How To Become a Test Prep Goon, Part 2

The first part of the application process was the simple application submission, phone interview, and the first checkpoint, the diagnostic exams, which I had outline in my previous post. Up to this point, everything had been conducted remotely by phone or email. However, now that I had passed the diagnostic exams, however, I was to come in for the face-to-face component of the process: the teaching audition, which would take place at the local company branch office.

The audition consists of a 5-10 minute presentation on a non-academic topic of the applicant’s choice, without using Powerpoint or other software, and with whiteboard and markers provided and props, as needed, brought by the applicant. This seems to be a standard prompt for the whole company as well as its competitors. Opinions on the Internet varied on how selective this step is compared to the diagnostic exams and training sessions, proper attire at the audition, and on various aspects of the presentation, such as the props, level of audience participation, and seriousness and complexity of the topic chosen.

I chose to talk about grafting, and specifically budding (the simplest of the myriad grafting techniques), due to my interest in gardening and plant biology. It’s a fairly dry-sounding topic compared to some of the other topics that people apparently have chosen (including falling in love, or crossing the street in Japan), but still original and interesting (compared to topics such as how to set up a chess board or play a sport). I’m also of the opinion that nothing needs to be intentionally gimmicky as long as it is conveyed with enthusiasm and backed up by extensive knowledge, and I felt sufficiently motivated by my own interest in plant biology and my gardening hobby to learn about the topic in depth. During the week I gave myself to prepare for my audition, I read online extension guides on budding, watched YouTube videos of gardeners demonstrating budding, and read relevant chapters from one recent, well-illustrated textbook on grafting. I also made sure to incorporate questions for the audience into my presentation (i.e., what might be some practical applications of grafting?), as well as a little dark humor.

The audition itself went relatively smoothly, since I was confident in my knowledge on the topic and had practiced a number to times to whittle my content down to 5-10 minutes. Some testimonials have said that auditions were done in front of the teaching staff and various other applicants, so I expected many more people and a lot more pressure, but this was not the case. The office was very small, and my audition took place in a tiny classroom in the back with only the very friendly regional coordinator and the course coordinator. I wore dress pants and a dress shirt for the occasion, which was surely still overdressing for this setting. Although I don’t remember the details of what I did during the audition (I tend to get selective amnesia during talks), I was able to exchange friendly banter with them for a few minutes and felt comfortable enough to ask for feedback on my performance, which seemed very positive. Though there were more applicants coming in to audition later on, I was told I had nothing to worry about.

Indeed, I was accepted to complete the next step this morning, sparing me a week of sitting around waiting to hear back, which was very considerate. At this point, after some paperwork, I would be moving on to the next step, being certified as a test prep instructor.

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How to Become a Test Prep Goon, Part 1

Although I consider myself good at juggling multiple tasks when I need to, when I’m under no particular pressure I can’t help but fixate on a single goal at a time, especially if that goal is about to come to fruition in a matter of weeks. So during the past week, I’ve been working towards one lofty milestone: part-time employment!

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“Let’s check on your undergraduate ambitions… Yeah, your dreams of going to med school right out of college? They didn’t make it.”

Granted, I’ve been very picky about what full- and part-time jobs I’ve wanted to apply for, based mainly on how I can develop myself professionally. I’ve made the most progress in my applications as an MCAT instructor for a major test prep company. After going through one of the company’s MCAT courses and accomplishing the score I wanted to get on that exam, I was motivated, and felt I was qualified, to at least apply to teach two of the MCAT topics as an instructor with this company. Though I did hear that the pay is well above minimum wage for instructors of these classes, I cared more about just having something constructive and meaningful to fill my time for the next two years, and I think most individuals who apply to teach for these test prep companies feel the same way. So I’m going to detail my whole experience applying and interviewing for this position below.

I began my application process a few days after I had finished the GRE Biology subject test, since I now needed something else to occupy my time. The application process itself was simple, if a bit frustrating. The portal for applicants to search for positions and submit applications is very bare-bones and prone to glitches: the interface is ugly and difficult to navigate, the login page requires you to ask where you heard about the company EVERY. SINGLE TIME., and it doesn’t save your information so you have to complete your information in one sitting. I was astounded that the resume text extractor even worked correctly. However, once I submitted my first application (to be an SAT instructor), I completed my next two applications in quick succession with no trouble.

I moved on and forgot about all this until mid-November, when I was invited by email to have a phone interview with the regional coordinator/manager. The interview itself was very cordial and not at all what I expected, as it was more a confirmation of my teaching experiences and an overview of the extended interview, training process, and teaching responsibilities. Though the company had enough local SAT instructors, it had a few openings for MCAT instructors, so only my MCAT applications were really considered. I was told to expect to take two diagnostic exams, one for each MCAT subject for which I had applied to teach. If I passed these, I would next come to the company’s local outpost for a brief teaching audition. Once I passed these two hurdles, I would receive paid training for three days to qualify as an MCAT instructor with the company. It was implied that the interview was more of a notification that I was selected to continue through this extended application process than a weeding-out step in itself. However, it definitely helped to seek information on the Internet beforehand about the position, the pay, and the company’s culture, and I was able to use that information to take the initiative at the start of the interview and ask my questions first.

The two diagnostic exams were sent to me by email, and I was given several days to fill in my answers and submit them. I took this time to review my class notes from the course, then emailed my answers and scratch work back to the regional coordinator for grading. The same day I submitted them, I was notified that I had passed both exams, and I subsequently scheduled my teaching audition for this afternoon at their office.