How did you get the idea to start the Cambridge Colloquium?
About seven years ago, some parents of some sixth grade students had hired
me to provide enrichment tutoring for these very bright, precocious kids who
ended up taking Algebra I in the seventh grade. And I rapidly became the pied
piper of the sixth graders in Laguna Beach, our local town. And just out of
the blue one day it occurred to me, you know, these kids are so bright, if I
spent some time with them now I could start teaching them some SAT concepts and
skills, and I bet that by the time they're in tenth or eleventh grade they
might be able to be national merit scholars, get really high SAT scores, and be
admitted to any college they wanted to go to.
Is what you do unique?
I don't know of any programs that enroll students starting as early as the
seventh grade that then continue to enroll them through the eigth, ninth,
tenth, and eleventh grades for a five-year SAT program, per se. I believe we're
the only one I know about. We get calls all the time from places like San
Francisco and Connecticut. We got a call from London asking where our branch
When people call, what's the single biggest thing they want to
I have to inform them and give them some basic background on the SAT.
A lot of parents today are handicapped by this thought. When I took the
SAT, and probably you as well, it is a whole different--it's like this is not
your dad's SAT anymore. O.K., it's a different world. You don't show up to the
SAT anymore without some prep. When I went to the SAT I just woke up that day,
got in my car, drove down to the high school and took the test.
No one would do that now. I mean, if you do, you do it at your own risk.
Because the SAT, along with your grade point average, are the two most
important criteria that college admissions departments look at. By their own
admission, that is what they use to pick their entering freshman class. And
it's become--the test-prep market is shark infested waters now.
Do parents say they are coming to you so that their son or daughter
gets a 1600?
Most parents are realistic that their students can perform in a given
score range. Some parents are not realistic and you have to inform them, once
you get familiar with the student what that student's score range will probably
come out to be, and make some predictions that you hope are valid over the
course of a few years.
After you've watched a student for a year or two in the Colloquium as a
seventh and eighth grade student, or an eighth and ninth grade student, you can
ballpark where that student is going to end up if they continue with the
Do you give a guarantee?
No. There is no guarantee. And those companies that offer a guarantee, if
you look at it, they're time limited, and you can come back and repeat programs
and do things like that. But in the end, everybody knows that you have to apply
to college by the fall of your senior year, and all guarantees are over at that
Don't you think the Colloquium puts way too much pressure on kids to be
starting this early?
No. Actually I think it removes the pressure. If you start in a program in
the seventh grade, and you come once a week after school, you're engaging in a
comfortable, paced approach, to learn some concepts that will have real value
in your school work as well, the critical reading and math, building
Let me tell you what stress is. Stress is it's March of your junior year
of high school and you're enrolled in three AP classes, and you're on the track
team and the debate squad, and you volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club after
school. You're already staying up until 1:00 in the morning every night just to
do your homework. And now it occurs to you that you've done nothing to prepare
for the SAT. That's stress.
Now you're going to enroll in a crash course, try to find the time for it,
and get some moderate score improvement, you hope. And you want to go to a
90-week school, and you're out of time.
So is that why you call the other groups crash courses?
Any program that's a 60 to 90 day prep coaching course is a crash program.
That's how I view it. They have valid results. They have reported score
increases of maybe between 100 and 150 points. Those courses are geared to
provide moderate score improvement for the average student at the last minute.
But I'm not certain that a crash program really makes an overall contribution
to the life of the student. And I'm not sure that it addresses certain
questions that are on the SAT.
They're more, if you go to a crash course, quite often it's more technique
and strategy based. We view our course as content based. We're trying to
actually teach the students problem types, enhance their critical reading
skills, and actually build a vocabulary. I really remain unconvinced that you
can build an entire SAT vocabulary in 60 to 90 days.
And why start so early?
As early as the seventh grade, because I believe that early exposure to
the test helps you to become familiar with it. And by the time you're in the
eleventh grade you've had multiple years--our average score improvement is 133
points a year per student. So if you keep coming for multiple years, there's a
much greater likelihood that by the time you're a junior in high school, you'll
have a score in the 1500s. And the kids that we have that come year after year,
the top kids in the class have scores in the high 1400s and 1500s. And they
haven't gone through some enormous stress to achieve that score.
I had a student that stopped coming after the 10th grade, because at the
end of the tenth grade he had a 1500. I called his mom and said gee, you know,
if he came another year, I think he'd be about 1560, 1580, but it's his
decision. He decided at that point that 1500 was adequate for his college
admission process and I honor that choice.
Do the majority of your kids stay for the whole five years? Or do they
drop out along the way?
I would say they do not come for the entire five years. Many students
start in the seventh grade and then come for two or three years. We have had
students complete the entire 5 year course. Some students become busy after a
while with other after school demands, and I have long and lengthy chats with
their parents about the importance of continuing and other priorities take
You are saying that you don't see kids coming to you or parents coming
to you saying this is just too much of a burden?
They never stop the program because our program is too much stress. They
stop the program because they might have sports conflicts or other after school
conflicts, and they think the student is just simply too overextended from
At that point I usually invariably say I hope that we don't get to the
middle of the junior year and decide that we really regret this decision. And
I've had those conversations where parents really get to that point and the SAT
is so important and they've dropped the ball on the SAT. You can't drop the
ball on the SAT. You can't depend on sports and other compensating factors.
That test is key to the college admissions. I don't make these rules. I didn't
decide that the SAT is the criteria that should be used. I just know what the
Why do you think it has become so important in the college admissions
I think there are a variety of factors. I think grade inflation--I think
that the SAT has become as important as it has for a variety of reasons. One I
believe is grade inflation. Certain schools experience more of that than
There's an impartiality to the SAT. You sit down in one sitting on one day
and all students take the same exam. So it provides a comparison in an
increasingly diverse senior class pool of applicants. And I think colleges rely
on that as an indicator. Whether it's a reliable indicator of future academic
success or not, I can't really comment. Other people are better qualified to do
Tell me about that stress level when kids take the test.
I think that there are certain girls that are very anxious with respect to
the SAT. And I've seen them, I can tutor them one on one, and they can do very
well with me during a tutorial lesson. Then they'll go and take the SAT, and in
numerous cases I've had them come back and get very low scores with comparison
to what I've seen them do in the tutoring session. And I've determined that
they have really an acute case of test anxiety, and possibly panic attacks
during the exam, and they tell me as much.
And that's frustrating to me, because I'm not a psychologist and I don't
quite know what the mechanism is that takes over there. They're very driven
students, usually, they're trying very, very hard to get a high SAT score to go
with their grades to get into specific colleges. And sometimes that's hard to
see, because they have trained and trained and trained, and they become almost
phobic about the test.
And you've seen this with boys too?
No,I've never had a case of a boy becoming a stress case, over the SAT the
way I've seen with certain girls.
What about the pressure from the parents, the baby boomers?
There are a lot of parents today that have teenagers and they really seem
to have a lot of fulfillment in their lives through their children. And I think
it's a classic across the board to baby boomers and their children, not just in
terms of the SAT, I see it--there are volleyball parents, and there are soccer
parents, and there are SAT parents. And some of them are volleyball, soccer,
and SAT parents.
And they have very high expectations. And I don't know how unique this is
to the baby boomers. I know that it didn't seem to happen when I was in high
school. I was accepted to Stanford, but I'm not sure I could get into Stanford
today because it's become so competitive, and I would have to have a mother
that was managing my life every step of the way, which my parents allowed me
more freedom than that.
It takes an incredible amount of time and effort and energy to position a
student to apply and be admitted to the most competitive universities. There
are a lot of moms and dads today that assign themselves that task, especially
among the boomers.
Do you believe in the early bird?
That the early bird gets the worm? Absolutely. I wanted them to put that
on my headstone when I die. The early bird gets the worm, start early. And
that's planning, it pays off, especially with the SAT.
Is there a certain amount of unfairness to the process whereby certain
groups can basically buy themselves a better score?
It is an industry, it's a big industry. If you want to take an SAT prep
course, you're going to spend anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for a specific
course per se. Although my understanding is that in New York now you can pay
$500 an hour to certain tutors. So it's become a very well compensated
profession for some.
We try to keep our classes affordable for the masses. Our classes are $25
for a 90-minute lesson. So when I approach people--I've really never had
anybody say to me, this is just not affordable. Because I'll tell you
something, our SAT classes are cheaper than club volleyball and a lot of other
extracurricular activities. It's the kind of world where if you're going to
have kids, you're going to pay for their activities today, it isn't cheap. And
so do I think that, it's unfair to charge these prices for these courses? Not
at all. It's a matter of priorities. If your priority is your student going to
college, you're going to spend the dollars to prepare them for the one test
that's going to largely determine their future.
And I think people have the right to make that decision about how to spend
that money. I also do strongly believe that for those that are economically
disadvantaged, scholarships for such programs should be available. We've
offered scholarships in the past, and I have been aware that certain other
programs have offered scholarships. And I really do believe that that's
How do you feel now with the fact that people just call you based
solely on reputation? How does that make you feel?
Well, I'm happy, but I think the idea has merit. Whether it was my idea
or somebody else's, I believe in the idea. I believe in this idea strongly.
My message to mankind is, start early on the SAT. It will have bee worth it.
It's worth the time. It's worth the money. It determines your child's college
future. So I'm proud of the idea. But if it was somebody else's idea, not
mine, I would view it as valid and applaud the idea still.
What is your gravestone going to say?
My gravestone is going to say, the early bird gets the worm and advanced
planning is important on the SAT.
who got in? |
the race issue |
sat & test prep |
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the screening process |
test score gap |
getting in to berkeley |
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