— Test Prep Credentials —
Secret #5: There is no barrier to entry in the test prep industry.
To be an SAT or ACT tutor, you don’t need any kind of special certification. You don’t need any particular degree. Starting a test prep firm or tutoring practice costs almost no money. And as a result, the industry is chock-full of people who are completely unqualified to teach these exams.
There’s no other industry like this. If you want to be a doctor, you have to spend years of your life, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, gaining the proper credentials. Becoming a house painter requires proper certifications, insurance, and equipment. But you need absolutely nothing to get into the test prep industry. And because there’s so much money in the industry, it’s extremely attractive to almost anyone who wants to make a buck.
What does it take to become an SAT or ACT tutor? A phone number, a $10 website, and a few textbooks. If you want to start a classroom course, you need a rented 20X20 foot space, a teacher (you can be the teacher, so you don’t have to train or hire anyone), and a few printed copies of your materials (which you can write yourself on Microsoft Word or download from someone else). You can self-publish your own book for $20. If you have the know-how, you can craft your own online program for less than $1,000.
The problem here is that people are trained to look for credentials rather than to look for results. This buying habit means that countless under-qualified “experts” can get away with entering the industry.
This buying habit makes total sense. If I want a dermatologist, I’ll make sure my doctor is properly licensed, went to a good med school, and works at the most prestigious institution that I can afford. But the SAT and ACT industry don’t have these sorts of certifications, and so people look at the wrong things, including:
–What school you went to. Sure – going to a great school can be an indication of intelligence/achievement, but it doesn’t mean you can teach these exams.
–What SAT or ACT score you got. Sure – it’s nice to know your teacher scored well, but will he or she be able to transfer that expertise to you?
–Time in business. It’s always better to work with a more established provider – but is time in business any indication of consistent results? After all, one of the oldest and largest providers in the industry, has a track record that doesn’t even beat statistical variance (10-20 points of SAT improvement for their average student) – so does time in business give you any faith in their ability to raise scores?
–Bells and whistles. I’m blown away by how many SAT and ACT programs sell based purely on the quality of their videos and graphic design. They can’t provide any student feedback or consistent score improvement figures, but they pour hundreds of thousands into the quality of their online video production. Folks keep thinking if it looks good, then it must be a good program. Not a great way to assess if an educational product is effective.