Why You Should Create Urgency to Improve Concentration

February 03, 2016

The CEO of Testive, TheRealTomRose answers questions about life, college, and stressed out parents in our quick-fire Q&A. Learn more about Testive at www.testive.com.

Alma Mater?

“Duke University (NC) and MIT (MA)”

Favorite quote?

“‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ - Anonymous. 

One of the things I have learned from my experience working with over 100,000 students on the SAT and ACT is that the single biggest thing that stops students from succeeding is not sticking with the process. The SAT/ACT score is the most important part of a college application that can be improved in the short-term. Considering how important it is, it’s a mystery to many why students have trouble getting started and sticking with a program. But I’ve learned that most students have trouble sticking with a learning program because it just isn’t that urgent. It never has to be done today until it’s too late. To be successful, one needs to create urgency. There are only two good ways to create this urgency. (1) You can take a real test (there’s nothing like getting a real score to light a fire under you); or (2) you can get a coach/tutor. (One exception, 10% of students are strangely able to self-motivate, but 90% need the help of a teacher to reach their full potential.)”

First job?

“I got super lucky on my first job out of undergrad. I was hired by the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering to be the Director of The Duke Smart Home Program. It was started as a student-led initiative to build the house of the future. As a recent student who was part of the program from the beginning, I was hired to run the project. We raised $3M from The Home Depot and built the world’s first LEED Platinum (the pinnacle award of green building) college dorm. The building was completed in 2008 and 10 students now live there while they continue to experiment with future-living.”

How did you become the CEO of an ed tech company?

“I used to work as a high-priced tutor. (At my peak, it was $440 per session.) For a while, I loved the work. I was making a real difference in the lives of students and the work was fun and easy. But soon, the work became repetitive. I was still delivering tremendous value to my students, but so much of what I was doing was a repeat of something I had already done. Eventually, I got to thinking that there had to be a way to use technology (I’m an engineer by training) to handle the repetitive parts of teaching, so that I could be free to do the really high-value parts of coaching students: learning strategy, solving personal problems, and getting students un-stuck and back on track. That technology turned into what Testive is now. The leverage of the technology allows us to make the program 3x cheaper, and even better, the score improvement results are higher than what I was doing before on my own. (We post all our actual student results publicly online here.)”

Why should students hire you?

“Our software is built on top of proprietary algorithms designed at MIT that increase learning speed (the software is free!) Our students increase their scores 3x the industry average. To get the most out of Testive, it is best used with one of our coaches (we charge for this.) We work with all of our students 1-on-1. Our teachers have all scored in the 99th percentile of the tests they teach. All our meetings are done with video chat online, so there is no travel.”

What’s your motto?

“‘Motivation is fundamentally human.’ When you think about the things you do and why you do them, you’ll find that *other people* are at the root of most of them. That’s why students have so much trouble learning on their own in a vacuum, there is no motivation. That’s why working 1-on-1 with a human coach is so powerful. It’s not just more personalized, it’s more motivating.”

What are the biggest mistakes students make applying to college?

”(1) The biggest mistake I see my students make when applying to college is picking the wrong one (or wrong set to apply to). In particular, there is a tendency of many to prioritize rank over fit. There are tons of small, liberal arts schools that deliver world-class educations that don’t rank well in US News because they don’t have doctoral programs. Also, students should consider their in-state public university. Large, public schools typically have something for everyone, so they’re pretty safe, they’re easier to get into, they’re much cheaper (I still personally have $127,000 in student debt), and here’s one reason to go to one’s local school that I just discovered. (For the moment, suppose that the child in this scenario ultimately settles down near their parents later in life. I know 17 y/o’s are in a quest for independence that is creating a powerful drive to go get out of dodge, but just assume for one sec that at the end of the day, the child settles near the parent.) There is a tremendous advantage to going to school in that same area: imagine making several hundred close friends and business contacts throughout school, many of whom are likely to stay local. That network could power one’s social-life/career for the rest of life. (Plus, many people meet their future spouse in college. Imagine if your spouse is *also* local. Now you’re living in the home town for both of you!)

(2) The second biggest mistake I see is people waiting until too late to get started with SAT/ACT prep. Test scores are the most impactful part of one’s application that can be affected in the short term. The best time to get started prepping is the summer before Junior year. Remember, you can take the test as many times as you like and submit only the scores you choose. Everyone should plan to take a test 3 times (you don’t have to take it that many times, but you should plan to have time so that you can if you need to.) What that means is that students should be taking their first test in October/November of their junior year.”

One tip of advice for students?

“Don’t fool around. Get an expert coach early and nail down some great test scores. Underscoring your potential is super depressing. It can limit your trajectory in life. Scoring well on these tests requires mastery of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the fundamental skills of success in modern life. Putting extra time in here is lucrative in many ways beyond the score, so it’s a great investment.”

How do you think the application process will change in 10 years?

“I’m hopeful that the concept of the undergraduate degree as we know it will die soon. The value of a college education is very low right now. What I currently see in higher education today is people burning about $300k over 4 years (including the opportunity cost of lost work) so they can acquire maturity and pedigree and stall the beginning of their careers. What I hope will happen is that we will see the reemergence of vocational schools (such as General Assembly) and experience programs (such as Outward Bound) to take their place. Imagine that instead of dropping $300k on a bachelor’s degree, you instead lived in Spain for a year (mastering Spanish for life), sailed around the world with 7 of your new greatest-friends-for-life, spent a year building software at a hot tech company like Testive, took courses from General Assembly, and finished with $150k in the bank and a job paying $80k a year. That life is available to students right now, and I know several people who have done something similar. In 10 years, I hope it’s closer to the norm.”

What’s your opinion on ACT vs. SAT?

“This is a very complicated and personal question and the internet is full of half-answers to this question that leave people stranded without giving them a definitive answer. Our students grapple with this question all the time, so we have created an interactive tool that determines the optimal test for each student based on a set of questions (geographical location, study-time-to-date, skills-differential, year of graduation, etc.) and a optionally a shortened adaptive practice test of each to judge ability.

3 people to have dinner with (dead or alive)?

”(1) My wife Tracy (Strangely, this never gets old, and is rarer than I’d like.)


(2) John Fallon (the CEO of Pearson, the largest Ed Tech company in the world)

(3) Dharmesh Shah (The former co-founder of HubSpot, and an investor in Testive. An introvert, that rarely does dinner dates, and is a huge inspiration of mine.)”

Biggest thing parents stress out about?

“Parents stress because there are few things they can do directly to affect college admissions. As a result, parents spend lots of time stressing out about how to get their child to *do* something. This turns into nagging, which depletes good will and is also low-leverage. Once your child hits the teenage years, every moment you have alone with them becomes precious. You don’t want to spend the tiny amount of time you have nagging them about test prep. Instead, outsource it to us! We’ll work with your student to set a score goal and make a plan to hit it. We’ll send you a weekly status report with the progress they are making, so you can calm down and spend more quality time having fun.”

Looking for help with your college applications? Get in touch with a mentor and have your questions answered by a successful college student. Search through our database to find students like you and see how they got into college. If you’re interested in working with Testive, you can sign up to use our free SAT/ACT prep software at www.testive.com or speak with one of our advisors directly at www.testive.com/schedule-call/.

About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

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Accepted to Cornell, USC, BU, WashU, RIT

Small town girl from NJ with no major awards but a lot of heart and dreams.

Accepted to Brown, UMich, UT Austin

Artist, Writer, wannabe-philosopher

Accepted to UPenn, Illinois, UMich

lover of the Bachelor, avocadoes, hikes, and rewatching Harry Potter for the 1000th time.
UT Austin

Accepted to UC Berkeley, USC, UMich, Illinois, UT Austin, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCSD, UCSB, U of Minnesota, Arizona, WVU, Cal Poly, San Jose State

I'm from the SF Bay Area, but I'm betraying my roots by attending The University of Texas at Austin as a chemical engineering major. I like music, science and eating!

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