An Interview with Miro Kazakoff : New Approach to SAT Tutoring

Jul 8, 2013 by

testiveMichael F. Shaughnessy

1) Miro, I understand that you and your company have just developed a new approach to SAT Tutoring. Tell us about it.
Testive is pairing technology and teachers together to give students a one-on-one tutoring experience much more cheaply than traditional approaches.
Our tutors handle motivating and customizing the process for each student.
Our technology handles the things technology is best at like figuring out what students’ weak areas are, delivering the right content to them at the right time, tracking their progress and reporting the results.
Since students do all their work online, we can track if the student is doing his or her work. The tutor is there to help the student develop a study schedule and stick with it. When the student misses study days, our tutors reach out to the student and see what’s going on. As the student’s improvement begins to slow down, our tutors dive in to understand what’s preventing the student from improving.
The entire student tutor relationship feels similar to a traditional one, but looks very different. Students and tutors meet via online video. Since the tutor can see when the student is struggling, our students meetings are much more frequent (possibly multiple times per week), but also much shorter. Since the tutor knows before talking to the student exactly what the problem areas are, the meetings can be very focused on exactly what the student needs.
2) Whose idea was this, and do you consult with students on SKYPE ? Or some other venue?
This idea developed out of work Testive had already been doing on student motivation. We found that students who used our software saw consistent score improvements, but only the most self-disciplined students have the ability to stick with SAT prep when there are so many other demands on their time. As soon as we put a human teacher in the mix, students started doing to the work and seeing the results.
Our entire approach is based on maximizing efficiency of the students’ time, so our tutors meet with students using whatever technology is easiest for them, Skype, Google Hangout, phone, text message, etc.
3) Let’s talk self- discipline- how motivated would a student have to be to go thru this program and how long would it last ?
Despite what the cynics would say , we have found that most teenagers  want to improve their SAT scores and expand their college options. Like adults, however, they find it difficult to focus on important things, like the SAT, when things like homework, friends and even sleep feel more urgent on any given day. The student’s emotional connection to the tutor is turns studying from something vaguely important to an actual commitment they have to someone else. Students know that if they don’t do their work, they will be disappointing someone invested in their success. As a result, virtually every student who signs up with us sticks with the program.
We require students sign-up for at least three months, though we have seen some highly motivated students spend enough time on prep to hit their goal scores in eight weeks.
4) Reading is an important skill that sometimes kids neglect in high school- how do you increase reading rate, reading comprehension, vocabulary skills?
The same way we improve all other skills … practice and reflect. We have students read passages and answer SAT questions on those passages. More importantly, however, we ask students to reflect deeply on why they got questions wrong. Our tutors focus on helping the students reflect in substantive and concrete ways. In this reflection most students discover the skills they need to develop and the activities they need to improve those skills. If a student learns best through flashcards, we’ll help them set-up a flashcard study plan and monitor their progress. When the student develops the activity, we find it’s more effective because they are more likely to stick with it.
5) What about test taking strategies and time management?
For most students, the quickest score improvement gains actually come from filling in gaps in their own knowledge. Usually there is one subject are where the student either got poor instruction or failed to understand the material the first time around. Now that the stakes are higher, students are motivated to go refresh and relearn the material.
As we get closer to test day, students take longer practice tests in order to prepare and develop the stamina and time management skills required to endure a 5 hour test like the SAT.
6) Writing is a big part of college nowadays—does your program do any writing remediation?
The Writing section of the SAT is a combination of a scored essay and a multiple choice portion. We work with students to improve their essay scores by helping them understand how to structure their writing in a way that matches the SAT grading rubric.
7) Now- math and science—do you have special or specific programs for a student weak in math ?
We focus on all the math areas covered by the SAT. For most students, there is at least one aspect of math they failed to master the first time. One thing we like about the SAT is that it provides an external motivation for students to go back and master  areas they have been content to ignore. This is where most students’ score gains come from and it’s tremendously satisfying to know we are helping students math skills that we believe will serve them well in life.
The SAT does not have a science section.
8) What about adolescents with documented learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder—do they disclose this information first or are your people skilled enough to determine this on their own?
While we believe that our approach will work well (and possibly even better than other approaches) for many types of learning disabilities, we know that these students need tutors who understand their unique needs. We are actively looking for partners who understand these populations in order to help us modify our current solutions for LD populations.
9) As with all good things comes a price—and do you guarantee a statistically significant increase in scores?

As of July 15th, we will charge $999 for three months of tutoring and $300 for each additional month. That’s at half the cost of most private tutoring options. We guarantee a 120 point increase over students Junior year PSAT scores if they complete the minimum effort requirements of our program (about 2-3 hours a week).

10) What have I neglected to ask?
In general, people wonder how we can provide a score guarantee, private tutoring and lower prices without sacrificing quality. We built Testive to address many of things we loved and hated about being private tutors. We loved the chance to work individually with students, the measurability of success, the pay rate and the chance to make a difference. We hated spending hours tracking down a student’s needs and only a few moments teaching them the relevant concept, showing up to an appointment only to discover the student hadn’t done any work, the repetition of grading and analyzing student work and the wasted time traveling between students.
Our software strips away all the parts of tutoring that aren’t focused on one-on-one learning time. By taking out the grading, the treasure hunt for student weaknesses, and the travel we allow our tutors to focus exclusively on the best part of the job: helping students learn. We do it more quickly and efficiently and as a result can charge less for the same results.
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