Baylor professors bring college exam prep to Waco area

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Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014 12:01 am

The overall growth in the number of students taking college entrance exams is among the reasons that Baylor business school professors Blaine McCormick and Steve Bradley started More Than a Teacher, an SAT and ACT prep course program, last year.

More than 1.6 million students took the SAT in 2013 and for the first time slightly more students took the ACT, according to a New York Times story.

“One reason we brought (More Than a Teacher) to Waco is that Waco students are falling behind the national college testing levels,” McCormick said. “College testing is a competitive sport. Dallas and Houston have a strong college testing culture and our students are missing out.”

More Than a Teacher started in Austin by Paul Schultz, a private school teacher and personal friend of Bradley’s. Schultz turned it into a successful regional brand with locations in Austin, Dallas, Victoria and Baton Rouge. He then offered Bradley the opportunity to bring the program to Waco.

McCormick and Bradley are both college educators, so they had a professional interest. And with six children between them, they also have a personal investment.

“One of them will be taking a college test for the next 15 years,” McCormick said with a laugh.

Since the Waco program started in February 2013, more than 100 students have gone through the SAT or ACT class or the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) boot camp.

Benefits are crucial

“We prepare students for a very serious four hours,” McCormick said. “A 50-point rise can mean thousands of dollars in financial aid. The students win because they get to go to the college they want to go to and the parents win because of the financial aid package. And I learned along the way that anyone serious about college is going to take these exams more than once.”

More Than a Teacher guarantees every student a 100-point increase. If students do not improve their score by 100 points they can either retake the course or receive a full refund, although no one has asked for a refund, they said. Even if students raise their scores by 100-plus points, they are welcome to continue taking the course as many times as they want to continue improving their score.

“Well, in my view (college entrance exam scores) are more important then we would like them to be,” Bradley said. “In my perspective, high school grade inflation has made it harder to distinguish students. And students have learned about the importance of having lots of extracurricular activities.”

Bradley said a student’s score on the PSAT, and doing exceptionally well enough to gain the rank of National Merit Finalist, is huge.

“Getting National Merit Finalist carries you forward in your career a long way,” he said. “That opens lots of doors. It’s probably the most important test you’ll take in your whole life.”

Teachers make difference

Historically, Kaplan and Princeton Review have dominated the marketplace for prep testing. However, More Than a Teacher is gaining traction thanks to its dynamite teachers, Bradley said.

“Finding the right people is pretty tricky,” Bradley said. “How do we find these teachers that are good communicators but are also National Merit Finalists? Almost every one of (Schultz’s) teachers is a National Merit Finalist.”

Waco teachers include a mixture of undergrad, graduate and Ph.D. students from Baylor. One of the teachers, Jake Hamilton, missed only one question when he took his SAT.

One of More Than a Teacher’s first students to go through the program was Simon Wang. Wang had gained admission to the University of Houston, yet he held out hope for Texas A&M. He took the course and after learning ways to raise his math score, he earned entrance into A&M’s coveted business school.

Both McCormick and Bradley said they have received great feedback about the program from parents. Chris Meyer’s daughter, Elyse, attended the PSAT boot camp this past June. She will be a junior this fall and will take the PSAT.

“That (boot camp) model is where they give a day of instruction and take a practice test,” McCormick said. “Then a day of instruction and a practice test. Ten days in a row with five tests. Students move 25 points on average. One kid moved 60 points.”

Chris Meyer said he and his wife enrolled Elyse in the PSAT boot camp because they believed she would learn test-taking strategies that would serve her well on the test.

He believes it was worthwhile.

“She enjoyed the teacher,” he said. “She learned some really good strategies to master the test. It’s difficult if you don’t know what to expect. We would absolutely recommend it. She got a lot out of it.”

Elyse agreed.

“It was really helpful to learn the ways the test is trying to trick you up,” she said. “I raised my PSAT score by 30 points, which is about 300 SAT points.”

In addition to classes for the PSAT, SAT and ACT, More Than a Teacher offers GRE classes for those seeking entrance into graduate school, as well as private tutoring.

Bradley admits that students’ busy schedules can be a challenge to proper preparation for the tests.

“The problem is these kids are trying to squeeze these tests in with the other stuff (they) are doing,” he said. “The students can boost their scores but they have to be motivated, carve out time, and use the techniques.”

But is it better to take the course in the summer when their load is lighter?

“A lot of it just depends,” Bradley said. “It definitely helps when they have time to take it during the day. The PSAT is only offered in October so sometimes taking the class right before they take the test gets them focused.” Because college applications are due in the late fall, students tend to take the course in the summer or early fall, he said.

“I think taking a class like ours makes it a lot less stressful and they can take (the exam) confidently,” Bradley said.


More Than a Teacher

About: More Than A Teacher offers classroom and one-on-one GRE preparation, as well as private tutoring. Discounts are available.

Phone: 254-300-8552 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday for more information or to schedule an appointment.


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