Putting teachers to the test

AddThis

Oliver Pope of the Princeton Review teaches students methods for taking the MCAT at Dobie Center.

Photo Credit: Chase Martinez | Daily Texan Staff

The testing processes for admission to graduate school are known for the grueling preparation they demand. There are people who have conquered the standardized test. They are the ones teaching graduate school hopefuls how to do the same — or at least get close to it.

“Studying is the No. 1 thing that students need to do in order to master this type of test,” said Nikki Hopkins, an LSAT instructor with ScorePerfect. “There’s no ‘trick.’ Students want to know tricks, but the trick is to understand the test and to be able to respond to everything that they throw at you.”

Hopkins, who graduated from the UT School of Law in 2006, is an attorney for the state of Texas and has been teaching the LSAT for nine years. Despite scoring a 173 out of 180, Hopkins said she relates to her students because she wasn’t naturally proficient at the LSAT. She enrolled in the ScorePerfect 10-week test preparation course and on her first practice test she scored a 153, a score that would result in flat-out rejection from most of the top-100 law schools.

“There are those people that walk in off the street and are good at standardized testing,” Hopkins said. “But my own story has everything to do with motivation. If you’re looking at the LSAT, MCAT or GRE as a milestone, something that you have to do to get on your chosen career path, then you’re a little more motivated.”

Hopkins decided she wanted to go to law school when she was 29 and working as a full-time literary publicist. On days when she didn’t have class, she studied from 6 until 11:30 p.m. and up to 12 hours a day on the weekends to get the score she wanted.

But preparation for an exam involves more than sitting down and studying, as discovered by Arif Noorbaksh, an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review.

He said he struggled with maintaining a social life while studying for the MCAT, and ultimately had to move home to Pennsylvania to better concentrate to get his target score.

“I had to quit everything and move out of Austin and go back home,” Noorbaksh said.

He spent three months at his parents’ house studying for up to 12 hours a day. Getting out of the Austin was the most important factor in helping him stay focused, Noorbaksh said.

“I was committed,” he said. “I haven’t been that committed before.”

The median score for the MCAT is a 25 out of 45, but less than 0.5 percent of test takers make a 40 or above. The exam consists of four sections: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, biological sciences and a writing sample. It tests a medical school applicant’s ability to apply science content to a novel situation. Despite Noorbaksh’s self-imposed isolation to focus on the exam, he scored a 33 in his first attempt. Last May, he retook the exam and scored a 38.

“Most people shoot for a 10 in each of the sections, so a 30 is pretty good,” Noorbaksh said. “I had a 3.3 GPA in undergrad because I messed around a lot, so I had to compensate with a 38. Had I not gotten a 3.3, I wouldn’t have had to do that.”

Noorbaksh applied to 12 medical schools after his first MCAT and received 12 rejection letters. He knew his GPA held him back, but the only thing he could change was his MCAT score. The rejections were a blow to his ego, he said, but he also knew he wanted to go to medical school.

“It’s difficult to maintain the mental self-discipline to stay positive and not get frustrated or give up too early because the whole process is hard,” Noorbaksh said. “But it’s only the beginning of a very long road, so if you can’t hack that you’re not going to make it through medical school.”

Noorbaksh committed himself for three months to studying to get the necessary score.

“I think people who are really good at standardized tests are just people who don’t allow their anxieties to influence their thought process,” he said. “These tests are designed to test how well you keep it together under stress, being under tight time constraints. Because when you’re a doctor you don’t have time. Sometimes, you have to figure it out real quick.

Starting this fall, Noorbaksh will attend UT Medical School at Houston to become an emergency room doctor.

Printed on 7/25/2011 as: Test experts lead others to top percentile