Within Reach
Students from all backgrounds turn to MJ Test Prep for the specialized coaching needed to achieve their academic dreams.
by Lindsey Getz

Matt Joseph had everything figured out. After receiving a writing fellowship from Cornell University, where he completed his MFA, he was prepared to become the “voice of his generation.” In the meantime, he figured he would support himself by painting houses, which would give him “ample time to think of stories.” 
When a friend suggested he also teach the SAT, he was doubtful. He suspected it would rob him of creative thoughts and force him to “grind useless information” into the heads of young minds. What he never could have imagined was that the experience would lead him to a whole new career path. 
Having learned how much he enjoyed working with students in an academic and even “counseling” type of capacity, Joseph decided to go back to school and pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. Nearly halfway through his dissertation, he heard a radio interview with someone from the College Board who claimed the SAT was not coachable. He knew this was wrong and petitioned to change his dissertation to investigate the efficacy of coaching for psychometric test such as the SAT.
More than 25 years later, and with vast amounts of research on standardized testing, learning theory, and motivational strategies to his credit, Joseph leads the team at MJ Test Prep. Together, they help at least one student each year achieve a perfect score on the SAT and ACT, with hundreds more raising their scores in hopes of getting into the schools of their choice and achieving their dreams—academic and otherwise.
‘Rigorous and Streamlined’
MJ Test Prep began humbly, as a small business in the home of Joseph and his wife, Renata, but it quickly outgrew the space. In Bryn Mawr, the Josephs built the educational center they had always dreamed of, where students could sit, study, and even enjoy a coffee while “developing a strong sense of purpose and autonomy,” says Joseph. 
The test center includes a staff of talented, motivated, and empathetic instructors. Coaching is offered for all standardized tests from high school admissions tests to graduate school admissions tests. This includes instruction for the ISEE, HSP, and SSAT for high school. For college admission testing, the center offers coaching on the SAT and ACT, as well as subject tests in math, chemistry, physics, biology, literature, Spanish, French, Latin, world history, and U.S. history. For graduate admissions tests, the center coaches for the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and MCAT.
“The program at MJ Test Prep is both rigorous and streamlined,” says Joseph. “We have a system in which we use both tests and worksheets that target specific requisite skills that these tests tap. Each week a student must complete an entire SAT or ACT and two worksheets. The worksheets are made up of representative problems taken from retried forms of actual tests. The tests are highly predictable in terms of the types of questions being asked, so having direct experience with those problems is the key to score growth.” 
In fact, plenty of MJ Test Prep’s students have achieved remarkable score growth. Over the years, Joseph has witnessed many inspiring stories of achievement. For instance, last year, he received an email from a student who had worked with MJ Test Prep 12 years ago. The student was now living in Italy doing aeronautical engineering work for a company near Rome. 
“He wrote to let us know that his work with us enabled him to get into Cornell’s engineering program that led to his job, which led him to meeting his wife,” says Joseph. “Last year, we worked with another student whose score went up 510 points—from 480 to 780 on the math, and from 470 to 680 on the verbal. His scores, along with his athletic prowess, have made him an attractive candidate for many Ivy League colleges.”
In 2016, a young woman came to MJ Test Prep disappointed with her diagnostic test scores from a large commercial test-prep company. She had scored in the mid-1200s on the SAT and 27 on the ACT. “After coaching with us,” Joseph says, “she scored both a perfect 1600 on the SAT and a 36 on the ACT.”
The stories go on and on. Through hard work and the right approach, students who were once struggling, and who once felt that these tests were the “bane of their high school experience,” suddenly find that success is within their grasp. 
Joseph says that it all starts with the “demystification” of these tests.
“The SAT and ACT have become almost a mythical and daunting rite of passage,” he says. “What we try to do is to shed light on the exact content of admission tests and how they can be broken down into manageable and discrete components that are easily taught. The demystification of these tests is paramount in getting students to recognize that they are, in fact, not inaccessible, but much easier than what meets the eye.”
This has been no easy task. He characterizes his system as “the result of years of research and analysis of tens to hundreds of thousands of questions.”
Of course, Joseph knows that many students have big academic dreams but can’t afford professional coaching—yet. Last year, MJ Test Prep assisted a young woman whose mother was a housekeeper. One of the families for whom the mother cleaned was a client of MJ Test Prep and wanted to help.
“This young woman, besides being very hard working, was a delight,” Joseph recalls. “We got her scores up by a few hundred points and she got into [the University of Pennsylvania], with everything paid for. Before coming to us, Penn was not on her radar.”
This instance, among others, urged the Josephs to form a nonprofit as a way to help them identify and assist students who would not otherwise have the means to afford test prep. With these plans firmly in place, the couple expects more students than ever to “realize their educational dreams” and envision the bright future that may have once seemed out of reach.
For more information about MJ Test Prep, call (610) 525-2840 or visit mjtestprep.com.
Photograph by Jody Robinson
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, October 2019.