When I started out as an SAT tutor over 26 years ago, I worked for one of the big chain companies, and I learned something that very few tutors will admit: since students almost never apply themselves to test prep homework, it’s almost always a complete waste of time and energy.
When homework gets done—if it gets done—there’s actually very little A) that I can tell from their performance and B) that the students get from the experience. This is because almost no one does the homework in a way that replicates the conditions of the test. Some do a rush job in the 10 minutes before the lesson. Others make a halfhearted attempt while watching TV or intermittently scrolling through Instagram. Even the most dedicated students shoot themselves in the foot by going WAY over the time limits because they “don’t want to get a bad grade.”
Why I stopped assigning homework
It’s the dirty little secret of the tutoring industry that no one else wants to admit: homework is for the parents. Parents expect it—and they’re the customers after all, not the students—so no one ever stops to ask if homework is actually a useful pedagogical tool.
For this reason, I stopped assigning homework altogether and it’s been the best choice I’ve ever made as an educator. By not demanding that students self-motivate on their own time, I avoid the frustration and demoralization that comes with halfheartedly doing something that is simultaneously hard and boring. Of course, students get frustrated doing SAT homework! Standardized testing is designed to take place inside a strict infrastructure—proctors, ticking clocks, and silent classrooms—which forces them to take the questions seriously.
If students don’t apply the attention that these tests require, the questions go from challenging to impossible. Now, just imagine how your confidence would plummet if, week after week, you went through an unpleasant exercise that just reinforced how stupid, pointless, and tedious standardized testing is. That negative mental state basically guarantees a lower score, so why do all the other test prep programs insist on doing something so ineffective?
By dispensing with homework, I get a huge amount of credit with my students, which translates to a stronger rapport, the #1 tool in any educator’s arsenal. Eliminating homework also prevents the burnout that so often occurs 3/4ths of the way through these sorts of programs. Instead, by giving up a very limited pedagogical tool, I am able to pull out of my students a much more dedicated, serious, and engaged performance. They appreciate that all I’m asking for are the two hours of the lesson, so they work harder and stay focused longer, and that’s worth a whole lot more academically than 15 pages of homework done by the light of a TV screen.
Our Testimonials : 185 to Date
Middle College 2014
Lincoln High School (San José) ‘13
Georgetown University ‘17
Lincoln High School '14
Sanat Barabra College '18
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
Tufts University 2018