Frequently Asked Questions
There were a few reasons. For one, Testing Is Easy (our old name) just didn’t seem to capture what we were about any more. We like preparing students for tests, and we’re good at it, but the test is just one of the obstacles our students need to overcome as they head from the educational part of their lives to the professional part. We also wanted to give you the information you need to avoid making a lot of the mistakes that many people make early in their adult lives, so you can have the best chance to move forward and do something in the world you can be proud of—we want to prepare you for your quest in life, not just for the test. See what we did there?
It’s a long story, but the elephant, cardinal, and rabbit all have symbolic significance in our lives going way back. The open book represents the knowledge we hope to provide you with, and the sword and shield represent the tools you will need to make your way in the world, à la the hero of your choice from some classic video game.
If you’re considering signing up for my online video course, you may have noticed that I offer a 30-day, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. That means you can try the course out for 30 days and you’ve basically got nothing to lose, because if you don’t like it, you can just let me know and you’ll get every penny back.
That probably sounds great, right? Maybe even… a little TOO great.
So maybe you’re a little skeptical. Well, I’d like to put your fears to rest.
For one thing, we use a video course platform called Teachable, which is made by a real, actual company. If we were claiming to offer a 30-day guarantee but we weren’t backing it up, students would complain to Teachable and we wouldn’t be able to use their platform anymore. In fact, Teachable actually requires their course-creators to honor a 30-day full refund period. So you’re covered there, but if we ever did you wrong–which we would never, ever do, but let’s imagine an alternate reality where that happened–you could go over our heads straight to Teachable and they would take care of you.
For another thing, we’re real people who’ve been teaching test prep online for a long time. You can see our test prep books here, which have been selling for many years:
SAT Prep Black Book, Second Edition
ACT Prep Black Book, Second Edition
You can also see the books have lots of good reviews, with nobody complaining that we took their money and then disappeared into the night. The first editions of those books (which are now out of date, so don’t buy them) have been around even longer, obviously:
SAT Prep Black Book, First Edition
ACT Prep Black Book, First Edition
So anyway, we’ve been doing this a long time, and it would be really, really dumb of us to claim to have a great guarantee and then not honor it. If you want to feel even more comfortable about all of this, please reach out to us and let us know about any questions or concerns you may have.
(thoughts on test-prep credentials, if there is such a thing)
I get a lot of emails from people asking me, usually very politely, just who the hell I think I am exactly, where I got my test-taking ideas from, and other things of that nature. I understand why people ask this question, because I realize it strikes a lot of people as pretty strange that somebody comes along and starts talking about how most people in the test prep industry don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. It naturally raises the question of what my background is, and why I think I know better than they do.
So let me state for the record, in front of God and the Internet, that I have no formal credentials or certification whatsoever when it comes to helping people do better on standardized tests. (Well, none that I’m proud of, anyway. Side note–When I was in college I taught briefly–very, very briefly–for Kaplan. To do that I had to go through a training course for a few weeks. The course taught me how to teach the Kaplan way, which includes techniques like never letting a student see you work out a question for the first time. I ended up doing myself the favor of forgetting everything Kaplan ever taught me about teaching.)
But nobody else has any formal credentials in this field, either, because there aren’t any formal credentials to be had.
There are no college degrees in the field of beating standardized tests, nor is there any kind of international test-beaters’ union, or even a loosely affiliated underground network of localized test-beating cells.
Anybody who wants to can start advertising himself as a test-prep tutor for any test at all. He can even begin publishing books or hiring teachers to form a company. Nobody has to demonstrate any ability or provide proof of any kind of training to be able to get started in this field.
So that means, unfortunately, that if you’re trying to choose a test prep provider based on the provider’s participation in some kind of universally respected accreditation process, you’re out of luck.
And that, in turn, raises another question: How are you supposed to know which tutors or companies are actually good at prepping people to take tests?
I think there are two things you should consider looking for in this regard. Here they are:
1) Demonstrated results with official test questions
When you’re trying to get better on a standardized test, it’s absolutely critical that you work with real questions–otherwise you run the risk of learning strategies that only work against the kinds of fake questions that are invented to make the strategies look good. A shocking (to me) number of companies, schools, and tutors try to prep you with questions that are made up by Kaplan, Barron’s, McGraw-Hill, or some other publisher, instead of having you work directly with the real test. A reliable tutor only works with real questions, period. You can see me using my methods to attack real test questions here:
In my sample videos, you’ll see that I always show you new ways to think about real test questions. This way, you can be sure that the things I’m talking about will really apply on test day.
2) Strong guarantees with no fine print
If a company stands behind its courses, it should have no problem offering a strong guarantee. But, while most prep companies claim to offer strong guarantees in bold type on their web pages, they use asterisks and fine print to dilute their promises; in the end, they really don’t guarantee very much at all. They tend to make you jump through a lot of hoops to exercise your guarantee. In a lot of cases, even if you do manage to produce proof that you completed all your assignments and attended every single class and practice test, all the company offers you is a chance to re-take the course anyway. I, on the other hand, offer a simple, strong guarantee for every one of my video courses: If you decide you don’t like it within 30 days, for any reason, I’ll be happy to issue you a refund. No hard feelings, no questions asked. I can only offer a strong refund policy like that because I know my approach works, and I know the vast majority of my students like my courses.
So those are two kinds of informal credentials, I suppose.
But let me also explain a little bit about my background, so you can understand where I’m coming from and why I might be worth listening to. I’d say there have been three major influences on my current approach to test prep:
- my study of linguistics in college
- my study of fencing
- over a decade of student feedback
Linguistics is, roughly speaking, the application of science and math to language. (Well, actually, there’s a whole other kind of linguistics that’s closer to anthropology, called “sociolinguistics,” but that side of it never interested me. I was into the scientific stuff.) Linguists treat language as a natural system with rules and patterns that can be uncovered through the careful study of real speech. In my linguistics classes, I learned how to look for the underlying constraints in a stream of words that seemed not to be governed by anything. The ultimate goal of linguistic analysis, like the ultimate goal of any science, is to explain and predict as many things as possible in as few rules as possible.
When I first tried to share my test-taking approach with other people, it was near the end of my college career. I had just spent a few years analyzing speech in terms of rules, environments, and underlying forms, and I just sort of naturally began applying those ideas to the questions on the test. In a sense, I treated correct answer choices the way a linguist would treat the correct form of an utterance, and I treated the incorrect choices as a linguist would treat incorrect utterances; I started looking for ways to describe what made the correct answers correct. In this way I could analyze the things I had always done subconsciously when I had succeeded on standardized tests in school. I was able to break down my approach into discrete concepts that I could teach to other people.
In some cases, it was easy to identify important parts of questions. For instance, in the analogy questions of the old SAT, it was frequently possible to answer a challenging question just by paying attention to the suffixes in the answer choices. In other cases, it was a bit harder to notice what was going on: on the SAT Math section, all the questions follow certain rules and patterns when you learn how to look at them the right way, but at first all you see is a bunch of jumbled math ideas on a page, with each question looking very different from the others.
I also quickly discovered that many of the “rules” other people were following were totally wrong. One popular example was the idea that “extreme answers” on the reading section were always wrong; there are several examples of ‘extreme’ choices that are correct in the official College Board practice books for the SAT.
I’ve continued to use this type of analysis for all the tests I’ve taken on and beaten. It works for any nationally administered multiple-choice standardized test, because the very nature of those tests requires that they use the same underlying ideas over and over–more on that in the next section . . .
When I was in college I started to fence. Fencing is an incredible sport that relies more directly on strategy than perhaps any other sport. After college, I had the extreme honor of meeting and training fairly extensively with Laszlo Szepesi, a coach of multiple Olympic gold medalists and a genius when it comes to strategy and teaching.
Through fencing, I learned about a model of strategic thinking called the tactical wheel; I also eventually studied classic strategy texts, like The Book Of Five Rings, and modern strategic models like the OODA loop.
All of this taught me, ultimately, to try to view competitive situations through the eyes of my opponent whenever possible. When I began thinking systematically about testing companies like the College Board, the LSAC, the ACT, the ETS, and so on, I asked myself: What does the company want to achieve through its test? What are the practical obstacles to that goal? How might those obstacles be overcome by the testing company? How does all of this help to explain the choices the companies make in the designs of their tests?
By asking these questions, proposing theories to answer them, and exploring those theories, I was able to figure out a lot of what the testing companies do. And I owe that, ultimately, to the strategic training I derived from studying fencing.
Fencing also taught me how to learn and refine new skills, and how to teach them to others. Almost every movement in fencing is unnatural for almost everyone, because most of us move naturally in ways that allow us to generate power and momentum. But fencing rewards speed and changes in direction, not power and momentum, so any fencer who wants to become great has to learn to control his body almost from scratch. There are a variety of ways that a coach can help him do this.
It was through watching Szepesi that I learned how to ease students into unfamiliar ways of thinking so they could learn them more easily.
But perhaps the single most indispensable influence on my test prep career has been various types of feedback I’ve received from a huge number of people with a variety of different backgrounds: students, parents, teachers, counselors, consultants, et cetera. In the years that I’ve been helping people improve their test scores through face-to-face tutoring, phone tutoring, books, large classes, small seminars, and video courses, I’ve had experiences with students I could never possibly have anticipated. These experiences have helped me strengthen my technique and broaden my perspective, and they inform everything I do when I’m working with a student.
When I answer a student’s question in a forum or over the phone, I have the experience to know what kinds of questions a student is likely to have later in addition to the questions she’s asking right now; I can tell whether a student’s difficulties with a test are actually what he thinks they are (they usually aren’t). This often allows me to help my students get very nice results where they had previously failed, and to save them the significant amounts of frustration and wasted time that most students experience when they prepare.
So if you were wondering where my approach to test-taking comes from, and why it’s different from the vast majority of what you’ll find out there in the rest of the industry, I hope this gives you a decent idea of how I developed my ideas and how I stand behind them. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out any time.
My mom asks me that all the time :).
The short version is that I always thought, from the very first time I heard the traditional approach to SAT guessing in high school, that the popular approach to test-taking strategy was wrong. So I did my own thing instead. Over the years, friends and family would come to me for help with their tests, until I eventually made test prep my full-time occupation.
Today, I pride myself on doing things differently, from my test-prep strategies to my solid guarantee (the strongest one in the industry as far as I know).
For more on my background and influences, please check out this link:
This is a pretty important question that I hear a lot. It makes sense–nobody wants to waste time and money on prepping for a test in the wrong way, and I think most people hear from their friends and family members that a lot of the test prep options out there are, unfortunately, a waste of time and money.
I think that if you watch just about any of my videos you’ll quickly get an idea of some of the things that make me different from everybody else, but I’ll try to summarize the reasons here, in order of increasing importance:
My online courses are accessible through any Internet connection at any time. We don’t have to work out a time that works for both of us, and you don’t have to worry about being late or missing class or anything, because the course is available whenever you are. This also means you can re-watch the videos as many times as you like, and you can ask me any questions you have in the members-only forum. Besides possibly having me move in with you, I don’t know how I could make my information more thoroughly and completely available to you.
Furthermore, anyone who signs up for my course and sticks with it gets full, unlimited lifetime access to all course materials–not like live classes you can only go through once, or even other online classes that usually limit your access to a few months. So if you’re planning to take the LSAT, but you don’t know when, you can sign up for my course and start preparing without the pressure of an expiration date.
It also means that if you’re taking the SAT and you’ve got siblings in the same household who will take it in a few years, they’ll be able to use the course too. Simply put, if you buy a course from me, you get full access forever, not just for a few months.
I want you to approach the test with a scalpel, not a wrecking ball. We’ll pinpoint the strategies that will get you the results you need, and throw out everything else.
Other people recommend time-wasting exercises like cramming vocabulary or reading novels or who knows what else. But I focus directly on the design of the test, so my techniques are always formulated to keep you focused on skills that will actually pay off on test day. Isn’t that what really counts?
At the end of the day, my strategies work, and the systems I use to teach them to people work, as well. I don’t just believe that my methods are faster, or that my delivery method is more convenient; I believe that my methods themselves are simply better than the traditional test prep methods. In other words, even if they were less convenient and took more time to learn, they would still be the better option because they actually get results. It’s just sort of a bonus that they happen to be quicker and simpler too :).
When you decide to work with me, you know that you’ll be satisfied or you’ll get your money back through my test prep guarantee. There’s no risk at all on your side of the equation. I wouldn’t be able to offer my guarantee (which is the strongest in the industry as far as I know) if I didn’t believe in my product one hundred percent.
Each of my courses is designed to be a complete preparation resource, consisting of two parts:
1. A complete set of training videos covering every aspect of getting ready for the test
2. Video walkthroughs of me applying my techniques in real time to an entire real practice test
The only other thing I would recommend you use is a set of real, official practice questions from the company that makes your test (not from Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barrons, McGraw-Hill, or any other third-party publisher). You can get some real practice tests here.
You’ll need these practice questions because you’ll want to try them out before test day to make sure you’re mastering the ideas correctly. They need to be official questions from the company that makes the real test so you can be sure that what you encounter in your practice sessions will accurately reflect what you’ll see when you take the test for real.
As a side note, I always emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to practice. It’s much better to spend time thoroughly understanding one practice test than it is to make yourself do twenty of them without pausing to review them, and to make sure you’re improving your understanding of the test itself.
I’m proud to say that I have the strongest refund policy in the test prep industry, as far as I know. Here’s how it works:
If you sign up for one of my online courses, you have 30 days to decide if you like it. If you don’t think my course was helpful for any reason, all you have to do is let me know within 30 days, and I’m happy to issue you a refund. No hard feelings, no questions asked.
I know a lot of companies claim to offer strong guarantees for their courses, but if you check out the fine print, the guarantees usually require you to jump through a lot of hoops, and even then they’ll only let you retake the course for free in some cases.
I don’t believe in fine print when it comes to customer service. If I didn’t think my courses were the best available, I wouldn’t have created them in the first place.
So it’s important to me that you know that my courses are a no-risk proposition for you: Either you learn my approach and find it enjoyable and helpful, like most people, or you find that it’s just not the right fit for you, and you let me know within 30 days and get your money back.
You won’t find that offer from any other test prep company that I know of.
When a customer or blog visitor has trouble watching a video, by far the most common reason is a temporary slowdown in an Internet connection, or a temporary server overload.
In the majority of these cases, the problem will fix itself if you wait a minute or two, or try closing and reopening your browser window.
If you’re using Internet Explorer to surf the Internet, you might try switching to either FireFox or Chrome:
(Even though many people use it, Internet Explorer can be a bad browser for video.)
One more thing: if you’re connecting to the internet using a 3G or cellular connection, the videos will almost certainly take a little while to load, since that type of connection is always slower.
If you try these fixes and you’re still having trouble watching the videos, please let me know, and we will figure out exactly what’s going on and resolve the problem.
We do offer one-on-one tutoring, both over the phone and in person. The rates are, frankly, quite high in comparison to the rates that other tutors charge, because the results are much better than the results that other tutors get, and because our time is in very high demand.
In the past we only accepted one-on-one clients by word of mouth, but we’re now very happy to open the service to the public. (Please follow this link for test-prep tutoring with Mike or Patrick Barrett.)
Let me be very clear, though: we don’t teach people any different strategies in the one-on-one sessions than we do in our video courses. The approach to the test is the same. The difference between the two is that the one-on-one sessions happen in real time, which means we can tailor our ideas to the student’s specific needs, and we can address any problem areas the student has together. Some clients just prefer the more immediate feel of the one-on-one format, that’s all; you still get the same strategies and training through either approach.
There’s the quick version and the long version here. For those of you with stuff to do, here’s my guarantee, the strongest one in test prep–unmatched by any company I’ve ever heard of–short and sweet, no fine print:
“I guarantee your satisfaction with any test prep video course you buy from me. If you are unhappy with your purchase for any reason, you can let me know within 30 days of your purchase and get every penny back, with no questions asked.”
Really? Really. Here’s the longer story behind our iron-clad, industry-leading guarantee, if you’re interested:
Put yourself in my shoes for a minute–imagine that you have a way to look at standardized tests that tends to make them significantly easier for you and your students than they are for most people. Imagine that a lot of the advice you give (don’t memorize vocabulary words, don’t learn formal logic, don’t take a thousand practice tests, et cetera) probably sounds crazy to most people who don’t know your results firsthand.
If you’re in that position, how do you help people realize that it’s okay to trust you with their time and energy?
The strongest way to do that, I believe, is with an iron-clad guarantee. So that’s what I went with. Please let me explain (and then let me contrast that with what most other test prep companies seem to do–even if you don’t work with me, you should know what you’d be getting into with a big company).
Our Refund Policy
Let me explain the refund policy that all of my online video courses carry:
If you decide, for any reason, that you don’t like my course within 30 days of buying it, all you have to do is send me an email and we’ll refund your purchase. No hard feelings, no questions asked. That’s it. No fine print.
So Now For The Obvious Questions . . .
A lot of people can’t believe that’s really my refund policy. But it is. And I can only stay in business with a refund policy like that because the vast majority of the people who try my courses like them–if I were getting tons of refund requests and chargebacks and complaints, our company wouldn’t last too long.
Some people ask if I’m worried about getting taken advantage of. I’m not really worried about it, frankly. I know it happens once in a blue moon, but I see it like this: If I’m going to share my underground test-prep ideas and try to prove to people that standardized tests are much, much easier than they think, then I’m going to have to bend over backwards to reassure them that I’m for real. When you’re constantly contradicting the mainstream, you have to prove that you’re legit. Having the strongest guarantee in the industry lets me show people, perhaps better than anything else would, that my approach works.
Wait a second . . . what does everybody else do?
If you’ve looked around on the Internet, I’m sure you’ve seen that lots of test prep companies claim to offer strong guarantees.
But their guarantees typically come with some significant fine print. Let’s take a look at the “money-back guarantee” of one of the most popular test-prep companies, Kaplan. Here’s the link to their guarantee page.
Read the fine print all they way at the bottom. Here are their stated requirements for qualifying for their “higher score guarantee”:
- As a first-time Kaplan student, you enroll in and complete an HSG-eligible program for which you have paid in full.
- You establish a baseline score either by completing a Kaplan proctored diagnostic or by providing a previous official test score from the test administrator.
- You take the official test after completing all requirements for your specific program.
- Within 60 days of your Kaplan program expiration date, log in to your Kaptest account and contact us via the Support tab or chat to provide us your official test score report.
Didn’t pay full price? Never established an acceptable baseline ahead of time? You didn’t complete all requirements? Didn’t submit your official score report within 60 days of the end of your course? Sounds like you’re out of luck.
As stated above, in order to exercise the guarantee, you have to demonstrate that you did everything Kaplan asked. That sounds pretty reasonable on the surface, right? The problem is that Kaplan, like most traditional test prep companies, seems to ask you to do a lot of stuff. When I was a Kaplan instructor, back a million years ago (which lasted all of a couple of months), I remember the manager of the center telling me that nobody ever completed everything, so he never had to refund anyone. The most he ever had to do was let somebody re-take the class for free. But seriously–if taking the class didn’t help you the first time, why would re-taking it suddenly help the second time?
The other giant of traditional test-taking is Princeton Review. To be honest, I was going to copy and paste some of their guarantee page here and then make fun of it, but it’s also convoluted I can’t even find one part to focus on. If the rest of your day is wide-open, take a look for yourself and you’ll quickly get an idea of how they do things over there.
Other companies do pretty much the same thing. For example, Testmasters guarantees that if you complete everything and their course doesn’t raise your score, you can re-take the course that didn’t help you raise your score, just like Kaplan and Princeton Review.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find those guarantees too compelling. Why would you want to re-take a course that didn’t help you the first time? Why should missing one assignment keep you from exercising a guarantee?
The Strongest Guarantee In Test Prep?
As far as I’m aware, the 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% guarantee that backs my online video courses is the strongest guarantee in the entire industry. It’s stronger than the guarantees offered by the most prominent traditional companies, like Kaplan, Testmasters, and Princeton Review, and it’s stronger than anything else I’ve run across.
If you don’t like my course within 30 days, you just let us know and don’t pay for it. Period.
I can only offer such a strong guarantee because my approach works, and the vast majority of my students are happy with it.