The Number One Predictor of Test Prep Score Improvement

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Having tutored with students of all backgrounds in every conceivable format, we have identified the number one predictor of SAT & ACT score improvement. And it's not what you think it is.        

Without a doubt, the number one predictor student score improvement is accountability

Wait, you weren't thinking money, were you? Of course you were! Because that's the narrative we've all heard a hundred times. "Money buys test scores!"

It's a provocative headline that reeks of injustice and demands your attention. That's a must read!

Certainly an article on that topic would make for a more exciting blog post than this one, which deals with the less exciting realities of the best practices of test prep tutoring: score improvements require disciplined, sustained effort. And all of that requires accountability. 

In fairness, we're talking about the number one predictor among students who receive test prep, so you could make the claim that we're only dealing with a generally wealthier subset of all students. However, when it comes to test prep, money is merely a blunt instrument. Buying expensive tutoring is not necessarily any more effective than throwing money at any other problem. 

To put it another way, money is but one of a number of tools that can be used to to establish some measure of student accountability. In the end, it is that accountability that will ultimately determine whether the student succeeds or fails on the SAT, ACT, education in general, and life beyond that. I'll explain.

Some students naturally hold themselves accountable for their success or failure. Others have well involved parents to help to keep them on track. Still others are guided and supported by a teacher, principal, mentor, college admissions counselor, or someone else they look up to. Each of these people has the opportunity to help a student identify goals and remain accountable.  

Money alone cannot explain the presence or absence of these people in a young person's life, but it can explain one very important source of accountability: paid, professional tutors. The consensus among the hundreds of test prep professionals with whom I've spoken is that while there are many elements that make up an effective test prep course, the goal is to structure those elements in such a way as to create accountability.

Accountability is the goal because that is what drives students to improve their test scores. That's why when we were developing our test prep software for tutors, we made sure to work backwards. We started with accountability and identified all the necessary features we'd need to build in order to foster that accountability on the part of the student.       

Transparency, for example, is one of the underlying features of a well orchestrated test prep course. Without transparency, the tutor cannot immediately ascertain how much effort a student put into his or her homework, leaving the tutor unable to hold that student accountable for that effort. If the student says he put in the time, the tutor has little choice but to take him at his word. Our 100% custom white label test prep system enables tutors to see exactly how much effort the student has been putting into assignments.

Defining expectations is also vital to holding students accountable. Students cannot be held accountable for assignments that are not clearly defined. This is one reason why the Clear Choice Test Prep system works so well. Our system enables tutors to assign lessons, quizzes, entire units, and even full-length tests with just a few clicks. Once something has been assigned, it's instantly available through the students' online portal and automatically receives a due date. Due dates can easily be adjusted, and all changes are immediately reflected on the student's side of the software. There is never a miscommunication as to what's been assigned or when it's due. 

Timely feedback and support are obviously important factors in student success, but most tutoring companies don't have any systems in place to provide feedback and support when students actually need it. Suppose you meet with a student on Mondays and Wednesdays and assign the student homework to be completed between sessions. When that student sits down to complete the homework on Thursday evening, he or she must do so without any feedback or support until Monday's session. And what good is support at that point?

Most likely, the two of you will stare at the student's scribbled notes from more than FOUR DAYS AGO. If you're a good tutor, you may try to coax a lesson out of those ancient texts by asking, "Do you remember what you were thinking here, when you wrote 'x = 4y + (apples) / 50mph' and crossed out answer choice C?" This is more of an archaeological dig than a tutoring session. And that's not good.

In tutoring, lessons are learned in real time... or not at all.  

An excellent tutor is not surprisingly one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. But even the best tutors have lives outside of test prep. In most cases, tutors are highly motivated to deliver quality test prep. However, without the benefit of our system, it can be difficult for students, parents, and test prep managers to gauge just how much prep time the tutor has been putting into the course.

Fortunately, the same tools we built to hold students accountable for their effort are well suited for holding tutors accountable for their effort. The result is more effective tutoring and greater score improvements.

And to make sure that tutors understand exactly what's expected of them, we developed a FREE Tutor Certification Course to guide tutors through all the best practices and enable them to deliver an exceptional test prep experience for students and parents. 

And speaking of parents, our system holds them accountable as well. Tutors and managers can trigger automatic email progress reports for parents. This keeps parents involved in the course and arms them with the information they need to hold students accountable. If they don't know what was assigned and whether or not it's been completed, then they can't do their job and hold their child accountable. But if you arm them with detailed score reports, then you close the loop. You've restored the accountability to the parties who need it the most, students and parents.

Accountable parents become active partners in the test prep process. By creating transparency among all parties, student, tutor, and manager, our system actually helps hold parents accountable too.

Tutors and managers can trigger automatic email progress reports to keep the parents in the loop. And with that information comes accountability. 

For example, a parent can't come to a tutor or manager at the end of a test prep course and say, "What's the deal?! I paid you $3,000 to help my son improve his SAT score, and it only went up by 90 points!" In fairness, a can say that, and some inevitably will say exactly that.

But the manager of that company can respond, "I'm also disappointed that your child's score didn't improve more, but it doesn't look like he put int much effort. He had a 38% on time percentage for lessons and quizzes, and he currently has 14 overdue assignments. Of course, you know that since we sent you weekly progress reports with this and much more information about the course. Every email you received included a reminder to assist your child in getting caught up or give us a call to arrange for additional tutoring time."

Those emails are designed to facilitate early interventions.  

Early interventions are the critical final piece. Getting everyone back on the same page is essential for restoring and maintaining each party's accountability to the others. When a student falls behind or habitually completes assignments with less than his or her best effort, immediate action must be taken to interrupt the negative pattern, identify the underlying causes, apply new strategies, clarify expectations going forward, and schedule ongoing evaluation. 

If proactive interventions sound like a lot of work, consider the alternative.  Every tutor knows how difficult it can be handling these issues after the fact. And anyway, an effective early intervention can actually be implemented quite quickly.

It takes all of these elements, working in concert, to create accountability for students, parents, and tutors. But as the results of our partners have shown, it's absolutely worth the time and effort to establish these systems. The time you put into optimizing systems will pay dividends in increasing score improvements, which fuels customer satisfaction. And that, in turn, will drive the growth of your business. As you can see, a little time and money spent improving your test prep offering will increase revenue and generate growth for your business.  

What do you think? In your experience as a test prep tutor, what have you observed as indicators of SAT and ACT test score improvement? How have you worked to leverage that knowledge to further increase score improvements? 

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