Don’t let that serious face fool you. This week we sat down with the much beloved and often hilarious Exam Prep Director Tony Kim to see how MEK Test Prep stands out from other programs for both SAT/ACT and BCA prep. Read on to hear Mr. Kim’s wise and caring words through a lot of laughter:
Interviewer: So how long have you worked at MEK?
Kim: This is my ninth year working at MEK.
Interviewer: What are the main classes that you teach?
Kim: SAT & ACT Math, SAT Subject Math, and BCA Math – basically all the exam prep math
Interviewer: Is there a particular BCA or SAT student that stands out to you from last year?
Kim: Ummm….It’s not that I don’t have any; it’s that I have a lot actually. So I have to think. Especially from my SAT class….. One student that comes to mind is Mark H.
Interviewer: And why is that?
Kim: He’s been here for so long. Since he was a kid. And I’ve taught him since he was a sophomore and taught him in PSAT, SAT B, and SAT A. He always had mediocre scores like 500 or 600 on the math section when he first started. But last summer in SAT A, he finally started breaking all the old habits we had been working on. He started getting low 700s at the end of the summer. Then this fall, he followed through, and I had private tutoring sessions with him. His last three practice SAT exams he was getting 790s and 800s.
Interviewer: Wow! That’s awesome!
Kim: Yeah, his official score comes out tomorrow, so I’m hoping to see an 800 on his actual test! So we’ll see.
Interviewer: And what were the bad study habits that he had to break?
Kim: I don’t want to say its bad habits necessarily, but it’s the habits he accumulated through elementary and middle school. His approach to answering questions was geared more towards school curriculum, so he would do fine in school math classes. But SAT is not the same as regular school classes. You can’t just memorize and plug in numbers; it doesn’t work that way. So I had to go through a lot of the problems with him, and it finally broke through. His body was attuned to approaching and studying questions for school math not SAT math.
Interviewer: He had that light bulb – that clicking moment?
Interviewer: So with all those years of working with him would you say you developed a good rapport—a good relationship with him?
Kim: Definitely. It’s more than a teacher and student relationship. I think he sees me as an older brother, but I’m too old to be his big brother, so it’s more like…
Interviewer: (laughing) an uncle?
Kim: (laughing) Yeah, like an uncle and nephew. Still a very young uncle though, I’m not that old. He talks to me about how his life is going, and now he’s back in my SAT Subject Math class. So, yeah, he is like my very little brother.
Interviewer: So would you say having that type of relationship with him helps you keep him motivated?
Kim: Absolutely. I truly believe that with students there are certain limits to how much content I can pour into their brains. I feel that is has to come from them. They have to seek knowledge and be active. Instead of being taught, they have to learn. Especially when I have a good relationship with students, they know I love them. Even though I yell at them all the time.
(Interviewer and Kim both laughing)
Kim: I tell them, “Oh you broke my heart by not getting a 100 here.” But by giving them constant love and care, they know I love them. So they always want to try their best so they “don’t break my heart.”
Kim: Which I think is a good chain reaction. Especially teenage boys. They always view me as a big brother or young uncle; they know they can come and talk to me about their academic struggles. It sounds weird, but those personal relationships mean they want me to be happy. They don’t want to disappoint me, so that pushes them to try harder. It motivates them.
Interviewer: That’s awesome. Why do you think the MEK Exam Prep program is so effective?
Kim: I think it kind of goes back to what I was just saying. There are a lot of academies out there that can teach content and do it almost as well as us. But teaching content is not the most important thing, because we are dealing with teenagers. They need not only content and knowledge; they need the right mindset. MEK instructors and teachers actually care and want students to be successful. That kind of care gives them a right mindset to be ready for the test.
Interviewer: You said you have a personal relationship with many of your students like Mark. Do they ever come and talk to you about their ultimate career goals…
Interviewer:….or what college they want to attend, or ask your advice on what courses they should take in high school or what extracurriculars they should take?
Kim: All of those. Especially when I get to talk to them during one-on-one tutoring sessions. I’m not one of our expert college counselors, so I can’t give them the full map. However, I can try and guide them. For instance, I’ll tell juniors to start researching what kind of field they want to be in even if they haven’t picked out a major yet. Then, they can start researching schools that will provide the best chance for them to get into that field. I also tell them how I did it, and the ways in which they can learn from my mistakes and struggles. I always want them to be ahead of the curve—ahead of other students.
Interviewer: What about when you teach BCA Prep? Is there a big difference in the relationship or shift in focus?
Kim: Oh yes. The kids are totally different. For instance, about 3 years ago I didn’t have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or anything like that. I had no idea what they were or how to use them. And Instagram was getting really big. My kids were convinced I had an Instagram account, even though I told them I didn’t. So they started following every Tony Kim they could find!
(Interviewer and Kim laughing)
Kim: (laughing) And I thought, “On my gosh, I’m going to have to start an Instagram account, just so these kids will stop following random Tony Kims and possibly get kidnapped by some weird other Tony Kim!” So I made an Instagram account, but only for professional use. For instance, if it’s a snow day, I’ll take a picture of the snow, and let students know, “Hey, it’s a snow day, MEK is closed. Here’s the homework you need to complete.” So, I use it to communicate with my students, because none of them check their emails! I can ask how they did on a test, or the day before a big test I can create a post that says, “Hey! Why are you still looking at this photo? Go to sleep!” And I think because those students are younger, they actually respond and find it engaging to see me on Instagram. Even if it’s just me posting an article on academic related stuff. They’ll always respond.
Interviewer: Oh that’s interesting. So you can use it to get them interested in a topic.
Kim: Yeah. Or mainly I use it for MEK related things. Like I’ll post a MEK calendar or a special make-up session and encourage them to take advantage of it. And they love it. So that’s how I try to stay as young as possible….
Interviewer: …try to relate to them?
Kim: Exactly, and communicate with them through the communication channel that they use. And BCA Prep is a long course, so I see them about 3 times a week. All that time they spend at MEK they get to really feel how MEK cares about them as a students and cares about their goals. And I think it’s something they haven’t gotten to experience outside of their own family. Their public schools don’t give them as much care and attention as we give to them. So they take it very personally, and they love it. They love the program, and the teachers, and that motivates them to do their best.
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