This week’s NTPA Weekly Feature is Ben Sexton. Ben is the visionary behind Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring, a dynamic tutoring firm based in MetroWest Boston since its inception in the early 2000s. As we delve into Ben’s journey, we uncover his pioneering approach to test preparation and academic tutoring, rooted in personalized learning and a relentless commitment to student success. Join us as we explore Ben’s insights, challenges, and triumphs in shaping the landscape of educational enrichment.

About Ben Sexton

Ben Sexton, owner of Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring, founded the company in 2005, based in MetroWest Boston. Sexton Test Prep offers comprehensive test preparation services for SAT/ACT and SSAT/ISEE, including class and one-on-one sessions and academic tutoring for students in grades 5-12.Ben Sexton, a caucasian Man holding his son

After responding to a newspaper ad, Ben began his tutoring career in 2003 and transitioned to independent tutoring in 2005. Initially operating as a solo practitioner, Ben expanded the business in 2012 by hiring tutors and now oversees a team of 20 tutors alongside two managers. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Skidmore College and a Master’s Degree in Educational Measurement, Research, and Evaluation from Boston College, Ben brings a wealth of expertise to his role.

Ben lives in Dover, MA, with his two sons, Wyatt (7) and Drew (5). He and his co-parent Sarah actively manage Sexton Test Prep together. In his leisure time, Ben enjoys boxing, strength training, following Boston sports teams, and vacationing on the Maine Coast.

Member: Ben Sexton

Business: Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring

Website: sextontestprep.com

Started: 2003

What challenges did you face when starting in test prep, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was creating a curriculum. I knew that I had the skills to succeed in SAT prep. Still, the Metrowest Boston market is very competitive, and hundreds of people say they provide excellent test preparation services, so it took a lot of work to stand out as a twenty-something providing independent tutoring. I realized early that I would need my curriculum to stand out. In 2006, I wrote my first version of my SAT book, which was incredibly long-winded, but families were impressed that I had made an effort to write a whole book in the first place, citing the commitment that process required. Over the years, I attribute my and the company’s success to continuously writing and editing up-to-date test prep curriculums that are unique to us.

Image of Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring SAT curriculum

What strategies do you employ to build confidence and reduce anxiety in your students facing high-stakes tests?

An essential part of our company philosophy is tutor matching. We communicate with our tutors regularly and know them well, as we often retain them long-term. As such, we are confident in pairing students with tutors who have succeeded with many students with similar profiles. That way, we can explain to the student and family up front that their tutor is highly familiar with situations like theirs and knows how to maximize results.

If a student feels like their tutor is just a random company employee with availability, it is hard for the student to have full confidence the tutor can understand their case. On the other hand, if a student knows up front that the tutor was picked to help them in particular, they are much more likely to trust the tutoring process, take the tutor’s advice, and feel that they are in good hands.

What are the most common misconceptions about test prep that you’d like to address with new clients?

Clients often think that test preparation consists of a set of strategies that are primarily divorced from actual academic learning. However, in many cases, while there are strategies involved in test preparation, the content learning for test preparation and school consists of significant overlap.

Less experienced clients might buy into advertised promises of “average score improvements.” But, those score improvement promises are often manipulated or bogus. The promises of the largest score improvements are most likely bogus.

Test preparation does not need to be a grind. It can be a slow-paced, moderate process that uses longer-term repetition to instill useful academic skills permanently. Boot camps, piles of flashcards, and hours of weekly homework are one way to do test prep, but probably not the best or healthiest way.

How do you stay updated with the latest educational trends to enhance your tutoring approach?

Social media! I scour Facebook, LinkedIn, tutor newsletters, and of course, NTPA communications to stay up-to-date with developments in the worlds of test preparation, college admissions, and education in general. Through serving on the NTPA Advocacy Committee, I hear updates from other members about specific local developments in other parts of the country. Also, the numerous connections I’ve made in the tutoring universe are invaluable sources of knowledge, opinion, and news. The powerful combination of these sources leaves almost no holes in my knowledge of industry developments. Their knowledge bank is tremendous!

Can you recount a particularly memorable transformation you’ve witnessed in a student’s academic journey?

At one point earlier this fall, I was working with a student on a notoriously hard-to-grasp algebra topic – completing the square. At the end of a second or third demonstration of the procedure, the student said, “I can’t be expected to know this; I’m not good enough at Math.”

I wasn’t having it. I explained that I was not asking him to construct a rocket ship. I was asking him to learn an algebra procedure. Not only could he learn it, but he would learn it, which was the end of the story. He was not a victim, and he was not short on ability.

From then on, he learned to complete the square and completed all of his Math homework, whereas before, his submission rate had been decent but spotty. By his description, this “mediocre Math student” got a 710. He’s still preparing with total commitment and hasn’t looked back since.

In what ways has your tutoring enhanced your community?

We’re committed to giving comprehensive advice to families before they become our clients, even if they never become clients. Anyone who calls will get our time and the best advice about how to begin their tutoring process.

We also partner with numerous schools and community organizations to provide low-priced class options to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to utilize our services. To us,  a willingness to meet almost any request such organizations make is essential.

It’s work, but we must provide an excellent, trustworthy, fundamentally sound service. We do not feature gimmicks, promos, marketing tactics, or anything other than honest, effective test preparation and tutoring. Students who work with us generally get the results they want.

Conclusion: Tell us about a time a student surprised you with their boldness.

A student I tutored in 2014 contacted me a couple of years later to ask for advice about tutoring himself. I only thought a little of it, as tutoring is a hard business to get into and sustain. But he consistently emailed me over the years – sometimes with years between emails – looking for more advice, and I always gave it to him.

Last year, he hired his tutors and took on a massive project with a problem-set database of first ACT and then SAT questions, harnessing AI to sort questions for students. Now, he’s joining NTPA. Life comes full circle when one of your former students starts a full-fledged tutoring company, not just tutoring on their own for a side hustle but turning tutoring into a career 10 years later.