In this NTPA feature, we meet Marc Gray of Odyssey College Prep. Marc joined the NTPA in the Summer of 2023 but has taught ACT prep since 2014. In this post, we’ll learn how Marc started his career in test prep and college counseling. Keep reading to learn more about Marc, his philosophy on test prep, and the other niche services he and his team provide to their students to prepare them for college.

Member: Marc Gray

Business: Odyssey College Prep

Website: odysseycollegeprep.com

Started: Spring 2019

About Marc Gray

Head shot of Marc Gray, aptitude testing expert and Director of education of Odyssey College Prep. Marc wears a gray suit jacket and a blue tie.

Marc Gray is the Founder and Director of Education for Odyssey College Prep. Marc uses advanced aptitude testing to simplify the college admissions process for students and parents. He also guides students to create targeted passion projects to differentiate their college applications. As a test prep educator, Marc helped write the Achievable ACT Prep Course, an online ACT course that uses machine learning and memory science to help students increase their test scores. Marc also serves as the Chair of the NTPA’s blog committee.

 

What techniques do you employ to assess and improve the effectiveness of your tutoring methods continually?

Recently, I joined an NTPA mastermind group. It’s run by NTPA Board Member Jim Wisemer of Ivy Experience. While the meetings are conversational and not overly formal, they’re incredibly instructive. Most of our discussions center around best managerial practices. Sometimes, we explore pedagogical techniques. Hearing how my colleagues handle teaching challenges often surprises me. It’s not that their approaches are superior to mine (though plenty are); it’s how different they are. Not better or worse, just different. By exposing my staff and myself to other approaches, we put more arrows in our quivers and have more options to help our clients.

What inspired you to start a test prep business?

Parents enjoy working with people they trust. And there’s no greater sign of trust than allowing an educator to teach their children. Before I founded Odyssey College Prep, I noticed there needed to be a comprehensive college prep business in Central Arkansas. There were college counseling practices, test prep firms, and some career counseling coaches locally. In that scenario, parents had to trust several organizations to give their kids a comprehensive college readiness program. No one-stop shop existed. Thus, Odyssey College Prep was born.

In what ways has your tutoring enhanced your community?

Recently, my team and I worked with over 100 Mamas Unidas students. Mamas Unidas is a nonprofit devoted to empowering Central Arkansas Hispanic students with cutting-edge education resources. Mayca Alverez and Sandra Carmona Jobe, who serve on the organization’s board, contacted us to facilitate this collaboration. Working with them was one of my greatest moments as an educator and entrepreneur. It also presented an immense but rewarding challenge. All of our tutors work exclusively with one-on-one students, not in groups. However, many of my tutors are teachers, so we’re fortunate to have a great pool of teaching talent.

I chose two of our best educators with teaching experience to prepare 65 students for the ACT. Since Mamas Unidas is a community-funded nonprofit, we wanted to give them as many discounts as possible. So, we reached out to Justin Pincar and Tyler York, our partners from Achievable, an NTPA Affiliate company. Tyler and Justin consented to give each Mamas Unidas student an Achievable ACT Course FOR FREE. This cut down the program’s overall cost immensely, allowing everyone to stay under budget while empowering each student in the class with some of the most advanced test prep curricula on the market.

Overseeing the program was a blast, but hearing the results two weeks later was encouraging. In just two 3-hour classes, the average student scored 2 points higher. Some even went up more than 5. On the last day of class, each student’s parents, siblings, and extended family gathered to celebrate their hard work. I’ve never seen the education of a group of students be so supported by their community, teachers, mentors, and family in all my days as an educator.

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

One recent pivot we’ve made is to incorporate more technology into our tutoring. This technology comes in the form of online platforms that house our curriculum. We use Achievable’s ACT for ACT Prep and MentoMind for SAT Prep. This reduces administrative tasks (like grading practice tests) for our tutors and students. However, using online platforms does more than just cut down on clerical work.

For example, I assigned too many practice tests early in my tutoring career. Don’t get me wrong: practice tests are vital, as they approximate how a student will score on test day. However, I eventually learned that more precision learning is needed in addition to practice tests. Students who struggle with punctuation won’t learn punctuation if they take a 75-question ACT English Practice Test with eight punctuation questions. They need targeted exposure at high frequency.

Thus, using the online curriculum that we created with Achievable fixes this. If students need help with semicolons, we spend half an hour exclusively doing punctuation exercises centered on semicolons. If they need help with functions, we have an infinite number of ACT-based math questions revolving around functions. Incorporating this technology into my team’s pedagogical practices has streamlined our lessons, increased test scores, and better personalized our teaching to our students.

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

Standardized tests could be more fun. If anyone argues that point, I’ll agree with them. However, I strongly disagree with others who say that standardized tests don’t prepare students for college. Test Prep DOES prepare students for college and their careers. There are measurable benefits of standardized testing that are hard to ignore.  I use the same grammar mechanics I teach my students in every email, article, or social media post I write. The statistics we teach in the SAT and ACT Math section are vital in running my business. The language, reading, and verbal sections of test prep, at least to me, are the most apparent transferences into the real world. So much of the corporate world is reading, scanning, or synthesizing major slabs of text into digestible information. Preparing for the Reading ACT helps students do that in spades.

While we try to make our sessions as lively as possible, Test Prep isn’t the most amusing activity on a student’s schedule. It’s no pizza party. I have no delusions about this. However, just because something isn’t fun doesn’t mean it’s not valuable or useful. If such were the case, I’d have a much easier time exercising. Yet, it’s nearly irrefutable that If more students had the hard skills required to score higher on the ACT and SAT, you’d have more literate and scientifically fluent students. That, to me, is a win. Thus, I daresay it’s appropriate to generalize the perks of test prep by saying that studying for standardized tests benefits society. It’s a bold claim, but it’s one I stick by.

Do you have a story of a student’s breakthrough moment that encapsulates the impact of your tutoring approach?

I worked with one student named Jonathan, who struggled with the English Section of the ACT. English is my favorite subject to teach students, especially for low-scoring students. It’s hands down the most straightforward score to raise, in my experience. At least with how I teach it, the trick is to turn the fuzziness often associated with language and writing into something more concrete.

Jonathan was a wiz at math. So, turning grammar mechanics into mechanics was the secret for Jonathan to master that part of the exam. We started with punctuation. I like beginning there usually because punctuation rules best illustrate the formulaic nature of grammar. Take teaching colons as an example. To use a colon correctly, you have to have an independent clause on one side and a phrase that specifies that independent clause on the other side.

In sessions, I often break down those rules like this:

Left Side: Independent Clause

Right Side: Specification.

Incorrect example: My favorite colors are: red, green, and turquoise.

Correct Example: I have three favorite colors: red, green, and turquoise.

When Jonathan learned that, he answered every colon question correctly. After completing his tutoring, he scored 34 on the English Section of the ACT.

He was happy, his parents were delighted, and I was thrilled beyond belief. Since then, I’ve taught punctuation like that to my students, and it works wonders for providing them with a solid foundation of grammar mechanics. It also helps them feel smarter, which is always refreshing to see.

Imagine that your tutoring business becomes huge in 5 years. What does your main office look like?

If Odyssey College Prep “goes viral” over the next five years, my office would be an exaggerated version of what it is now. A smattering of the obligatory college readiness books would still line my bookshelf; only I’d have more shelves. I also have sizable swathes of Greek Mythology figurines and books scattered on the tables and countertops (a quirky obsession of mine – hence the name “Odyssey” College Prep). Essentially, more books, bookshelves, and ostentatious Greek Mythology merch adorning said shelves. Lastly, there would be a picture of my wife Nikki and me on a cruise in Greece.

Last Updated on April 23, 2024 by Marc Gray