Episode Notes | Episode Transcript

Episode Notes

Episode title: SAT/ACT Testing cancelled! What should a student be doing now?

Episode summary introduction: COVID-19 already impacted US college-bound students. The standardized tests, SAT/ACT being cancelled or postponed. This is causing huge uncertainty for the students and their families. Some US Colleges, in response, are going Test Optional. Add to this, social distancing is forcing the test prep industry to change.

We are interested in answering two basic questions:

  • How should the students respond to the uncertain testing landscape?
  • How is the test prep industry adapting and stepping up to help students?

To help us make sense of all this, we have invited Ashish Kumar, CEO of India-based Tutela Test Prep, India.

Topics discussed in this episode: 

  • SAT/ACT testing postponed [2:35]
  • Colleges going Test Optional [9:34]
  • Social distancing and Test Prep Classes [14:50]
  • What is Tutela Test Prep? [17:48]
  • Free Diagnostic [21:27]

Our Guest: Ashish Kumar, is the Founder of India-based Tutela Test Prep, based in Gurgaon India. Tutela offers test prep for SAT, ACT, AP testing to name a few.

Memorable Quote: "Tutela is almost like a Bollywood story…”

Resources mentioned in this episode:


  • Email podcasts@almamatters.io with the Subject: “Free Test Diagnostic” to determine if SAT or ACT is a better option for you.

Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:06  

Hi, Ashish, this Venkat How am I good?

Ashish  0:09  

I'm doing great. How are you?

Venkat  0:11  

I'm doing well, doing well.

Venkat  0:13  

So, how's India under lockdown? How are you doing?

Ashish  0:20  

Oh, somehow we are managing you know, 15 days down to the lockdown, now it's kind of taking a toll on everyone's, I would say, mental well being. And, you know, I used to be a strong person in that zone, but now I feel like kind of just confined, being confined to a particular place. So somehow we are managing through

Venkat  0:40  

Yeah, it looks like this is really global and everybody is really having a hard time with this whole stay at home under lockdown or, you know, even if it is not mandatory, it is very hard. And so what I wanted to do is have a conversation with you about, you know about what's going on with COVID-19 and how it's impacting the college bound students, especially the international students. And as you know, all the colleges in the US have shut down effectively. All the campuses, they're into virtual learning now, and lots of the standardized testing has been, you know, has been impacted. So, you know, as a guru in the test prep area, I thought you'd be a good person to talk to and get your thoughts on, you know, how we should think about these things. So in particular, I was looking at three things that I would like to get your thoughts on, and we can do it in order: one, is about all the SAT and ACT tests being postponed, canceled, second, a bunch of colleges are are wanting to go test optional. And the third thing is the impact of social distancing on Test Prep business, etc. So I thought these could be three big areas we could discuss. So maybe if that sounds good, then we can get started with, Let's talk about testing being postponed and what do you think students should do? How should we think about this?

Ashish  2:35  

Sure, sure. Just to give you an insight, you know, it started in the month of March when SAT got canceled, partially globally, as in a few places in the entire Middle East,  SAT was cancelled, a few parts of India SAT was cancelled. Then came the May attempt, and by that time, the entire pandemic situation was you know, there was outbreak going around almost every part of world, and mid of March they took a call to cancel May SAT as well, which used to be kind of our start date where majority the students used to take the test every year. Followed by that, even April ACT got canceled. And again you know following the entire trend, IB which is a diploma program got cancelled along with it GCSE. And the last one APs. APs shifted its entire testing, which used to be pen and paper to now the online module, which is an open book test and just limited to FRQ's as compared to MCQ’s and FRQ’s together. And oh, yeah, sure. So we know, broadly speaking, it has disturbed the entire test taking timeline for most of the students globally.

And you know, [the] test being postponed, here is an opinion from my end for [a] student is to utilize time properly; Plan more than one standardized test.

Ashish 4:15  

We don't know, we have no idea how the situation will turn out to be post pandemic or the entire lockdown is removed. You know, definitely the entire academic work be it school, be it standardized tests need to be done, or kind of has to be done. So plan it really well, when you have some time in hand, summer break, you know, talking about the international student. Summer break is approaching soon, school will be declaring the summer breaks, and a few of those schools have provided a continuity, that is from lockdown they're moving to summer break, and they're reopening the school post to the summer break. So broadly, we have around three to four months in hand where you can plan, utilize this time to do better.

Venkat  5:06  


Venkat  5:07  

Now, how is all this affecting the test prep industry? I mean, folks like you obviously live for these tests. So how's the industry responding?

Ashish  5:24  

So you know, first out-of-the-context thing I'll talk about myself - I need to do it! The online classes, Tutela was already prepared as of now we have been now conducting online classes since the last five years. Earlier the ratio used to be 20-30% you know, the online remaining everything over the center preparation or you know, face to face. But now the transition from online sorry, offline to online entirely. So we smoothly shifted our classroom coaching to online structure with no lag so far. So you know that all the tools and infra being in place, it has been a smooth ride so far. And we are, we are also ensuring that the important date updates regarding exam and what all changes are properly communicated to students, as well as patterns. So, so far, yeah, it has been good, but again, you know, be with all the infra and structure and the content being in place. It hasn't altered much for us.

Venkat  6:35  

Sure. How about the rest of the other [test prep firms], I mean, generally speaking, were most people offline, or was there a mix? Was that a hybrid?

Ashish  6:46  

You know, the typical, I would say, you know, here talking about Gurgaon, particularly India. Most of the people, they were more inclined towards going ahead further offline structure where they get to see the trainer, they can come and interact, though you know, the efficiency if you compare in terms of online to offline, it's almost parallel because of the technological advancement. Now, due to just this Coronavirus outbreak, people are more adaptive towards going ahead with online structure. So those 80% crowd which were earlier more inclined towards taking offline learning classes are now going ahead very smoothly. So, I'll assume you know, though, I did not get much of time to have a word with other people in the same domain, but I was speaking a while back to a couple of them and we are getting the same insights. Now everyone is shifting over to online, those who are not prepared, definitely it's putting a dent into that entire work. And so you know, they are taking time to adapt to the new structure of learning and you The whole thing needs to be customized. Because at the end of the day, these kids or the students, they need to learn. They need to feel comfortable being on the screen with the teacher.

Venkat  8:14  

Sure. Basically, your message from, you know, on this point about the testing being postponed is to utilize the time well now, prepare for it. The tests are going to happen someday and be ready for it. Here’s the time, you're at home, you have time, make use of the time. And folks like you are providing online training and online prep. And so they should take advantage of that. Yeah, I guess that's the main message.

Venkat 8:51

So let's move to the next point that I laid out, which is, you know, as a consequence of some of SATs being canceled twice and ACT being rescheduled, we don't quite know yet. how all that's going to turn out. And especially for students who are applying this year, they're, you know, they're quickly running out of test dates, to, to write the test. So a number of colleges in the US have taken on, I mean, have decided to become test optional. So, I guess the first question to you is, what does it mean that a college is test optional?

Ashish  9:34  

You know, this is the most relevant question here because, first before to conclude with our discussion, we must know what we mean by test optional. So let's say due to some constraint, you were not able to appear for the standardized test. And while you are applying to the university, you don't have the standardized test in place. So a separate part of your academic profile will get evaluated on place of that standardized test.

Venkat 10:06


Ashish 10:06

But your intelligence, your entire outlook towards academic learning has to be evaluated using something. So when the colleges say test optional, they are trying to say that if you do have the score, please report, we will look into it. If you don't have the score due to these constraint going around, you don't need to. But again, different part of academic profile will get evaluated on place of your standardized test, maybe your transcript, maybe some kind of project or some science work which you have done in past some kind of research paper which you have written. So you know, it's always good to go to report your score. Even if we do have test optional, if we have the mean of appearing for the test. In the case, when you know, let's say The College Board and the ACT comes up and they cancel the next two consecutive tests, if they do, that's the time when the colleges will come up and declare that now tests are not required. So there is difference between test optional and tested not required.

Venkat  11:24  

Agreed. Agreed. So given where we are, it's, you know, colleges are in this test optional state where they're not going to give you negative points for not taking the test. But, but it's one of those things where if you give it, if you have it, then they are going to evaluate it and you may you know, you may even be at an advantage or you may be at a disadvantage if others are submitting and you are not.

Ashish  11:53  

Definitely, definitely. if we have the means they should, go ahead with it.

Venkat  11:56  

So I guess that's how it affects the applicants. In the sense that while they meet the qualification, so to speak, for the [college application] requirement, but not necessarily get selected as a consequence, because out of the eight or nine factors that they evaluate for a student in a students application, you know, one will be missing, so the others will compensate for that and get different, you know, higher weightage. But maybe the quant component, you know, the [test] scores of this kind might be to the students benefit. So, I think I think it changes that equation.

Ashish 12:39

And Venkat if I may add a point over here, yeah, you know, I was just following through the entire news of test being optional for some universities. So, so far, you know, only a few colleges 10 to 12 to out of the entire set of hundreds of universities in the US have declared themselves to be test optional!

Ashish  13:01  

While a student is applying or you know, trying to apply for the US universities, they have a list of 10 to 12. Universities. It's not just one, you know, typically they have, you know, minimum of three to four, going as high as 10 to 12. So let's say even if two to three universities are the entire pool, if they need test score, it's always good to have it Because ultimately, you don't want to cut those universities out of your entire listing. So, you know, I have rarely seen students who aspire that, you know, I have to get into a particular University and I'll be applying to just that! So it's the weirdest case.

Venkat  13:43  

Agreed. No, your point is well taken. I mean, I think, when I was, as I was looking at it, are the 250 or so US colleges that take in the most international students less than 10% the world test optional now.

Ashish 14:00

Yeah, exactly.

Venkat 14:01

And, and, and so you are really, you know, you're really going to  have to take the test or, you know, make sure you get that in because, you know, you may be aspiring for, if you apply to 10 schools, you know, one of them may be test optional or two of them, but the other eight or nine are going to require it. So, I think that's, that's right. That's absolutely.

So really, this doesn't affect the test prep industry, right. I mean, the fundamental thing about these kind of SATs and ACTs exist continue to exist and colleges at this point are not really in a mood to get rid of it, although there's a lot of discussion around it.

Ashish 14:46

Yeah. Yeah.

Venkat 14:50

You know, one phrase that we've all learned is social distancing now. Yeah, and and that is sort of having a huge impact in every aspect of our lives, professional and personal. And so the question is, is it? Is it going to affect the Test Prep? And I think I know the answer from what you just said. But I just wanted to ask you, how is that, How, how does it affect students looking to test prep? And how's the industry responding? And I think we may have talked about it a little bit, but I just want to give you a chance to talk.

Ashish  15:31  

So, you know, given the circumstances right now, students have so much of time in hand, right, but they don't have the proper resources to things changing around. Recently, APs, it's declared itself online. It also deducted some content out of, out of the syllabus, and all of sudden, it's modified its exam structure. Now, the FRQ, The free response quotient, a subjective writing style quotient, which used to get out in all the subject, all of sudden, they modified the structure of these questions. So now I would say with these changes, you know, it creates a panic and doubt, students need the guidance more than ever before. And it's the career which we are talking about, student needs to plan well, seek help if they need, test patterns are changing, resources are limited. Student[s] need proper planning and assistance with respect to test preparation. They will be needing effective guidance from teachers, trainers or people around. So it has changed a lot, if you look from a student's perspective, things which used to be available really easy to them. Now might be a bit tough!

Venkat  17:02  

Got it. So what you're really saying is that it's not just that the test goes online, but there is a structural change, or there could be a structural change in the testing itself.

Ashish 17:16


Venkat 17:17

That requires re-tuning and obviously, more assistance and more guidance. Yeah. Got it. Fantastic. So I think, I think those are very well, you know, thought out. You have, I mean, I see where the test prep industry is, I think I understand what students need to do. And I think the students who are listening should find this extremely useful.

Venkat 17:48  

So, let's turn to Tutela. Tell me a little bit about Tutela. Give a quick sort of history and how you guys came about that.

Ashish  18:00  

You know, Tutela is a very big and more of Bollywood kind of story, but I'll try to be very crisp and condensed.

Venkat  18:07  

Yeah, no songs please!

<Laughter and music>

Ashish  18:15  

It all started as a need-based when I was in the first year of my college. I belong to, I would say, lower middle class or even, you know, back, I would say, underprivileged section of the society. I used to belong to it. So somehow my parents could manage to send me to Delhi.

Here, I figured out at the age of 17 in 2011, that's, you know, I can earn my living by teaching kids when I was just 17. I used to teach kids of age group of 12-13.  So it started with need-based to finance my education and living.

By the end of 2015, by the end of my college this became a passion for me I started enjoying. And then I realized, you know, a couple of PSUs offer up from the college, I did not take any and into a very conventional Test Prep setup, I worked for one and a half year and figured out the possibility to grow and scale if we have the zeal and if we have the know-how of testing.

Started Tutela in the year 2017 with a two man team. And since then, we have never looked back! Now we are a group of 30 plus trainers. And we have catered to more than 1000 students across the globe, including in places like Dubai, Singapore, Bangladesh, Kenya, California, Canada, Netherlands, London. So we have, you know, online and offline structures separately going around. Sure. And Tutela has so far, you know, given an average increase in SAT score by 380 points, while ACT by 7 points with 95% of our students getting, you know, fitting into their dream school 90% plus getting a perfect in subject essays and APs.

So, you know, overall, not just, you know, Tutela was in terms of test prep, But we figured out we were the first one to figure out here, that testing needs to be adaptive as well as personalized. Adaptive to fit the need. And personalized because not everyone's learning curve is [the] same. And we saved it up in a bundle. And so far, it has proved out to be really well for us.

Venkat  20:50  

That's very impressive. Very successes are amazing. So you said, +380 on an average points on SAT and +7 points on average on ACTs. So those are fantastic. So great. Now,

Venkat  21:11  

before we wrap up here

Venkat  21:15  

Is there anything else you want to add about Test Prep, to tell, or anything that a student you might want to invite students or offer students to do?

Ashish  21:27  

Definitely, definitely. You know, first thing, whatever changes is going around, don't panic. There is a solution to everything. There are people like me available everywhere. And you know, the content, whatever changes, everything is getting implemented on these standardized test. Soon everything will start falling into its place. So, you know, my message will be don't panic, seek out for help. If you're not clear with something, there are people available who can help answer all your queries and make your journey really smooth and easy.

We strongly recommend student to start the SAT that is standardized test preparation, whatever it is required, along with the academic work that is school content really effectively during this break.

Take a diagnostic test to evaluate between SAT and ACT or take a diagnostic test to evaluate where you're standing in the particular segment of standardized test which you choose to prepare for.  We have the time right now in hand. Just get organized and seek out for help. Do not procrastinate.

At Tutela, what we can offer is, you know a FREE DIAGNOSTIC TEST for everyone, FREE TIMELINE CREATION for all [the] students who reach[es] out to us.

[send email at podcast at alma matters.io with the subject line, free desk diagnostic]

Venkat  23:03  

That's fantastic. That's fantastic. I will make sure that every listener gets this and we will also separately send out this offer. So this has been great. As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation.

Venkat  23:24  

I will, you know, put this podcast up, it should be up on a variety of different distribution sites, including Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, etc.

So I hope our message, your message reaches a lot of people and at this point, be safe. Take care, and I will talk to you soon.

Ashish  23:48  

Thank you so much Venkat for having me here.

Venkat  23:51  

Thank you. Sure. Thanks. Take care.

Venkat  24:01  

Hi, I hope you enjoyed the conversation we just had with Ashish Kumar of retailer test prep, based in Gurgaon, Delhi. Do take him up on his offer for a free diagnostic test to determine whether SAT or ACT is better for you. To do so, send us an email at podcast at alma matters.io with the subject line, free desk diagnostic, and we'll do the rest.

Take care, Stay safe, and we'll bring you another podcast soon.

Thank you for listening. Bye

Is College in US for you?