is probably the first place I’ll turn to, to the benefit of my course grades.

Though I’m not being paid to promote his site, I cannot help myself from extolling the various virtues of Khan’s brainchild. While I could wax poetic on the beauty of the website’s avatars, or the way I would most definitely have struggled in Calculus last quarter if not for Sal Khan’s soothing explanation of derivatives, the main draw behind KhanAcademy remains its availability. Preparing for college admissions has always been skewed in the favor of those who can afford expensive test prep courses, but KhanAcademy offers at least a partial step up simply because it is free. While SAT prep courses can cost thousands of dollars for a few concentrated weeks of learning, the consistent brain training that comes with daily questions has given me more confidence in my test-taking skills. 

Beyond just standardized testing, however, the website is ultimately one that also has hundreds of courses and thousands of videos on subjects as far and wide as the biology of the cell and the Silk Road’s impact on Asia as a whole. If we can compare learning to an ocean, KhanAcademy is a state-of-the-art aquarium, a place where you can see almost all the topics you might ever brush upon in class, gathered in one place. To further this metaphor, since the beginning of this year, at times I’ve felt like a little kid on a field trip, poking here and there at things I’ve heard of but never studied. 

The breadth and width of this single educational source is truly something to behold; you can learn the basics of derivatives and read an abridged summary of the beginning of WWII, all on the same portal and with practice questions to boot. KhanAcademy’s coding courses are offered alongside ones on digital art, and basic financial literacy. My journey through the various course offerings has been one of discovery—scrolling through certain articles on the Communist Revolution has not only helped me in class but also been a step forward in the process of becoming a more knowledgeable person in general.

At the end of the day, the biggest lesson (among many others) I have learned is one of how enjoyable learning can be when it’s streamlined and free. While it may seem as though I am bombarding myself with more work within a school that already gives us a lot to deal with, I’ve merely reawakened the dormant love for learning that a lot of students have always had. All it took was Sal Khan and SAT test prep.