Interview | Miro Kazakoff Forms a Great SAT Habit

Miro Kazakoff of Testive, SAT habitSAT Habit is an online Test Preparation system designed to help students raise their scores as efficiently as possible. Miro Kazakoff and his partners built SAT Habit based on their experience as both test prep teachers and as software developers. Their company, Testive, had already commercialized algorithms developed at MIT to rapidly predict students’ SAT Scores. “We wanted to pair that technology with what we knew about teaching to help students raise those scores,” says Miro.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Miro: Good studying is about good habits. Too many students churn through large numbers of questions or cram learning in at the last moment and never see the score increases that they could get. SAT Habit aims to build the right habits in students so that whatever time they put into studying is always spent doing the most effective things to help them raise their score.

Victor: What does SAT Habit do? What are the benefits?

Miro: Students who use SAT Habit for at least 30 days see an average score increase of 70 points. The website automatically starts customizing a study plan for each student as soon as her or she starts answering questions. With every question the student answers, the system adapts. That means students only ever get questions at the edge of their ability level. Those are the questions that help students raise their scores faster.

Then, SAT Habit helps direct the student through a mindful reflection on why he or she got certain questions wrong and how to answer those questions correctly in the future. Books and other prep tools skip that step, but it is where real learning happens.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services?

Miro: SAT Habit was designed from the beginning to adapt to student needs. The entire study experience is personalized for each student. Students never need to review content that they have already mastered or waste time on questions below their ability level.

SAT Habit also prompts students to record their own learnings about why they answered incorrectly. This is same process used by tutors and is one of the most effective ways to improve your score quickly.

Victor: Where did it originate? When was it developed?

Miro: Our product designer, Tom Rose, has spent his career as an educator. SAT Habit comes out of his desire to reach more students with the tools and content that will help them reach their full potential. The algorithms that power SAT Habit were developed by Tom at MIT. They build on decades of academic research into adaptive testing and learning.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Miro: SAT Habit is designed for students preparing for the SAT who have some familiarity with standardized tests and their mechanics. It’s not designed for students who are totally unfamiliar with the testing process.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Miro: We believe that one of the unfortunate realities of education today is that we have the technology to dramatically improve teaching, but lack the ability to implement it. One of the most important ways that teachers can be more effective is by having real-time information about student performance and ability. Technology allows us to really quickly reflect back to the student where he or she stands and help the teacher find the right intervention, but it has been difficult to implement effectively.

Tests, and particularly standardized tests, get criticized for stealing time from more important educational endeavors, but we think that is because the information from those tests never makes it back to the classroom. State achievement tests would have a very different reputation if the information were processed quickly enough and presented to teachers in ways that could help them target their lessons.

SAT Habit brings some of that instant feedback to students. Right after each sections (and sometimes after each question) student can see how they did, what they got wrong, and where they stand. Presented in the right way, that information is a powerful motivator to help students improve.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future technology in education?

Miro: At the higher education level we think that technology will free schools from the lecture model and help them move towards a personalized coaching model. As people build better and better ways to deliver more customized content to the student, the role of professors and universities will be to fill in the gaps around both soft skills and physical skills that are hard to absorb in a lecture setting.

At the high school level, we think technology will move into classrooms more slowly than predicted. The variety of hardware, training, maintenance and user ability levels in the real world means that software has to be exceptionally robust before it can go into the classroom. On the web, if one person has a bad experience, it’s not a big problem. But in a classroom, that one person can derail the entire room. This means that it will be very difficult for small start-ups to develop software for the classroom and that most development will still need to be filtered through big companies for many years to come.

Victor: Got any quirky, interesting stories?

Miro: One of the small, perverse joys of test prep is that you get to see adults regress into their teenage selves. I show our software to people who are decades beyond the SAT, and they immediately start to get nervous and defensive about their abilities. Every time I see a teenager start to calmly work through a math problem that left an adult paralyzed just minutes before, I am reminded how frequently we make teenagers demonstrate their abilities in front of us, and how rarely we are subjected to the same pressure as adults. Developing software for students gives me great respect for how miserable it can be to be young.

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