Tutor’s popularity continues to rise with students’ successes

March 3, 2015 — by Megana Iyer and Fiona Sequeira

Parents for each of Jay Koo's students are paying $1,150 for the four week summer course where one of the area’s top SAT tutors can work his magic and boost their scores.

Tennis shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor as he balances a cup of hot coffee in his left hand, middle-aged Korean SAT tutor Jay Koo unlocks his office, adjusts his glasses and switches on the lights. At 8 a.m. on a mid-July morning, Koo prepares his office on Saratoga Sunnyvale Road for a class of about 15 students he is expecting in an hour.

Parents for each of the students are paying $1,150 for the four week summer course where one of the area’s top SAT tutors can work his magic and boost their scores.

Koo’s tutoring career began in the early 1990s, when, unsatisfied with his job at a financial investment firm, he answered a Princeton Review ad in the local paper.

“I would like to think that it was some sort of epiphany that led me to this line of work, but it wasn’t,” Koo said. “I needed a job, and I initially thought that [working at the Princeton Review] was a good transition.”

Although Koo never intended to continue tutoring, he found that he truly loved working with students and watching them grow.

“I have never looked back,” he said.

In 2004, Koo started his own tutoring academy in the Bay Area.  Although he is known for his classes on the SAT reasoning test, his academy has expanded to include tutoring for the SAT II Math 2 subject test and help on college application essays.

Particularly noteworthy is that Koo receives “a couple [of] hundred” SHS students every year. According to senior Smita Sabada, who took Koo’s private classes, this can be attributed to word of mouth, as she heard of Koo through several alumni, including her older brother, who is now a senior at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

“[He helped my brother] by offering a lot of tricks for complicated math problems and input on time management,” Sabada said. “He made the test seem really straightforward.”

Sabada took private lessons with Koo, meeting thrice a week for two hours during the summer. She said found she had improved considerably after working with Koo; having taken daily vocabulary and practice tests, her score improved by about 300 points in five months.

What is Koo’s main secret? Simply put, he says improvement on tests comes only with hard work.

“I have always [subscribed] to the philosophy that there are rarely shortcuts in SAT prep — or in life,” he said. “[I believe] that hard, honest work leads to positive results.”

He added that making classes interactive and engaging is one of his biggest priorities.

“I do not think that rigorous test preparation and humor are mutually exclusive,” Koo said. “SAT prep on top of a crushing academic workload of a typical student can be a hard pill to swallow, but humor can make it a bit easier.”

Koo is, in fact, known for his sarcastically dry humor; according to senior Anshul Aggarwal, Koo is “really prickly, but you can tell he cares.”

Junior Andrew Weng took one of Koo’s discipline builder classes. According to Koo, the course is an “a-la-carte option for students who do not require instruction and instead want to benefit from taking numerous practice tests.” Students take two practice tests each week and review them on Sundays. 

Weng said that Koo’s ability to lighten the mood helped with his personal learning process.

“His humor is hilarious, but [sometimes offends] a lot of people,” Weng said. “Personally, I loved it and thought it made the class entertaining.”

Parents, too, have been impressed with Koo’s openness and honesty.

We met him only once, but it was clear that he really knew what he was doing,” said Vic Nalwa, father of 2014 alumnus Sanj Nalwa and current junior Gitika Nalwa. “If we had retained a tutor for SAT, it would have no doubt been him. In a sea of tutors trying to capitalize on parents' and students' anxieties, he is frank and honest and cares about making his students perform to their potential."

One of the distinguishing factors of the Koo Academy, said senior Sumedha Gupta, is the self-discipline Koo preaches. Gupta attended the first session of Koo’s summer comprehensive class. The class includes four full-length diagnostic tests as well as lectures three to four times per week from 9 a.m. to noon. Each class consists of a 20-word vocabulary quiz and a lesson on a specific portion of the SAT. Koo also assigns practice tests for students to take at home, and spends the remaining two hours going over previously assigned exams.

Prior to attending Koo’s classes, Gupta participated in a two-month SAT class at a rival tutoring center that he said wasn’t as effective as Koo’s services.

Unlike other test prep agencies, Koo alters his teaching methods to fit each individual student. He said he truly believes that success is not measured by the number of perfect scores, but by the number of students who reach their individual potentials.

Although he is an SAT tutor, Koo said he does feel that the stress that pervades the halls of SHS, along with many other schools of the same caliber, is unnecessary and excessive.

“It does crack me up when a student who got over 2300 on the SAT is extremely upset and wants to retake the test,” Koo said.

However, Koo said the anxiety that comes with the SAT causes SHS students to work for their results.

“I really like working with Saratoga High students,” he said. “They, possibly more so than students of any other high school, clearly understand the relationship between hard work and success.”

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