Students never have enough time. With classes, sports practice, rehearsals, internships, and after school jobs, no high school student wants to take on one more boring and time-consuming obligation by adding test prep to his or her already crazy schedule. And the same goes for parents. With the unending succession of deadlines and hoops to jump through, no parent wants one more occasion for argument or one more extracurricular program to monitor.
But the truth is… preparation is king. Few students can compete in today’s college application arms race without doing some kind of test prep. So the question is this:
What’s the most effective but least painful way to prepare for the SAT/ACT/PSAT ?
After working with students over the past 25 years, I’ve developed a test prep approach with four main functions:
1. Build students’ confidence
To build a student’s confidence, you have to minimize the stress and discouragement that accompanies standardized testing.
Often students have some subject they just can’t wrap their minds around. At some point in their academic lives, they told themselves that they couldn’t do math or they were bad at writing. Those limitations become identities they carry into every classroom. “Who am I? Oh, I’m a bad test-taker.” This kind of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing a problem instead of identifying one.
To address this, we work to expose doubts and fears and to demonstrate that they are much more capable than they realize. On the surface, I may be helping them prepare for a “pointless” standardized test, but ultimately, my goal is to revise their understanding of their own limitations and multiply their confidence.
2. Take the pressure off parents
The high-stakes college application process can be incredibly stressful for the whole family. The best thing I can do to help is take the burden of motivation and planning off parents. To make this possible, I’ve done something pretty radical: I’ve eliminated homework from my test prep program. This means that there’s no need for parents to step in and ensure the homework’s getting done because I assign none [see: No Homework]. Zero. Nada. Zilch. All work is done in session, so as long as the student arrives with a pencil and a calculator, there is nothing to worry about or budget time for.
3. Teach the material efficiently
Both energy and time are finite resources in a student’s life, so it’s crucial that test prep be as efficient as possible. Most conventional tutoring programs use a one-size-fits-all curriculum to teach to the test; this requires hours of homework, and long, intense sessions. While this may seem useful—work as hard as you possibly can and you’ll get big results, right?—it can actually be totally counterproductive. Imagine sitting across from someone for hours at a time, as he or she points out everything you’re doing wrong, question after question. Even an adult would be exhausted and discouraged by that routine.
Instead, I draw on my nearly two decade’s worth of experience to provide immediate feedback and targeted instruction that addresses the core issues each student is having. Not only does this surgical approach minimize damage to the student’s morale, but I also deliver that feedback in the most efficient way possible: while the questions are still fresh in the student’s mind. After a student finishes a section of a practice test, he or she meets with me to go over the problems they just struggled with. This increases both comprehension and retention, resulting in bigger score gains with less study time.
4. Help families navigate the standardized testing season
“Will my son perform better on the SAT or the ACT?” “Is my daughter ready to take the test, yet?” “Which Subject Test is best?” Having worked with over 3000 students, I can guide you through the SAT/ACT testing season, advising on when to take which test in order to maximize performance and avoid the disappointing results common with students who take the test before they’re ready. No more missed deadlines. No more guesswork or partially informed advice. Just experienced strategy from someone whose life has revolved around the standardized testing season for the last 25 years.
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with just about every kind of student: from the overachiever with test anxiety to the smart kid who never tries; from the math wiz who programs in her spare time to the poet with a 504 plan; from the theater techie to the cross-country anchor; from the diligent scholar to the kid who just can’t be bothered. I’ve refined my approach to test prep, in order to address the underlying issues that affect the full range of ability levels and personalities.
While this learning process has informed how I teach, the most fundamental lesson I’ve learned over the last 25 years is that I genuinely enjoy working with this age range. I’m not their adversary; I’m their ally. And I think that comes through. [See: Testimonials]
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