Interview With Brad McIlquham, Academics Dir.

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Brad McIlquham, Academics Dir.

Better Know an LSAT Prep Expert

"We offer 5x the guarantee of our competitors -- they promise only that your score will improve, if they promise anything at all." - Brad McIlquham, Academics Dir., Knewton Test Prep

January 30, 2011 \\ With a B.S. in Business (from Miami University) and a J.D. (from DePaul University), Brad McIlquham was already serious about education. As one of the highest-rated teachers for the nation’s largest test prep company, Brad helped students prepare for academic success while establishing himself as an expert in the classroom. Brad believes that education should be better, and that it should reach all types of students. As Director of Academics at Knewton, Brad is responsible for training its instructors. As an instructor, he strives to make his classes impactful as well as engaging.

AD Knewton was only founded in 2008. As a fairly new company, how have you managed to establish and build such a loyal following for your LSAT prep course.
BM Without a doubt, our teachers deserve most of the credit. We know that teacher quality is the most significant factor in preparing students for the LSAT -- which is why we recruit and train only the most experienced, dynamic instructors in the industry, and pay them up to 5x what other test prep companies offer.

Thanks to our online model, our students can learn from these superstar instructors whenever, wherever they want. We knew it was a winning combination -- bringing amazing teachers directly to students -- but even we are surprised at how quickly the course has taken off.
AD What sets Knewton apart from the more established (brick-and-mortar) test prep companies like Kaplan and The Princeton Review?
BM As I mentioned above, teacher quality is paramount. Think about it. If you study in a traditional test prep classroom, you’re a victim of geography. If your city has only mediocre LSAT teachers, you’re stuck with mediocre instruction. Knewton, on the other hand, can select a handful of the top instructors in the country (no matter where they’re from) and put directly them in your living room, library, or local Starbucks.

Brick-and-mortar test prep companies, even those with online course offerings, can’t do this. Those companies hire tens of thousands of teachers across the world to teach in physical classrooms. They can’t pay some of them 5x what they pay others. So the best teachers leave to go elsewhere -- and students suffer.

Teacher quality isn’t Knewton’s only advantage. Our course is also more flexible than brick-and-mortar offerings. If you have to miss a class, you can jump into another live session at a more convenient time. Want to study in the middle of the night? Simply watch the lesson on demand. If you want to change sections or teachers, you can do so at any time, free of charge. Plus, Knewton guarantees students a 5-point score increase, or their money back. No other test prep company is confident enough in their course to offer that.
AD What is "adaptive learning technology" and how does Knewton employ it to help students perform better on the LSAT?
BM “Adaptive Learning” is widely misunderstood. Many education companies believe that as long as they present students with a more difficult question after they get one correct, they’re offering adaptivity. They’re not. What they’re actually offering is a crude form of adaptive testing – which seeing as the LSAT is a linear (non-adaptive) test, doesn’t make much sense.

Knewton’s Adaptive Learning Platform™ is much more complex -- and effective. Our technology analyzes each LSAT student’s conceptual strengths and weaknesses. We track how each student learns best, and use that data to create an individualized study program for each student.

With Adaptive Learning, our students don’t waste time studying things that won’t help them succeed. Instead, the course is specifically tailored to each student; each student studies precisely the concepts he or she needs to master for optimal score improvement.
AD Personalized instruction seems to be a hallmark of the Knewton approach. Are you at all concerned about losing that "up close and personal feel" as you gain popularity and more students?
BM Not at all! That’s the beauty of the Knewton system. We can support 100,000 students just as expertly as we support 1 student. Our students have 24-hour access to Knewton teachers, content, tests, lessons, and support.

We’ll always have enough teachers to provide individual attention, and our Adaptive Learning Platform™ ensures each Knewton student prepares for the LSAT in precisely the way that is right for him or her.
AD Typically, what percentage of your students use your "live, online program" and what percentage opt for the "on demand" option?
BM Nearly 100% of our students use a combination of the two. Many of our students take advantage of the full-year membership to Knewton by attending live classes, then reviewing specific strategies on-demand.

If one of my students is struggling with a certain concept, I often recommend they watch another Knewton instructor explain it. It’s amazing how helpful it can be to see the LSAT from a slightly different point of view; even the most minor difference in teaching style can really help students. Being able to learn from a variety of different instructors -- both live and on-demand -- is a great perk of the Knewton course.
AD According to your website you only have six LSAT instructors – is that really true?
BM Yep. That’s the great thing about teaching online – we don’t need to hire 1000s of “pretty good” teachers. Instead, we can hire 5 or 6 of the best teachers in the country, and count on them to deliver the most expert instruction out there.
AD What qualifications do you look for when hiring an LSAT instructor?
BM First, our instructors must demonstrate an expert understanding of the LSAT. This doesn’t mean we automatically hire 99% scorers; I’ve met many brilliant LSAT takers who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Yes, successful candidates must have top LSAT scores, but they must also be extraordinary teachers, with expert presentation skills and the ability to communicate very complex ideas clearly and concisely.

We hire instructors with years of experience, who love their job and can’t imagine doing anything else. Our teachers have taught in gang prevention programs, the U.S. Navy, rural elementary schools -- and yes, countless LSAT classrooms. The way I see it, no one is born a great teacher. We look for instructors who have spent time honing their craft in challenging and fun environments -- and who care about their students. You can’t teach for us otherwise.
AD Your "team teaching" approach utilizes teaching assistants who field student questions during the live lectures. What are the qualifications for your teaching assistants? And, out of curiosity, are your TAs actually in the room with the instructor delivering the lecture or do they dial in remotely as well?
BM Our teaching assistants have the same qualifications as our on-camera instructors; in fact, most of our on-camera instructors serve as teaching assistants for other classes.

Depending on how many TAs we have assigned to a class, they may be in the studio with the teacher or teaching remotely. One of our TAs logs into the classroom from Washington D.C., where she attends Georgetown Law.
AD Are student questions broadcast during the live lecture to all students or is it a one-on-one conversation between the student and TA?
BM That’s up to the student. We encourage students to participate in the discussion with the rest of class, but also recognize when a student may wish to keep a question private.

At any given time in a Knewton classroom there is usually a group discussion among students, TAs, and the on-camera teacher, in addition to a handful of private messages from students asking TAs for extra help.
AD If someone is viewing an on-demand lecture, does that person have the benefit of viewing the questions asked and answered during the live lecture?
BM Yes, students have a full record of the chat, and experience class much the same way they would have had it been live. Students watching lessons on demand also have the ability to pause the discussion at anytime, or simply jump to the parts of class they want to view.
AD Knewton offers students a one-year membership to its LSAT course. In your experience, what is the average amount of time a person should prepare for the LSAT?
BM Study schedules differ by student. Some students can reach their target score in as few as two months, while others need more time. One of our earliest students took full advantage of the full one-year membership before taking his actual LSAT. English wasn’t his native language, and he wanted to spend as much time reading, writing, and speaking English as possible before taking the test.

In my opinion, you shouldn’t take the LSAT until you are confident you will achieve your goal. If your most recent prep tests aren’t where you need them to be, then you aren’t ready. On average, our students spend 3 months preparing for the LSAT. They take 10 – 15 full-length LSAT prep tests and average about 9 hours of study in addition to class time each week. While not everyone will need to utilize the full membership length, the option to continue studying with Knewton for up to a year is a major benefit to our students.
AD What is the cost of your one-year membership?
BM Our standard, one-year membership to Knewton costs $890. That’s over $500 more affordable than most of the classroom courses offered by our competitors. The industry’s best teachers, all official LSAT PrepTests, 24-hour access to class, all at a considerable savings? In our opinion, it’s a pretty compelling offer -- especially when you also take our 5-pt Money-Back Guarantee into account!
AD When do students usually register with you if they are preparing to take the October LSAT?
BM Unfortunately, many students wait as long as possible before enrolling with Knewton. Many students overestimate how much time they can devote to their LSAT prep. Some try to study on their own for too long before scrambling to find the right course. On average, our October LSATstudents begin studying during July and August. Quite a few of them are students from other programs who weren’t happy with their preparation for the June test.
AD I see from your website that students are able to take (and grade) full-length practice LSATs online; however, the LSAT is not administered by a computer, so it's not really the same if a student is looking to replicate true test-taking conditions. What do you recommend for "gunners" who are trying to get ready for game-day?
BM Nothing beats the experience of practicing under real test conditions. That’s why Knewton allows students to print out the most recent tests and do them by hand.

But technology certainly has its benefits; Knewton’s “Create-a-Quiz” feature is a game changer for students looking to maximize their study time. Instead of wasting time answering question types you’ve already mastered, you can use Create-a-Quiz to build custom quizzes. Having trouble with assumption and inference questions? Don’t waste time sifting through a whole practice test to find a few relevant questions. Create-a-Quiz will pull up only these kinds of questions from past official LSATs so that you can immediately test your skills.
AD You guarantee at least a five-point improvement on the LSAT. How does Knewton calculate/document score improvement among its students?
BM It’s pretty easy actually: We guarantee our students at least a five-point improvement over your highest official LSAT score. If you haven’t yet taken the LSAT, we guarantee at least 5 points improvement over the first full-length LSAT practice test you take with us. That’s 5x the guarantee of our competitors -- they promise only that your score will improve, if they promise anything at all.

We’re confident in the course we’ve built. The way we see it, if you put in the work and don’t see results, you didn’t get any value from the course. Why would we ask you to pay for it?
AD Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Brad. You’ve really given us a lot of insight into Knewton and your approach to LSAT preparation.
BM It was my pleasure.

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