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December 02, 2009

Q&A with Knewton's Director of Test Prep

As I mentioned in my last post of November, I will be having GMAT content from my Linkshare advertising partner,  Knewton, Inc., on my blog.   What made me decide to partner with them was the strength of their test development team and the price and quality of their approach to test preparation.  I was also impressed that they were willing to offer a 50 point or your money-back guarantee.  To learn more about what they do, I conducted a Q&A with Chris Rosenbaum, Director of Test Prep of Knewton, Inc.

Adam: Tell me about what makes Knewton different from other GMAT test preparation services.

Chris: Knewton is different for two reasons: the technology of our platform, and the quality of our teachers. By delivering our classes online, we can offer students a customized, flexible learning experience focused on their educational needs. Because we’re not operating physical tutoring centers, we don’t have the same constraints that some of the larger companies do. This allows us to drive down the price of test prep. We can also focus our resources on hiring a small, elite group of the best teachers in the business. The beauty of the internet is that people can get access to our teachers and curricula, regardless of where they live or what their schedule is—at the best price, $690.

Adam: Who are the people behind Knewton?
Chris: Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira was an executive at the nation's largest test prep firm, where he led a company-wide effort to re-engineer its courses. Now he has designed Knewton from the ground up to include every feature he was unable to include in traditional bricks and mortar courses. Jose has personally designed Knewton's test prep curriculum, and has cooked up all-new strategies students won't find anywhere else. Catch him in action; he still teaches classes for each test. Jose "broke the code" on the GRE exam by inventing a foolproof strategy for one question type. ETS took the extraordinary step of removing the question type from its exams, saying that Jose "broke the code and published it, so we are removing the questions from the test." It is the only time ETS has ever removed a section from one of its exams due to a test-taking strategy.
David Kuntz has been involved in every aspect of the large-scale educational assessment business over the span of a twenty-year career, holding senior positions at both LSAC and ETS. Among many other activities, he created the first automated test assembly algorithm and system for the current LSAT, the first web-based computer-adaptive test delivery system, the first online AP practice program using real AP graders, and the first large-scale web-based portfolio scoring and management system.

Adam: How good are your test questions? Do they really duplicate the test?

Chris: Our GMAT course gives students access to more than 3400 practice problems, all designed to mirror what they will see on test day. The course includes five practice GMATs built by the people who literally developed the actual test. We don’t think you’ll find a better simulation of the GMAT anywhere.

Adam: Tell me about your online live instructional component.

Chris: Our live video classes are delivered live online via video, with slides and examples appearing onscreen. The teachers have dozens of practice questions at their disposal that they can drag and drop into the lesson in real time. The teachers receive instantaneous data on how students are doing and the conceptual errors they’re making, and can adapt accordingly.
Students can interface via “chat” at any time during class and get immediate responses from the teaching assistants. If the question is relevant to the entire class, the assistant passes it along to the teacher. Students can also send in questions for immediate answers during daily office hours, or at any time if they don’t mind a slight time delay for the answer. All lessons are instantly archived with digital-video-recorder controls for students to replay, pause, fast-forward, or rewind. Students can return and review archived video lessons on demand.

Adam: What differentiates your teaching methods from those of your competitors?

Chris: Aside from the fact of the online platform, we use sophisticated technological tools to optimize our students’ learning experience. Our online curricula include hundreds of concept tags that help us track progress at a very granular level. We're able to tell students with certainty that they're in full command of the fact that all radii in the same circle are equal, but that they need more strategies for 3-4-5 right triangles.
We also offer the single best Money-Back Guarantee in the business. It's very simple. Attend class, complete your homework, take our practice tests. If your score still doesn't improve by at least 50 points, you get a full refund. No questions asked.

Adam: How good are your teachers?

Chris: Without bragging too much, we can safely say that our teachers are the best. They’ve graduated from the top schools, they’ve earned the top scores, they’ve got the most experience, and they demonstrate a heartfelt passion for learning.
Other prep companies give you one, often unproven, teacher. Knewton’s classes are taught by teams of test prep professionals. The lead instructor guides the class from in front of the camera, while a dynamic team of teaching assistants answers all your questions in real-time. This system is unique to Knewton, and it provides the best individual instruction an online course can offer.

Adam: What sort of outcome should a typical Knewton student expect from your service?

Chris: We guarantee a 50-point increase in our students' GMAT scores. If a student’s score does not go up 50 points, he or she will get a full refund. Several of our students have earned much bigger gains than that. One student wrote in to tell us he went from a 480 to a 700 on the GMAT. Another went from a 700 to a 770.  I don’t want to overstate the importance of what we do, but these are life-changing events in terms of future earning potential. We are able to make these guarantees because we believe what we offer students—world-class teachers, top-notch content, and adaptive learning technology—far surpasses what they will get from any other course.

Adam: For someone who has already taken a GMAT course with one of your competitors, but is not yet satisfied with his or her score, what can you offer?

Chris: Our approach is unconventional, and we think we have a substantial edge over our more traditional competitors. If you’re curious but uncertain, we recommend taking our free trial so you can experience our method for yourself.

I want to thank Chris for taking the time to answer my questions. Disclosure: See my earlier post regarding my Linkshare advertising agreement with Knewton.
-Adam Markus
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