John Rood, President
JANUARY 11, 2011 \\ Next Step Test Preparation was founded by an ex-teacher at one of the giant LSAT prep companies. John Rood saw the way they did business and knew he could find a better way. Just running the numbers, he knew the value the prep companies provided to students was low, charging way too much for impersonal service.
What sets Next Step apart from other test prep providers?
In a few words, individual attention. We’re one of the only major LSAT prep companies to focus exclusively on one-on-one tutoring. Now, we realize that big prep companies have offered LSAT tutoring for years, but it’s never been an affordable alternative to classes (or to self-study). We just looked at that business model and realized it made no sense for these big companies to charge students $150 or more per tutoring hour. We realized that we can provide LSAT tutoring online with incredible instructors, and offer a complete tutoring package, including materials, for about the price of a class.
Why is one-on-one better than a class?
This comes out of experience both taking and teaching LSAT classes. We found that it’s incredibly hard to find the right pace in a class, because there are always students starting in the 160’s thrown in with students starting in the 140’s or 130’s. And even within that, some students are great at logic games on day one and need help in logical reasoning, while other students will be just the opposite. Classes have to be designed and paced for the 151 scorer, so students inevitably fall behind or waste their time working on introductory material.
Just as importantly, in a class you have a very limited ability to ask questions, and really getting to ask in-depth questions is critical for students to improve their logic skills. Sometimes even really bright students just need to go over a particular concept a few times, and classes don’t typically allow that.
How do you find those instructors? How are they qualified?
The first thing we do in our hiring process is weed out applicants without specific test prep experience. That means that even if one of our tutors is working with their first Next Step student, that tutor has typically worked with dozens of students as an independent tutor first. Sure, having a top LSAT score is necessary to get in the door, but we want to see tutors with a track record of helping students raise their scores.
How can your prices be so much lower for one-on-one tutoring?
It’s really simple – we cut out all the junk that big prep companies have to pay for. We work remotely instead of having to rent big class spaces all over the country. We also focus on building our business through referrals and word of mouth rather than spending millions on paid advertising and slathering campuses with flyers. All of that ads cost which gets passed on to the students, and we think we can do without most of it.
What is included in your tutoring packages?
All of our packages include our prep book which was designed by a couple of our most experienced tutors, both graduates of the University of Chicago. Students who select our 16 hour package receive 15 prep tests, including the 5 most recent. Students who select 24 hours receive 25 tests.
I think one thing students miss is that a lot of LSAT material is pretty similar. As much as companies try to differentiate their books, ultimately it comes down to how students learn. We have a perspective, but we also encourage our tutors to be on the lookout for different methodologies that might work with different students. We’re much more interested in our students learning individually than we are in propagating a “Next Step Method.”
When do you suggest students come to you in the process?
We want students to come to us at the beginning of their prep. Traditionally, tutoring has been so expensive that students studied by themselves until they hit a brick wall. We believe students should engage an expert tutor at the beginning of the study process. Typically, we’d like to see students allocate 3-4 months of LSAT prep, more if they have full time work or family commitments.
One question we get is whether students should take a class first, then engage a tutor. The answer is no; our program is a complete preparation for the LSAT that will for sure cover all the basics you would learn in a class and do so in a more efficient way.
Can a tutoring package compare with a 100+ hour course?
Yes. We always make it clear to our students that, while tutoring is the centerpiece of their prep efforts, the can expect hours of homework and tons of practice exams. We believe that a ton of LSAT material can be learned by yourself; instead of having an instructor read to you out of a book, we have you read the book yourself, then work with your tutor to answer questions, drill, and sharpen skills. There’s a bit of an arms race in the LSAT class market, with some companies offering 100+ hour courses. I think students just don’t need that, and it can take away from what they do need, which is focused practice combined with individual attention. Just imagine – if you enroll in a course and you’re already a whiz at reading comprehension, you can still expect to have to sit through over 30 hours of instruction, which both wastes your time and diverts your energy from where you really need to improve.
Where do you offer your services?
We offer tutoring in-person in a few select markets like Chicago and New York. However, most of our students work with us online. It’s important to point out that our online tutoring is absolutely not pre-recorded videos. Our online students work one-on-one with a fantastic tutor.
So how does online LSAT tutoring work?
Students that are interested should check out our video here. We have a custom video conferencing interface that integrates voice, audio, and an online whiteboard. We’re also one of the only companies to lend each of our students a USB tablet so they can diagram logic games and formal logic with their tutors just as if they were together in person. Our data tells us that our online students see the same average gains as our in-person students, so there’s really no downside.
Who does the online tutoring?
This really gets to the heart of why we feel online tutoring is often a better option. We’re able to scour the country for literally the best LSAT tutors and have them work with our students anywhere. Our online tutors will typically have those 98% scores but, more importantly, have several years of prep experience and a fantastic history of helping students raise their scores. We can offer a level of experience that no other company can guarantee because we can hire from a national pool rather than hiring the best person in, say, Akron.
Of course, the other big benefit is that online tutoring is incredibly flexible. Students can conduct sessions anywhere, and they don’t have to interrupt their prep over school breaks or trips. We can also start any time, so students never have to wait for a class to start.
How does Next Step LSAT tutoring compare with other online offerings?
We find that most companies are trying to use the internet to move even further away with personal service, offering videos or classes with 40+ students. We think this is exactly the wrong approach. We use technology to enable personal attention, not to raise our profit margins by offering an off-the-shelf product.
You’ve mentioned price a few times; how much does your program cost?
Our core package is 16 hours of tutoring. The price to work online is $1,299, while the in-person rate is $1,399 (a bit more in NYC). We also have an Advanced package, which includes 24 hours of one-on-one tutoring and 25 Preptests for $1,899 online and $1,999 in-person. Of course, students can and often do add hours.
What is in the future for Next Step?
We really feel we’re on the right course. One-on-one tutoring has always been out of reach or something that students looked into when they’d already gotten a low score. By making tutoring available for the price of a prep course, we feel we’ll be able to give more and more students that advantage.