Tutoring for Successful Testing

When Andrea Kay moved her tutoring business back home to Minnesota from California in 2012, she first had to convince clients that “it wasn’t cheating to prepare for the test.”

Kay said that while parents in the Bay Area have for years gone to great lengths – and great expense – to land prestigious college admissions for their children, Minnesotans typically have been far less intense about it.

This is beginning to change. Parents looking to upgrade their child’s college profile usually start the conversation by saying, “My kid needs a tutor,” Kay said. Her firm, Kay Tutoring of Minnetonka, offers one-on-one instruction to about 200 high school students, and each of them “comes to us wanting to hit 30 on the ACT.”

Kay, a graduate of The Blake School who played basketball and majored in history at Yale, began tutoring in 2006 in Palo Alto, California, where she worked for six different companies before starting her own in late 2007.

Kay’s business prepares students to improve their ACT and SAT scores – and her results have been impressive. On average, Kay’s clients raise their ACT score by 5.25 points, from their first test to their third, after about 30 hours of tutoring. Higher test scores can translate into merit-based college scholarships.

For one family whose student was headed to Iowa State University, turning an ACT score of 23 into a 27 meant a $6,000 scholarship. Over four years, that improvement would save the family $24,000. Smiling, Kay said that the family “hired me just to get the money.”

In addition to test preparation, Kay Tutoring provides instruction for advanced placement (AP) courses in areas such as history, math, science, English, and foreign languages. Students with AP test scores of 4 or 5 can often qualify for college credits, or test out of introductory classes, which would allow them to focus more quickly on their major field of study.

Answering essay prompts, including those required by The Common Application, is for many students the most daunting part of applying to college. Sarah Carpenter heads the College Essay program for Kay Tutoring. Carpenter returned to her native Minnesota last year after teaching English at a private high school in Boston.

Both Kay and Carpenter emphasized that the success of Kay Tutoring relies on students working closely with their tutors. Students “have to do all of their homework,” said Carpenter. “Tutoring is an extension of teaching. Ideally, we teach students study skills so they won’t need us anymore.”