Watching the police car pull into our driveway felt terrible.
I was in seventh grade. A couple of weeks before, my family had gone to Hilton Head, SC, for one of my father's company meetings. When we drove through North Carolina, I was astounded and excited to find something for sale that was absolutely prohibited in Connecticut where we lived.
Fireworks. Glorious fireworks.
I guess my parents were excited, too, because they let me buy a whole bag. Bottle rockets, Saturn batteries, Roman candles, fountains, and more. This was going to be the best 4th of July ever!
When I went back to school after the vacation, I of course told my friends all about it, and even agreed to sell some of the less exciting ones to Ricky. The next day, we surreptitiously swapped a brown paper bag for some cash.
Flash forward to the police car. In a small Connecticut town, the police don't exactly have a lot to do. Someone talked (I'll never know who), and with a feeling of absolute terror, I soon faced the officer, who confiscated my entire stash, and after the obligatory safety warning, went on his way, leaving me with no criminal record but also with absolutely no fireworks.
In retrospect, selling the fireworks at school - or maybe even talking about them - was a bad idea.
Unfortunately, in my current industry, I see a lot of bad ideas, too. As you plan your son or daughter's summer, here are 5 things that, in my experience, are bad ideas regarding SAT and ACT prep.
Bad idea #1: Starting too early.
If your kid is going into sophomore year in the fall, don't worry about test prep yet. It's not worth the opportunity cost. There is plenty of time if you start the summer before junior year.
The better a student's reading and math ability, the easier SAT and ACT prep will be. So rising sophomores should be reading voraciously (pick things they enjoy) and doing what's needed to ace, not just get A's in, their math classes.
Kids who read a lot and who are great in math are kids who usually have no trouble with the SAT and ACT.
(Readers are leaders.)
Bad idea #2: Using a big company.
If you're a business owner, you know how hard it is to grow while maintaining quality. Big test prep companies like Kaplan and The Princeton Review put profits over quality decades ago.
The gist? Hire teachers who are young, inexperienced, and willing to work for low pay. Give them a rigid curriculum to teach and charge 5 times what you're paying them. Then, when they inevitably leave for a more normal career in a year or so, hire more newbies.
Most of our local competitors use this same business model. We don't - and that's a big reason why there are only four of us. There aren't a lot of experienced tutors out there for me to hire!
The most important factor in SAT and ACT prep is the person in front of your kid. Tip: Research the prospective tutor or teacher on LinkedIn to see how much experience they have.
(You doing some research?)