For many high school students, there is never enough time to adequately prepare for the rigorous task of taking the SAT and ACT. But at MJ Test Prep in Bryn Mawr, Dr. Matthew Joseph and his staff have perfected a proven technique for tackling the struggles that students face while getting ready to take the SAT or ACT before heading off to college.
Backed by a team of experienced tutors, MJ Test Prep practices a philosophy that “is one of optimism,” according to Dr. Joseph, founder of MJ Test Prep. “The focus we bring to the approach of learning filters into other components of their lives,” he explains. “We’re outcome driven in the sense that we’re a score driver.”
MJ Test Prep’s philosophy is centered on the idea that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are extremely repetitive and even predictable. Students can achieve the highest score possible through deliberate practice using real test questions to improve their overall test-taking skills. Andy Derrow can attest to the effectiveness of this approach. His three sons went through MJ Test Prep, and all three eventually went on to either Northwestern University or Dartmouth College.
“I have known Matt for a very long time,” Derrow says. “My kids have been working with him since 2005. They all went to Matt and all did extremely well. [His technique] is a constant process of assessing and refocusing in on problem areas. Of course it works. How could it not?”
Dr. Joseph has found that the best results occur when students start the preparation process during the summer before their junior year. “The junior year is difficult,” he says. “So to put SAT preparation on top of their already strenuous schedule, I think that can be overwhelming.”
In 2005, Dr. Joseph completed his doctoral dissertation on the efficiency of coaching for the SAT at Temple University. Through a psychology program, Dr. Joseph was able to do in-depth research on the SAT and then apply specific learning theories that ultimately became the foundation of what he and his team do at MJ Test Prep. Coaching for the SAT is mostly focused on repetition and mastery—“muscle memory” for the brain.
“Particularly for the SAT, kids have to develop a strong vocabulary,” Dr. Joseph says. “We try to get kids to memorize 55 works per week for 12 weeks. We reissue the same words in larger sets before they are able to filter them into their long-term memory.
“I had a student a few years back,” he continues. “When he came to me, he got a 530 [out of 800] in critical reading. When I asked him his goal score, he said he wanted an 800. For that, I told him he had to memorize 2,400 words. I gave him 400 words and after one week, he knew them all. That’s how I knew he was serious. He started in mid-June and finished in September. By October, he got an 800. It would have been very difficult for him to learn all of those words over the school year.”
With additional expertise provided by his wife, Renata, and interview specialist Michael Colleran, Dr. Joseph has acquired a vast understanding of standardized testing. Not only does MJ Test Prep prepare and tutor students for the SAT and ACT, but it also provides classes on individual subjects pertaining to standardized testing such as advanced chemistry, subject testing and advanced placement testing, as well as academic tutoring and interview training.
“We have a complete panel of services, from college essays to graduate testing” says Colleran. “It helps to navigate the entire process. It’s a very human issue, not just an academic issue.”
Connecting with students is equally important as preparing them for standardized tests. Dr. Joseph and his staff are committed to helping students succeed, not only academically but also in the real world they will soon step into.
“When I met [Dr. Joseph], I became automatically aware of the fact that he was an expert of what he does, and far beyond,” Colleran adds. “He is an expert in connecting with people. He will find something in people so that they can tap into their own potential and recognize things about themselves and understand their own human potential.”
When students go to MJ Test Prep, it is inevitable that they will find their strengths and ultimately acquire tactics that will assist in the college-application process. For students who have their eyes on Ivy League schools, Dr. Joseph and his team provide “tips, tricks and strategies” that will help them thrive, according to Brandon McLaughlin, former student of MJ Test Prep.
“I had a really great experience with Matt,” McLaughlin says. “He identified very quickly what my specific strengths and weaknesses were, and with his very impressive knowledge of the inner workings of the test, he was able to provide me with guidance and practice on how to attack specific question types that I struggled with. My scores went up a tremendous amount and I owe a great deal of my acceptance letter to Harvard to Matt’s tutelage.” Brandon is now back at MJ Test Prep preparing for the LSAT with David Lynch.
In addition, McLaughlin’s younger brother, Devin, earned admission into Harvard University after studying at MJ Test Prep. “[Devin] was always a good student but struggled with test taking, and was initially disheartened by how difficult the SAT was,” says Caroline McLaughlin, Brandon and Devin’s mother.
“However,” she continues. “I noticed throughout his time working with Matt that he became more and more encouraged about his prospects for doing well. He said that Matt had given him a totally new way to look at the different questions on the test, and allowed him to work more efficiently and accurately.”
Considering the success the two McLaughlin boys have had, it’s no surprise that a third McLaughlin—Brandon and Devin’s sister—will start going to MJ Test Prep beginning in the fall.
MJ Test Prep offers an SAT summer camp for students entering ninth, 10th and 11th grades. Students who attend the summer camp receive intensive, highly focused instruction in areas such as focused repetition to heighten familiarity with recurring problems, methods for ensuring speed and accuracy, strategies for essay writing, vocabulary-building techniques and guides for critical reading.
The summer camp is split into two levels. Level One is intended for students who have a desire to strengthen their test-taking skills for the PSAT and the SAT. Level Two is focused more on the SAT, providing an advanced camp for 10th and 11th grade students who have completed Level One and wish to further improve their scores.
“The idea of summer camp is early exposure in a social situation,” Dr. Joseph explains. “The people who run it are former students that have gone on to the most elite colleges. We pick them because of their unbelievable enthusiasm for learning. It’s infectious.”
MJ Test Prep’s summer camp program allows eager students—and their parents—to be entirely prepared for the SAT with enough time to home in on problem areas while enhancing and tweaking the skills that students already possess. With an array of tutoring programs, as well as scholarship programs available, Dr. Joseph and his committed staff welcome all students to MJ Test Prep for an in-depth and personal experience designed to kick start their future.
“They really feel confidence and are able to joke around with Matt,” says Renata Joseph. “Kids open up to us, and they do that because the bottom line is that we care and we want them to succeed.”
MJ Test Prep LLC
756 E. Haverford Road
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
610-525-2840 | www.mjtestprep.com
Photograph by Rob Hall