Standardized tests were designed to level the playing field, hence the “standardized.” They should be equal opportunities for students from around the country to demonstrate their abilities and potential. However, given how much better students who prepare for the test do than their less-prepared counterparts, it should come as no surprise that the ability to pay for test prep has become a major advantage.
And Varsity Tutors—a leading online platform connecting students with top instructors—is helping to balance the scales once more. With their “Test Prep 4 All” initiative, anyone can get access to high-quality ACT and SAT prep courses, free of charge.
To learn more about the transformative effort, we spoke to the Chief Academic Officer of Varsity Tutors, Brian Galvin, who also happens to be leading the charge—and the ACT lessons—of Test Prep 4 All.
Everyone Deserves A Shot At Getting Their Best Score
“One of the big things is that standardized testing is such a hurdle for so many people,” Brian explains. “But if you do well, it’s a springboard. Your score can take you places. When you do well, it can open opportunities.”
And given how critical test preparation is to performance, “doing well” has become increasingly cost prohibitive, which is why Varsity Tutors introduced the Test Prep 4 All initiative.
So how does the program work? For six weeks (leading up to the test date), students take classes led by Varsity Tutors’ resident SAT and ACT experts. They’ll go over essential basics like grammar and math rules, discuss important test-taking strategies, and do practice problems as a group.
The best part? The whole class is done online. While it started as a local partnership with a few schools in lower-income neighborhoods, they soon expanded to a totally free, totally public online model.
“We’re in a world where only people who can afford it are actually able to get test prep,” Brian says. “Now it’s available for everyone.”
The real challenge for Brian and the Varsity Tutors team though wasn’t teaching an effective online test prep course—it was doing it for classes that were quickly going from tens to thousands.
How Varsity Tutors Used Education Tech To Make A Solution For A Real-World Social Issue
“We can have a thousand students or more in the ‘room’ at a time,” Brian explains. “And we needed to build for that. It was a real engineering challenge.”
The solution wasn’t as simple as streaming a video of a class to that many people. Interactivity and digitization of the real classroom learning experience are essential parts of the Varsity Tutors mission. Their online platform allows teachers to send out polls to their students and to answer questions live. Students can also take notes and do practice problems on digital scratch paper that is saved for reference in later lessons and study sessions.
This type of problem wasn’t actually much of a problem for a company like Varsity Tutors, Brian tells us.
“Some would say we’re an education company, but most people here would say we’re a technology company,” Brian explains. And all of that technology serves a single purpose for the company: making online tutoring not just the same, but better than the alternative.
“Everything we do is predicated on ‘How can we make online not just a substitute, but a superior learning experience?’” Brian tells us.
Whether that means scheduling tools and text message reminders to take busy-work off of their tutors, or online learning tools like a virtual white board where students can draw with phones and tablets, the technology component of Varsity Tutors is what truly sets them apart for both students and instructors.
And using that same tech-enabled approach to tackle inequality in standardized testing is some of the most satisfying work they’ve done yet.
“I’m so proud to work for a place that uses technology to really do some good in the world,” Brian says. “It’s had an impact on hundreds of students’ lives so far, too. And that’s something we’re hoping to expand.”
Know someone looking for SAT/ACT test prep? Tell them to check out Test Prep 4 All.