#122 Finding the Right Test Prep with Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:31

As many colleges are returning to requiring AC T or essay t test scores for your teens college application to be complete, more parents are considering enrolling their teen and test prep classes or tutoring that can feel like one more thing to do when you’re already busy. Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by two experts in the field, Amy Seeley and Mike Bergen. Both have owned test prep companies for decades, our founding members of the National Test Prep Association and are the awesome hosts of the test and the rest podcast. With their wealth of experience. They’re here to share some invaluable insights for Finding a reputable test prep provider that will ease your worries and set your team up for success. You’ll leave with a plan for determining if your teen should prep or maybe not. When to start test prep and testing and the pros and cons of online versus in person sessions. So you’ve you’ve been overwhelmed by making wise test prep choices that lead to increased test scores. We’re here to provide clarity and guidance every step of the way. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins. And I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 01:57

Mike Bergen and Amy Seeley Welcome to the show.

Amy Seeley 02:02

Thank you so much for having us, Lisa.

Mike Bergin 02:04

Thank you for having us. It’s exciting to be on the show as a member. Well, I’ve

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:09

had you both on individually. And as your co host of test and the rest podcast, which might have been the first time I ever wrapped flourish coaching on a podcast when I was nice. So I mean, we needed to have you guys on together. So

Amy Seeley 02:27

the dynamic duo, right, Mike?

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:31

I will agree with that. You guys. And my listeners probably don’t know you guys were my podcast mentors. You inspired me to start the podcast years ago. Now. Here

Mike Bergin 02:42

it’s flattering because you’re so good at you do such a great job. Yeah,

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:46

you guys are so kind. Okay, well, people are tired of our mutual admiration society already. Stay with us, everybody.

Mike Bergin 02:54

Good thing. We got 15 minutes out of the way before we started recording. Exactly.

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:58

Yeah, they have no idea the conversation that took place at a time. So what we really want to concentrate on today, you two are both amazing test prep providers, founders part of the founding group of people for the National Trust test prep Association. The week that we’re recording, we’re going to drop this a little bit later, Dartmouth just announced that they’re the first IV to say like, Nope, we’re going all in on test scores again, they’re going to be required. Amy, you and I both live in distant parade state of Ohio. And I you know, I was just double checking the other day in this Dartmouth news like in our state, I looked up our top three public’s University of Cincinnati has not announced what they will do for next year. Ohio State is only committed to test optional for one more year, and Miami University for two more years. And so this idea of Gosh, it’s in the news. And it looks like test scores are going to continue to matter in many places and not in others.

Mike Bergin 04:06

Some would argue, Lisa, that they never stopped mattering in many places. Yes.

Amy Seeley 04:11

Well, that’s the private secret that many people are not aware of. And

Lisa Marker Robbins 04:16

I we’ve talked about that on the podcast before about how you know, our schools just giving lip service to test optional, are they not? And that’s not what we’re gonna really dissect today. But, but the idea of like, with more schools going back to test scores being required, I think more than ever families, they kind of hit pause maybe for a while I’m thinking test prep didn’t matter. Although the three of us had thriving test prep organizations despite COVID and test optional, but what I’ve seen in in the other business that I own is people are returning to Okay, I got to figure out this test prep thing. So, first of all, you know, how do you even know If your teen might need help with test prep, I mean, should they go out on their own? Should they use a test prep provider? Like what would you say to a family?

Mike Bergin 05:09

So I think that sometimes we as parents can be precious about how motivated and self directed our teens are. We all know those families where they say I bought my daughter, the AP art history book, and it’s still on our desk months later hasn’t moved, it has dust on it. And we’re like, that’s common. That’s typical. Test Prep is like any form of education like, like, if you’re trying to learn the grammar, the reading skills, the math skills, the time management, that’s like trying to learn anything else. And most people need teachers, like some people, absolutely. They want to learn something, they go online, they research it heavily, they get together with some friends, like some people can do that. Those people don’t need Test Prep. And there are lots of kids with perfect scores are close to them. They did it all on their own. But you know, if that’s your team, you know, that doesn’t magically happen, where they need teachers and coaches and tutors for everything else in their lives. But this is the thing they’re gonna bust out. All right. Don’t you find that? Amy?

Amy Seeley 06:21

Yeah, I would qualify that a little bit, too. I think, well, the first thing you said about motivation, every parent, actually not every but most think their student is motivated, right? Because if they look at a GPA that strongly think my student must have that because they’re motivated. So the difficulty is saying that, that will automatically translate into test prep, because very often it does not. But the second part of that would be I think there’s a difference between where a student is beginning and what that need for test prep might look like. So for example, you know, obviously, students who are middle of the road below average, I would say, it is difficult, if not impossible, for that student to be able to solve crap in a way that they can make a real difference in their score, because very often, they don’t know what they don’t know. And so even taking a test and looking at the correct answers sometimes doesn’t really help them. Even many of the best test prep books out there. official test books, don’t really give adequate explanation. So those students, they feel like they’re doing something they’re putting in effort. And yet, the return on that is not really optimized or maximized, sometimes with a really good test prep professional. But conversely, even those high fliers, you know, Now very often, they might be able to do some self prep, however, much like in sports, we all know, you know, if you are an NBA star player, or you know, a star NFL player, they have coaches, right, they have people who are constantly trying to make them better. And so I think one of the values of a good test prep person or expert, is they make the process more efficient, they make it more effective. And that goes a long way with students who are busy and looking for results as quickly as possible.

Lisa Marker Robbins 08:08

I agree. I mean, I think you just reference like a professional athlete. There’s also that mind set piece, right? This is well beyond just knowing the test, knowing English knowing math, it’s well beyond that. So you know, is the students are like, If a family is listening, they’re like, oh, yeah, I mean, I have three adult now adult kids, and they’re wildly different, and some more motivated than others when it comes to academics, but if a family says, okay, yep, this kiddo of mine is going to need it. And maybe this one over here can give it a go on their own. What how would you advise families? Like what traits should they look for when they’re looking at test prep options?

Amy Seeley 08:54

Take that one. So usually, when we start with them, obviously, someone who’s local is always great, someone who has a reputation. Certainly if someone has heard something about someone, that’s always hugely beneficial. But ideally, you have someone who treats this as a profession, so that this is something they do full time, it’s their full time preoccupation like to call it as far as materials go, that they are really trying to utilize all of the official test material that is readily available. So that has been the challenge with the transition of the digital LSAT is a lot of us are scrambling because we don’t have access to as many official tests as we would have in the past. But official test material is really critical. Because obviously you can really be sure that that you’re working on material that you know is likely to come up when you take the test. I think

Lisa Marker Robbins 09:47

for our listeners, let’s define real quick, official materials. So

Amy Seeley 09:54

those would be those put out by let’s say for AC t that would be the official AC T prep guide. They typically put out a new edition Should every year so the most current is generally the best, they can go to the AC T website, and there might be some additional official material available on the AC T website. In the case of TI Rs, the test information release. So if you’ve taken an AC T or you can get access to, you know, three times a your AC T makes a test and answers available. Those are hugely beneficial. Students can access their own TR if they’ve taken the test. And they want to order that in April, June, and usually December. As far as the sh t goes right now, what we’re really looking at is using blue book tests. So the blue book app through either College Board or Khan Academy, students can access at least currently, several tests. We’re hoping that a few months there’ll be some additional tests available. Currently, we’re talking about four official Blue Book SATs and one official PSAT. That would be would highly recommend. There are also question banks official question banks for college board for LSAT, that can be really helpful. We’re talking about roughly, I don’t know, Mike, about 1000 questions in the math one. But 1000 questions, there’s

Mike Bergin 11:03

a good number, many of which are unique, not that they don’t appear on the digital or linear tests. And I think, Amy, I’m not gonna put words in your mouth, but I don’t think you’re saying that exceptional test prep providers only use that material. But that’s a part of it. I I found myself I was working with a student earlier in the week. And this is like you’re talking about mindset. Lisa, this kid is going for a perfect score. He’s got a 1500. And he’s working harder than any kid I know. He’s like, doing full two hour sessions with me. And then he revealed that he’s working with a different tutor from a another company. And I was like, really well, that’s not gonna work. Because you’re gonna burn through these. We only have three tests left. He’s like, No, we’re, they’re using their tests. I was like, Oh, who cares? Like, that’s fine. Use your tat the use third party tests, because there are third party tests out there to fill the gap. And some of them are getting better, but they are not the best tests to finalize your prep on and well with the

Amy Seeley 12:03

digital predicting scores is a little bit more challenging, because we all know, the algorithm behind it is still really new. And everyone’s trying to kind of crack the code on what that means. So it’s the predictive nature of official

Mike Bergin 12:16

shade for third party AC T’s versus official AC, correct. 100%.

Amy Seeley 12:21

Yeah, yeah. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:23

and if any of our parents like digital what new SATs, what? I’m just going to, because we could spend all day on that. I’m going to tell we have a friend of ours, David blow bomb, who owns test prep in New Jersey, and he was on last March. So go to our March and I’ll drop the link to this in the show notes. But go do our March 2023. The week that it was gonna be like a year from now the digital LSAT is gonna debut. We have an episode on that. And actually, this Friday. We’re Jackie’s coming on the podcast. And we’re going to have a March episode on the new digital LSAT, because we know. Yeah, we know more now. But there’s a lot we don’t know. So that’s a whole nother can of worms. And

Mike Bergin 13:13

you just highlighted a couple of other elements that people should be looking for in test prep providers. First of all, you don’t have to know about the digital LSAT, you just have to work with a test prep provider who is staying extremely current. And you want signals of that you want to know that they belong to a fine organization like the National Test Prep association that they are collaborating, you know, you just dropped a number of names of outstanding colleagues that are in our networks, and we are part of the society if you connect with the right test prep provider, they’re part of a society of other professionals that are learning and bringing in resources and raising the general level of understanding not for the whole industry, but for whoever is part of this group. So you want to find people who show you that they’re part of that culture of wanting to bring in best practices and best information and ideal resources. Some things that don’t matter. an Ivy League degree does not matter. If you’re shopping because you you want a tutor that went to Harvard, you are just throwing money away not to say that you wouldn’t find a great tutor, possibly. But that’s not what makes a great tutor. That’s not that this person doesn’t need to have a bunch of perfect scores behind their name. They need to be great teachers, they need to be great educators, they need to have great social skills and the ability to build a rapport with your team. They need to

Amy Seeley 14:40

be simplified,

Mike Bergin 14:41

that are complicated. Yeah. Like Like what are we looking for in professionals? We’re looking for a long tail of success and happiness. I think the main thing you’re looking for really is if you ask your friends you ask other parents, you ask counselors like who do you recommend that you Even if they say, Well, you know, we officially don’t recommend anybody, that’s fine. Who would you send your team to? Yeah,

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:05

a lot of times, parents don’t know that, you know, the school counselor. They have a policy in their district, like we can’t endorse anyone. So you know, but that question, love that question, Mike. Well, if it were your team, who would you send? Or who did you send your to? Who

Mike Bergin 15:21

did you it’s very, very common.

Amy Seeley 15:23

Where did you send your student? Right? Exactly?

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:25

Well, you bring that, you know, that really brings something up to about like, word of mouth is very powerful. And you know, what you’re crowdsourcing this. And when we’re sitting around watching television, we see maybe advertisements for and I’m not going to name any of them. But the the big the big box, test prep providers, and you know, what, you know, why shouldn’t they maybe do a big box versus a, I don’t know, a small practice or a solopreneur. And I can say nobody in the big boxes are in the NTPA. With us.

Amy Seeley 16:07

They are not? Well, it’s very interesting, because so many of our colleagues, to be fair, have come from big box companies, both Mike and I came from the two biggest competitors in the industry. But what’s very interesting is a lot of people who get their start in the big box, start to realize how much value they can deliver how much they can adapt their practices, stay on top of things in a way that quite frankly, I don’t think the big box companies do. I mean, I kind of look at my own career journey and thinking about how much I fell in love with teaching the TAs, and I wanted to live and breathe. Everything about them, like learning, always learning. I don’t think you typically see that in people that work in the big boxes, because generally, if they loved that industry so much, they want to go out there and sort of do it on their own and that like, then they’re before, you know, they are so booked and busy, because they’re getting all those referrals were speaking of. Yeah, I

Mike Bergin 17:07

think that you’re totally right, that, you know, we started at what we call Big Box companies, right. And actually, I went from one to another. And I wanted to explore other parts of this. And I found myself in the corporate office creating all of the curriculum that was used in all the centers across the country. But nobody would ever work with me, nobody who ever went to that company would ever work with anybody who worked with somebody who worked with me, like I was so far removed. So what you say me that the people that want to really work with students and want to make a living doing so you can’t make a living doing that tutoring for a big box company, you have to work for a smaller company or create your own. I think that just comes down to the idea that when we talk about the brand that you’ve heard of the brand that you grew up with, as a parent, that 30 year old, 40 year old, you we know who we’re talking about, it’s possible that your team could get a great tutor from that, because that happens because people gravitate, and those are the names that they think of. But there’s no consistency whatsoever. And there’s no accountability. Ultimately, when you contact a small provider, you contact the solopreneur. You’re either talking directly to the principal, or you’re talking to somebody who works directly for the principal, and you can get on the phone or an email very quickly. And that’s meaningful, that’s the that, that level of accountability, that level of consistency, you know, you’re working with that person, or somebody who is trained and managed by that person means that you have a better chance at the outcomes you’re looking for. And I mean, we only have so many children, we can’t roll the dice on

Amy Seeley 18:49

that some of us can.

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:53

So you talked about getting the best results possible. You know, now in test prep, really, since COVID, we’ve seen a real rise in this, you know, online versus Test Prep. And maybe there were there was a year in there that everybody’s test prep was online, because we weren’t sitting together or cost tables and rooms, and many test prep providers, people that we know have stuck with online and some have gone back to in person and some do a mix. Like is there a right or wrong solution for that? Like, is there are there better outcomes with one or the other? Well, I

Amy Seeley 19:36

always want to profit since there’s sort of there’s a prevailing thought of the part of parents lot of times now that you know, Zoom school wasn’t effective, right? That that’s their lesson that they feel like they learned how to COVID Now I’m not gonna lie, I think that anytime we talk about large numbers of students in zooms trying to instruct does not make for the most effective individualized instruction. I will leave with that. How However, I will say that kind of the ability to use some of the some of the the tools that are available online, I think has at least in my particular case has elevated the service, I deliver tutoring online. And so it’s very interesting to me in my market, we still maintain about 50% 50% of students are requesting online and maybe 50% are requesting in person. But what we do find is the minute any of our students switch and do one session online, they never go back. So it is very interesting that the one on one instruction on Zoom is highly effective. And I think people really underestimate the power of of online tutoring.

Mike Bergin 20:41

I agree completely with Amy, I have a certain line of how many students in a group merit in person. And generally when we run classes of six or more, so like six to 12, because I’m personally not running 50 Student classes, but we have that group, that, to me seems too big to manage in a Zoom Room. So that’s great. They want those teams want to be in the same room. But a group of four individual, we’ve moved all of our one to one, to online, it’s better, in all the ways that matter. It eliminates so many problems. And especially when we’re talking about reviewing digital tests, I don’t want tutors and teens huddled over a screen together percent. No reason for that. The online makes more sense in those cases. And I know that people try to prioritize they think that and I’m not knocking people that still want to do in person, because some educators have that bias they want to do that. I just think that that’s hardly the most important factor. I know people who will give up a great tutor to go to a terrible one that will meet them in person. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:55

I think, like at this point, we it’s not like it’s 2021. And we weren’t sure if the outcomes are going to be the same. But now 2024 There’s enough data to show with test prep that the outcomes are I mean, there’s the SATs gone digital, like, you know, so there’s enough in our anecdotal experience is the outcomes are the same, regardless of others in person or not. Now, if we’re all bad, yeah, go ahead. We’re

Amy Seeley 22:29

out of digital. All my SATs students are on Zoom. I have one student right now, who is insisting on meeting in person. Do you know what we do? He sits across the table with his computer up at my mine up on their side. And we’re both on Zoom looking at his test. That just doesn’t make sense. But it feels ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. It is ridiculous. Yes, yes.

Lisa Marker Robbins 22:49

Yes. So we’re talking about outcomes there? What would be your, you know, parting words of advice to our listeners on what would students and families need really to be successful to get the outcome that they desire? So

Mike Bergin 23:04

that’s a great question. And that’s the thing, when you’re picking a test prep provider, you should understand that the test prep providers picking you too. And it is not uncommon among the best tutors and educators to not take on clients that are not event that right, we were vetting you too, we want to we want this to be successful, which means I always ask about motivation. Did your teen ask for you to contact us? If you say no, actually, he’s he really is against it, or like Well, call us when he is ready. You have to bring the motivation, you have to bring the willingness to do the work. No coach is going to take on an athlete that won’t go to practice, or they won’t practice the way the coach says to practice, right? No music teacher wants to work with somebody who only ever touches the piano in their weekly lessons. So if you’re not ready to do more than you’re doing in your session, you’re not likely to get the outcomes that you’re dreaming of. And as educators and coaches, we want to facilitate learning and growth and outcomes.

Amy Seeley 24:21

Yeah, especially since we pride ourselves on referrals, right? That the outcome of our work means we need to make sure that you’re going to put that time in, but I generally say be willing to put in about three to five hours worth of work outside of a tutoring session. Be Like Mike said, open to the advice and suggestions of your tutor and try to start anywhere between eight to 12 weeks before you plan to test. Those are the ideal situations. Great

Lisa Marker Robbins 24:46

advice. Well, I know all of our listeners are gonna want more of this dynamic duo Mike and Amy. So your podcast is absolutely fantastic. You cover much more than just testing on every topic you know similar topics to what I’m covering was some different guests different takes where can they listen to more Mike and Amy

Amy Seeley 25:10

pass and the rest.com test and the rest.com

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:14

we will put that in the show notes. And if they want to reach out to either one of you individually Amy where can our listeners find you?

Amy Seeley 25:22

So they can find me at AMI AMI at Sealy test proz.com and Celia is SS and Sam, e l EY.

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:30

Like I’m

Mike Bergin 25:32

all over you can get me at Cherry at learning that comm you can find the roots two words word of the day at roots two words.com. And if you’re a tutor, subscribe to tutor, the newsletter or a tutor newsletter. Perfect.

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:48

Well thank you both for your time. We’ll do it again. I’m sure.

Amy Seeley 25:52

Thanks so much, Lisa. Looking

Mike Bergin 25:53

forward to it already.

Lisa Marker Robbins 26:00

What a wealth of insights and guidance Amy and Mike gave to help you find your teens test prep provider. At the time we recorded this back in February 2024. It was before the onslaught of many colleges returning to test scores required to apply with the recent developments and what we suspect will be a trend. It makes this episode even more important than ever, on College and Career Clarity and the test and the rest podcast. We’ve both had episodes explaining the reality of high school grade inflation. That means your teens GPA was much easier to achieve than yours was. You can tell them so and this is a key reason colleges want test scores. Your teens GPA has become a less reliable indicator of their future success at many colleges, making test prep and excellent scores even more important, all linked to the test and the rest episode on the reality of frayed inflation in the show notes and don’t forget to follow their podcast when you get there. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your team move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about their future.