methodology of mr test prepMost test prep programs use a one-size-fits-all approach. Students work their way through simplified content, which is designed so relatively inexperienced tutors can teach the broadest set of subjects to the broadest set of high school kids. These programs are about coverage rather than depth.

A good tutor will pick and choose which subjects to focus on, but still, a lot of time gets wasted either going over things the student already understands or attempting to explain subjects that the student isn’t ready for yet, just because that’s the next chapter in the book. For a high school student, this uneven approach to test prep can be alternately boring and exceptionally frustrating, with moments of genuine learning in between.

After years of teaching the SAT just like everyone else, I decided to abandon convention and try a radical approach: instead of doing what parents expected me to do—lots of homework and long one-on-one tutoring sessions—I decided to do what was best for my students and their test scores.

Combining the best of group testing and private tutoring

The first thing to let go of was the traditional one-on-one session format. Simply put, it’s just not that effective. Even if the tutor has the most encouraging attitude, it’s just too exhausting and demoralizing for students to be subjected to that kind of critical scrutiny for hours at a time, and it does NOTHING for confidence. Instead, I switched to a 2 hour session format that combines the best parts of group testing with the best elements of private tutoring.

Group testing to replicate the conditions of the test

My approach is to create two separate spaces with two separate purposes. First, there is an online test room, where a group of students simulate the group-testing environment. I supply my students with real SAT and ACT tests and have them complete them section by section, sticking to the time limits, just as they will on test day. Like the actual test environment, the testing room (a zoom break out room) is not without distractions. People shuffle their papers. They tap their pens. And intermittently, I purposefully go in and cause distractions. All this prepares the students for the actual day of the test. If they can work through the distractions they encounter here, no sniffly nose or bouncing knee will upset their performance when it really matters.

Private conferences to teach content and testing strategy

After the student has completed a section of the test, I move them to a private zoom breakout room where we immediately review their work.  This break from the test helps them stay focused, improving attention and mental stamina. Second, by addressing problems as they arise rather than hours or days later—as is the case with tutoring programs that emphasize homework—students have a chance to struggle through the questions, just like they will on the day of the test, but then we walk through the problem while it is is still fresh in their minds.

Over the course of each 2-hour session, students meet with me for three private, one-on-one conferences (totaling about 20 minutes per student, each session), during which we work through difficult question types, process performance anxiety, build confidence and review test-taking strategies. This unique test prep format of group practice coupled with immediate and focused expert instruction has resulted in huge score gains for a wide range of students. [See: Testimonials]

Free group practice tests

To ensure my students have an accurate gauge of their progress, I offer full-length, online group practice tests, free of charge. After a few sessions—once he or she has had a chance to internalize some of the things we’ve been working on—I encourage each of my students to sign up for a practice test. This helps the student build mental stamina, a huge advantage when preparing for a high-stakes, four-hour, multiple-choice exam. This also helps reduce testing anxiety through low-stress exposure, making standardized testing nothing but an annoying routine, rather than a looming crisis. Embracing the routine—show up, sit down, do your work—is the best antidote I know for anxiety.

The next time we meet, the student and I go over his or her scores and address any material that posed a problem. Not only does this give the student valuable exposure to actual test-taking stressors and actual tests, but it also gives us plenty of opportunities to identify and then solve the underlying issues that cause students to struggle with standardized testing.

Mindfulness and meditation

There is no greater impediment to big scores on a standardized test than anxiety. In some ways, the thing the SAT and ACT test most effectively is a student’s ability to perform under pressure. This is why even kids with the highest grades, taking the most advanced classes, can still sometimes underperform on material that is comparatively easy when positioned next to the final for APUSH or Calculus BC.

Too many test prep programs focus on teaching students ways to game the exam: “If you see a question that looks like A all you have to do is B.” But strategy and skill building is really only part of the solution. The key is learning how to maintain poise and a positive mental state even in the midst of an intensely stressful and unnatural environment. The clock is ticking. A proctor is pacing the aisle. The kid next to you seems to be finishing the section twice as fast. How do you cope with those stressors?

The answer is mindfulness and positive self-talk. Laying the groundwork for a peaceful mental state can be the difference between a panic attack and a smooth sailing on test day. Bearing this in mind, I help my students unlearn bad mental habits—“I’m not good at this subject.” “The SAT is stupid. Why do I have to take it?” “What if I get a bad score and no colleges accept me?”—silencing the incessant, self-critical inner voice that plagues both adults and high school students alike.

Not only do I use our session time to reshape their mental image, but I also offer free, mindfulness and meditation classes once a week to anyone who is interested.

Lessons from sports psychology

Have you ever started doing something and it just felt right somehow? Mysteriously, your performance capacity has seemed to multiply overnight and suddenly you’re able to run faster/think quicker/perform better than you ever have before. Sports psychologists call this “flow state” or, more colloquially, “getting in The Zone.” As a lifelong athlete and musician, I’ve sought to reach that flow state on the basketball court and at the piano bench, but in my professional life, I’ve also sought to help my students find their flow on the day of the test.

The first step in increasing your chances of getting into the SAT/ACT Zone is changing how you think about yourself and test-taking in general—after all, no one ever got into The Zone by telling themselves that they couldn’t do it—so preparing for flow state performance starts with increasing confidence and retraining your brain to silence nagging self-doubt. While it’s essential to tune out or turn off the negative voices in your head, you also need to get as much practice as you can in order to making the unnatural and traumatizing process of standardized testing into a totally unremarkable part of daily life. With the proper guidance, you can slowly transform something remarkable into something routine, thereby giving you the mental space to find The Zone.

Even the most experienced athletes can’t be certain that they’ll find their flow state during any particular game, but with lots of practice, good mental discipline and a constructive inner voice, they can increase their chances. The same goes for students doing standardized testing.

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Our Testimonials : 185 to Date

Maria Ayala
Many people are good at what they do, less are great and then there are those rare few who were born to do what they do; Michael Romano was born to help students. His enigmatic, vibrant and intellectual personality iexudes positivity and comfort. I discovered Michael’s SAT Prep last summer as I continuously banged my head on my desk while drowning in a pile of SAT books filled with questions that made no sense to me. I never thought myself capable of excelling on standardized tests or of even attending a top university but upon meeting Michael my whole life changed. Michael is so much more than a tutor, he’s an inspiration, an unsung hero, a friend who’s there to bring out the best in you, to introduce you to your uncapped potential, which you were so blindly unaware of. It is with no exaggeration that I can say that each and every one of the 40 sessions that I attended with Michael were both a blend of academic triumph and hysterical laughter, for he is the only person that can make any SAT problem into the funniest joke you’ve ever heard. With time, his inspirational jargon will resonate with you wherever you go, to the point that “Dazzle me, don’t frazzle me” will become a common melody in your ear. In the short time I’ve known Michael, I’ve grown equally as a person as I have as an SAT test taker and I owe him much more than just a thank you for helping increase my score by 300 points! I owe him my sincerest and most genuine gratitude for giving me a future, for encouraging the highest of excellence and for proving to me as well as every single student that has ever walked through his doors, that absolutely anything is possible if one is willing to work hard enough for it. Despite my effort this testimonial still doesn’t even come close to the magic, the music, the jokes, the charisma of the greatest tutor you’ll ever meet. Choosing to work with Michael Romano was the best decision I’ve ever made and I can guarantee that it will be yours too. So to all reading this, I wish you good luck with your academic endeavors and to Michael, I applaud you on all you have done for me and every other student you’ve ever met. You truly are one of a kind : )

Maria Avalya
Middle College 2014
UCLA 2018
Julia López
Mr. Romano is the best tutor I have ever worked with… EVER!! I had gone to previous SAT prep centers, but none of them gave me the help and results that Mr. Romano did! One thing that was different with Mr. Romano, was that I actually enjoyed attending his test preps, and would even look forward to them!! As a busy student, with multiple extra curricular activities, his flexible schedule and no homework policy made prepping for the SAT less stressful! Mr. Test Prep’s one-on-one assistance helped me to not only identify my mistakes, but understand, and correct them as well. Also, Mr. Romano’s relaxed demeanor and constant positive attitude created a wonderful learning environment, which helped me improve my score by 500+ points! I also scored in the 700s on my SAT Subject Tests too! Mr. Romano totally prepared me for these exams, and I know I would not have been able to do as well as I did without him! Because of Mr. Romano, I am more confident in my test taking and academic abilities! Mr. Test Prep is more than a tutor! He is a mentor, and a pretty incredible one at that! It is safe to say that Mr. Romano is the one of the reasons why I was accepted to UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Cornell University, and Georgetown University, where I will be attending in the fall!! THANK YOU SO MUCH MR. TEST PREP!! YOU’RE THE BEST!!!

Julia López
Lincoln High School (San José) ‘13
Georgetown University ‘17
Guillermo Lopez
Mr. Romano is simply the best. Upon entering Mr. Romano’s test prep, I knew little about the SAT. The knowledge and wisdom that I inherited from Michael is truly priceless. While at Mr. Test Prep’s, Michael helped me zone in and conquer the areas in which I was struggling. Mr. Romano was very encouraging and supportive to me every time I was in his presence. Mr. Romano would carefully evaluate my progress and generously give me tips on any of my consistent confidence shortcomings. Michael’s years of experience and great social skills has enabled him to express his knowledge in ways that would help me better understand any given material. My scores, in all sections of the SAT, had climbed very significantly. Along with my growth in confidence, the appreciation I have for Mr. Romano and all his hard work grew even more. For anyone who has worked with Mr. Romano, it is clear that MICHAEL ROMANO IS THE “GO TO” GUY FOR ANYTHING RELATING TO THE SAT. Mr. Romano goes far beyond that of a SAT prep teacher. Michael has become to me more of a mentor and good friend. Other than being a great teacher, Mr. Romano is also a great person; a likable person. Michael Romano ranks among the highest all around great individuals I have had the honor of knowing. It meant all the more to me that Mr. Romano was always someone I can turn to for valuable insight on things that might be giving me trouble; both in and out of the classroom. I struggled a lot with academics in high school and often worried about my ability to continue education in a college setting, but Mr. Romano made all the difference. After I was taken under Michael’s wing, my academics made a significant change for the better. My grades began to soar hand-in-hand with my SAT scores. Mr. Romano helped me the way nobody else could. I owe a lot to Michael and thank God that He has blessed me in coming to know Mr. Romano. With all that he has done for me, Michael has helped my once far-fetched dream of continuing my studies in Santa Barbara a reality.

Guillermo Lopez
Lincoln High School '14
Sanat Barabra College '18
Veronica Louise Mendoza
I had gone to over three different standardized testing tutors in the Bay Area since my freshman year. All left me unsatisfied, with mediocre results and my mother constantly reprimanding me for spending so much money on multiple exams and different tutors. On a whim, we tried Mr. Test Prep. Many of my friends had gone to him and raved about how his tutoring style is unique, effective, and definitely worth the money. They all succeeded in their standardized test preps, why shouldn’t I?
I can clearly remember Mr. Test Prep’s response when I said, “I’m no good at math and science.” He said, “Don’t think that way! These questions are easy if you think of them as easy. Let me break ‘em down for you…” Ever since then, the ACT has not intimidated me with the daunting math and science sections. His tricks to make sure I didn’t make any “silly” mistakes even increased my scores to near-perfection in the subjects that I was stronger in – reading, writing, and English! Additionally, the group testing environment was insanely helpful in practicing what to expect during test day. Mr. Test Prep’s unpredictable outbursts of songs and people’s sneezing and coughing inevitably allowed me to block out the irrelevant and focus on the test. I also still do his meditations today before a big event or test! They have assisted me greatly in becoming more centered, and have me diving into any task headfirst with steady hands and tranquility.
Not only did Mr. Test Prep increase my confidence in test taking, but he also helped boost my overall determination in conquering whatever may stand in my way – including math and science! The results of Mr. Test Prep’s tutoring are not merely numbers. If you are seeking someone who is more than a tutor – someone who is a role model, friend, and a hilarious mentor, then Mr. Test Prep is for you!

Veronica Louise Mendoza (Mountain View, CA)
Sacred Heart Preparatory, Class of 2015
UCLA, Class of 2019
Maxwell “M-Bizzle” Bernstein
Michael Romano is the best. No exceptions. My first experience with SAT prep was with a not-so-great company, so I was at first reluctant to try Mr Test Prep. Boy, was I wrong — I should have started with him from the beginning! In the first half hour of the trial session he told me that I was probably better suited for the ACT. I tried my hand at that instead, and scored significantly higher. Mr Test Prep also helped me prepare for the PSAT, and now I am a National Merit Scholar. I definitely could not have done it without him. Michael is relaxed and funny, but don't let that fool you! He is a class A++ tutor. Thank you!!

Maxwell "M-Bizzle" Bernstein
PALY 2014
Tufts University 2018

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