Masterclass Test Prep

with Tom Ito, M.A., the ultimate SAT and ACT tutor serving Orange County

Congrats to my online students Alexa for getting a 2370 on the SAT (her superscore is a 2400!) and Rebecca for getting a 32 on the ACT (up 6 points!). Alexa lives in Boston and Rebecca lives in Ireland, so we only worked on Skype.

Some people think that online tutoring is less effective than in person tutorials. That’s definitely not the case when you have great students like these girls. I’m proud of you both!

The other day, I met a tutor that offers such an amazing and unique product that I had to create this Tutor Spotlight. Clarissa is the founder of Magic Pen Kids, which provides two services. First, Clarissa teaches students how to express themselves through writing and helps students become better creative writers, essay writers, and literary critics. This service alone is invaluable to students of all grade levels. What makes Clarissa’s program truly unique, however, is its secondary goal of helping students find their passion and goals.

Clarissa writes:

I have a way of identifying your children’s passions and finding the contests and unusual service projects they can spearhead to make them feel special and their lives, meaningful.

Clarissa fosters a process of self discovery in her students, illuminates intrinsic values/goals, and works to provide a means to actualize these values/goals. As a result, her students have gone on to receive prestigious awards, become published authors, speak at TED conferences, and create non-profit organizations.

It takes a special tutor to be able to offer such a service, and I would highly recommend any of my students, or their siblings, to talk to Clarissa. Perhaps she can put a “magic pen” in your hands and lead you in the (ever-important) process of self-actualization. Learn more about Clarissa at

Over the last week I’ve received the following text messages:

1. “i got in to stanford!!!!!!! its all thanks to you tom”

-This student went from a 1750 to a 2360 by working HARD! She is my highest scoring student of all time (tied with another guy that got a 2360 on the same day!).

2. “2 for 2 on college acceptance. hard work does pay off”

-We’re still waiting to hear from more schools too. This student learned so much about self-discipline during our training that I know that he’s going to succeed no matter where he ends up.

3. “Tom, thank you so much for all your support. You’ve not only helped me with the SAT, but with life as well. I just got accepted into Claremont Mckenna college early decision!!! You’re a boss, we need to all get dinner soon. Thanks Tom”

-This guy was a little lazy at first (we can laugh about that now), but he pushed through his limits, overcame personal issues, and came out a champion!

4. “Although those hours of ACT prep were probably the worst of my life, they all paid off!! I got into Emory!! Thank you sooo much Tom, you actually changed my life”

-I was hard on this student a lot because she was pretty stubborn at times. We figured out a compromise and she suddenly blossomed. It’s especially rewarding since we got through some major challenges and came out so successful.

I’m very very proud of all of these students. Getting news like this from my students makes me realize how much I love my job and my life. Keep up the good work everyone!!!

The standard 24 hour SAT and ACT program runs for 12 weeks (or 12 meetings). The next ACT is on 9/11/10, and the next SAT is on 10/9/10. ACT students need to start asap in order to meet weekly before the test. SAT students need to begin weekly meetings in mid July in order to complete the 12 week training. It is possible to start later, but it’s better to have more time between meetings so you have time to complete the assignments and digest the new material.

Last year, 56 students wanted to work with me but was unable to, because I was fully booked. I usually get fully booked by mid August, so please sign up for the fall tests as soon as possible.

Please contact me if you want to register or if you want more information.

The following articles are amazing! You can learn grammar and laugh at the same time. Who thought it was possible? 🙂

The first article is “The Alot is Better Than You at Everything” at Hyperbole and a Half. This one teaches you the difference between “a lot” and “alot”. It also made me cry from laughing so much, but that’s another story.

The second article is “How To Use An Apostrophe” at The Oatmeal. Everyone should read this. It talks about singular and plural possessives and contractions. I love the pictures on this site.

The third article is “How to use a semicolon; The most feared punctuation on earth.” at The Oatmeal. Similar to the apostrophe articles, but about semicolons. Very cool.

Learning should be fun. Hope you enjoy it!

The short answer is “now”.

Many students wait until the fall of their Senior year to study for the SAT. They are often overwhelmed with responsibilities: such as school, college applications, and sports. On top of that these Seniors are usually left with one opportunity to take the test, which is fine if they do well, but troublesome if they don’t since they are left with very few options.

Preparing for the SAT takes about two and a half months for the above average student. It often takes longer for students to reach their full potential. It’s standard for students to take the test two to three times so it’s important that each attempt is made after good preparation. This way the students can grow during each attempt and eventually get the highest score that they can possibly get.

SAT preparation is a two step process. The first step is to learn the content and the best approaches for taking the test. I recommend one or two meetings a week during this step in order to keep students on track and to facilitate retention. Most test preparation programs focus most of their time on this step. Unfortunately, content knowledge is only a small part of standardized testing, and students are often ill prepared for the reality of the testing environment.

The second step is to drill the material repeatedly so the new knowledge and techniques are reliable and accessible in a high pressure situation. Standardized tests are popular because they prey on “standard” student responses. Students often have to learn non-standard approaches in order to increase their scores. They learn the best approaches and techniques during the first step, but it is important for them to practice it repeatedly before the approaches become natural and repeatable. The second phase of the test preparation process usually consists of weekly meetings, homework drills, and mock tests.

Different students progress at different speeds. Therefore I highly recommend that students start preparing for the SAT and ACT as early as possible. Even Sophomores can benefit from some early preparation, such as working on critical reading skills and increasing their vocabulary.

Students can, and should, start studying for these crucial tests right now. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about what you should be doing in order to reach your highest potential on the SAT and/or the ACT.

Every term, I get a few students who have already been through a preparation course but didn’t see the score improvements that they expected. After a few hours of working with these students the students often say, “Wow I wish I knew that before” which inevitably leads to “I wish I had you from the beginning.” These students often show improvements after a few meetings. However, I too wish that I had them from the beginning so I could have spent the full time to develop them and stabilize the new approaches so they can reach their maximum potential.

Experienced teachers know what’s important and what’s not. We have developed the ability to determine exactly what the student needs and how to teach it to them in the most efficient manner. The SAT is not like a school test in which a student can just regurgitate content that was memorized the night before. It requires specific understand of the various tricks and traps that the test makers lay and how to beat them.

Invest in your (or your child’s) future. We don’t want a silly test to limit one’s options in life. As the old adage state, “buy cheap, buy twice”. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you have any questions. Most students have infinite potential if they’re given the right opportunities.