Frequently Asked Questions - our programs

1.     What makes the University Select program different?

Combining Critical Thinking with Pattern Recognition

Leveraging our backgrounds as law, undergraduate, and graduate professors, we developed a program that pairs critical thinking with the automation and pattern identification required on a standardized test. In university lectures, the mandate is to get students to think critically. This involves, more or less, taking a student’s intuitions and encouraging them to see trends, themes, or justifications in their views. As professors, we specialize in developing “hinges” or “coat pegs”—strategies that guide a student’s intuition. It is this pairing of a student’s critical thinking with analytics-based methods that, in our experience, yields the most consistent gains. For different test sections, this combination means different things. In math, for example, we seek to pair a spatial mapping approach to problem solving with a “cue and response” pattern recognition exercise based on University Select analytics. For reading, we rely on our backgrounds as lawyers to develop a deep textual analysis method that automates a student’s reading method, serving to hedge against over-analysis on one hand or a lack of confidence in reading comprehension on the other. In ACT Science – with time pressure the primary barrier to score gains – we developed an analytics-based time management method that increases a student’s bandwidth to engage with the material. Regardless of the test section, our unique combination of higher education methods and data analytics sets us apart.  

Our Pedagogical Model Emphasizes Student Ownership of Learning Process

For University Select students, whether in course offerings or the one-on-one program, learning is done in a workshop-based format that adopts elements of the “inverting the classroom” model. The process starts with substantive instruction, targeted to specific question types, but then graduates to supervised practice, and self-evaluation. A student’s increasing ownership of the learning process is paramount in consolidating score gains on test day. Our pedagogical model is calibrated to that goal

We Do Our Part – Planning Each Teaching Session on the Basis of Diagnostic Results

The final – and perhaps most important element of our teaching philosophy – is a commitment to customized teaching. University Select Tutors do a significant amount of background work before they even meet with a student in the one-on-one program, or teach a course based offering. In the one-on-one program, tutors plan the tutoring session entirely around trends in a student’s weekly diagnostic results. In our courses or boot camps, students receive instant individualized reports on trends in their incorrect responses via our technology platform. On the basis of these reports, students are directed to the most relevant practice materials, and are grouped into break out groups targeted instruction. There is no “cookie cutter” teaching in our programs. Our fees reflect the background work tutors do before any contact hours. 

2.     How do your programs work?

Our courses and private tutoring options offer dynamic instruction, customized to individual students. Traditional approaches to test prep involve lecturing material as if everyone was more or less the same student. Our programs seek a more targeted intervention through ongoing diagnostic testing from retired ACT & SAT tests.

On the basis of a student’s diagnostic test results, we apply our proprietary statistical analysis of each test to design a customized study package for each student.  The goal is to design a study plan that not only responds to the student’s needs, but also to those needs that are most statistically significant.

SAT/ACT Boot Camps

Our Summer Boot Camp is designed to allow students to begin their SAT or ACT prep as an intensive course of study -- prior to the commencement of the school year. Each of the subjects is covered in two days, with the exception of the SAT Math Boot Camp, which is covered in 3 days (in recognition of the weight given to Math on the SAT), and the Essay components for each test. The Essay is taught virtually through Voice Over instruction slides addressing Essay structure and substance, followed by written feedback on a student's draft Essay. 

Students can opt to attend all subjects or select - a la carte style - those subjects on which they need to work the most.

The 3 hour morning sessions focus on instruction and application, with the 2 hour afternoon session committed to review and diagnostic testing. Over the course of 2 days, students will take two full length official tests for each of the subjects, such that students can track their progress and leave with an understanding as to how they can focus their attention for even further improvement. 

SAT/ACT Courses

Our ACT and SAT courses run for six weeks and each class lasts four hours, for a total of 24 contact hours. We emphasize a workshop format in which a plenary strategy session quickly gives way to breakout groups based on similar incorrect response profiles, and interactive targeted practice sessions. Each week a student receives an individualized report based on their latest diagnostic test that tracks score progress, as well as data on the question categories that represent their most efficient score gains. Class size is limited to 15 students. 

One-on-One Tutoring

Each week, the student meets a University Select tutor for one contact hour. The tutoring session is planned exclusively on the basis of the student's previous diagnostic results. In other words, a student's most statistically significant incorrect responses on a diagnostic test or practice set form the basis for the tutoring session. To generate this material, students are responsible for completing 2-3 hours of homework each week, in the form of a Diagnostic Test and/or Targeted Practice.     

3.     Which is better for my daughter/son – Courses, Boot Camp or OOO?

Unless a student has a score below 1000 or above 1400 (SAT) or below 22 or above 30 (ACT), we view the Courses or Boot Camps as their starting point.

We see Courses or Boot Camps as an appropriate starting point for two reasons:

  • Laying the Foundation for Our Strategies: Courses and camps introduce students to the nuts and bolts of our program, familiarizing students with our strategies, question categories, and our – often unorthodox – approach to standardized test prep. Following a course or a subject-specific boot camp, should a student want to make a final score push through One-on-One Tutoring, they tend to have sufficient knowledge of our program – our strategies and methods – to make best use of the customized program.
  • Gathering Data Points on a Student: Courses and camps provide students with individualized diagnostic reports via our platform, and 50% of the classes is structured in Break Out Group format, emphasizing teaching and practice to smaller groups of students with similar diagnostic profiles. In other words, our classes are already highly individualized. By the time a student enters One-on-One tutoring, they (and we!) have a very clear view of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as an accumulation of data points from the diagnostic tests taken during the course. This allows us to be very targeted in a series of One-on-One sessions. 

4.     Without taking a course or boot camp first - how long does the OOO program last on average?

One-on-one tutoring typically runs for 8 weeks. A cap of 10 weeks is normally set, unless a student is switching between tests (i.e. starting with SAT prep, and then switching to ACT, or vice versa), in which case the cap is 14 weeks. 

We set a cap on the number of prep sessions because it is our experience that after 10 sessions, score gains tend to plateau (unless a student is switching tests). Frankly, we are also concerned that we not play into the worst elements of the test prep industry’s reputation! We want to make sure that a student is making progress, without which we are wasting everyone’s time and money! 

In exceptional circumstances – where a student is continuing to make score gains on both tests and/or where a student is seeking a very competitive SAT or ACT score – we continue tutoring past the 14 session mark.

5.     What if my son or daughter must miss a class? What is the make-up policy?

If a student is unable to attend more than one class for a particular course, we suggest that they consider a course that is better suited for their schedule, or consider one of the two make up options. However, if a student misses a class, they have two options. The student can either avail themselves of the materials covered in the class on our online platform. This includes all slides and practice sets. Alternatively—and we recommend this for students who miss more than 1 class—the student can arrange to make up a class by requesting a one-on-one session that will cover the material missed by the student. Normally, our one-on-one tutoring fee is $120. For students in our courses, however, make-up sessions are $90.

6.     How much work is required while my daughter/son is engaged in the program?

If your daughter or son is taking a course, 90% of the work will be completed in the class each week. There are two (of the six) weeks in which a student will need to complete 2 hours of diagnostic testing outside the classroom.

For OOO tutoring, students are responsible for completing 2-3 hours of homework each week, in the form of a Diagnostic Test or Targeted Practice. This is in addition to the one contact hour with the tutor.

7.     Given the importance of diagnostic testing to your program, what do you use as your diagnostic material for the ACT & SAT?

We are committed to using only official ACT and SAT tests as our diagnostic material. It is common in the test prep industry to develop proprietary testing materials that approximate the material developed by the College Board and the ACT. However, it is our view that proprietary material is just that – a best guess at the ways the College Board or the ACT formulates and distributes its questions. We believe that the best practice—the most accurate practice—comes from official sample tests from the makers of the tests. For the SAT, these are the same sample tests used by Khan Academy and others.

Instead, University Select, LLC has focused on analyzing all publicly available sample tests for both the SAT & ACT. This has allowed us to statistically analyze the frequency with which certain question categories occur, on average. This information allows us to point students to the most statistically relevant problem types. Analyzing the tests has also given us an opportunity to develop our own question categories – creating categories that fit a familiar pattern, and that can be answered through the application of a common strategy.

8.     How many diagnostic tests should my child expect to take in a typical course/OOO program?

If your daughter or son does OOO tutoring for 8-10 weeks, they should expect to take anywhere from 3 – 5 tests.  Within the course structure, students take 2 full diagnostic tests, and complete 2 half diagnostic tests—completing those sections that correspond to their previous lowest diagnostic scores. 

9.  Does University Select offer proprietary practice materials in addition to the official diagnostic tests issued by the ACT & SAT?

Yes. A lot of them! As described in FAQ 7, University Select, LLC uses official sample tests from the ACT & SAT for diagnostic testing. Rather than creating our own tests, our focus has instead been on analyzing all publicly available sample tests for both the SAT & ACT to create both a statistical overview of the tests, as well as our own question categories and question strategies.

Our teaching philosophy (outlined in FAQ 2) is heavily dependent on student ownership of the learning process. As a result, we have a great deal of resource slides and practice resources to which we direct students—on the basis of their diagnostic results.

In a typical diagnostic/practice cycle, a student is given a report that outlines the statistically relevant most frequent incorrect response question categories for each test section. The student is encouraged to review the self-directed resource slides for each of the question categories listed, and then proceed to the associated practice set. Each practice set has an associated set of explanations that walks the student through the University Select strategy application for any questions they got incorrect. The ultimate step in the process is for the student to – on the basis of the resource slides, practice set, and explanations, correct their incorrect responses on the diagnostic test. In each step of the way—and particularly for the last step (diagnostic test incorrect response correction), the tutor is available to answer questions and guide discussion.

10.  How does my child access their diagnostic reports and practice materials?

For the OOO program, students receive a PowerPoint slide deck after each tutoring session that provides the resources, diagnostic assessments, and tutoring notes. For the course, each student receives a grade report and two diagnostic reports (covering trends in their incorrect responses for each test section) via our online platform.

Note: We are in the midst of upgrading our platform, and the new version should provide seamless access to diagnostic reports and practice materials for both the course and the OOO program.

11.  How much can University Select move scores?

University Select has an excellent record of increasing ACT & SAT scores. We rely almost entirely on marketing through word of mouth, which is itself the best recommendation for our score movement.

It is the truth, however, that we are part of a test prep industry that offers a range of gimmicks such as score guarantees. It is also the truth that there are so many variables that we can’t control, such as test anxiety.

We have come to the conclusion that transparency is a must. We are working towards a year-by-year data analysis of student results (anonymous, of course!). We expect to offer a data analysis of our students’ results by July 2017, including a scatterplot, updated annually.