Ethan Todras-Whitehill is a journalist and SAT tutor. He graduated from Tufts University Phi Beta Kappa in May 2002. He worked in Boston as an SAT tutor and teacher for Kaplan Test Prep beginning in 2000. In 2003, he began working as an SAT curriculum consultant for Kaplan, later taking a full-time position as the Pre-College Web Editor. In that capacity he continued to work on curriculum but also wrote college admissions related articles and newsletters for college-bound students and their parents. In May 2004, he left Kaplan to pursue his own SAT tutoring business. As a journalist, he writes for The New York Times, Outside, Popular Science, and other national magazines.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Of all the independent tutors out there, why hire you?
Three reasons: I am excellent at standardized tests; I have a knack for teaching students how they need to be taught; and I can create curriculum and strategies ad hoc.
Back in 1998 when I took the SAT, I scored a 1510 (800 Verbal, 710 Math), the first time I took the test, with little preparation. Growing up, I always had the highest scores in my class on the ERBs, ISEEs, etc. It's an innate ability, one I have learned to share.
Each student is unique; in nine years of tutoring, I have never taught the exact same way twice. For one aspiring Major League ballplayer, I explained my strategies with analogies to fastballs and learning to hit to the opposite field. For a visual learner, I explained geometry with the items lying around her room (stack of CDs, tissue box, etc). And for a talented math student with a subpar score, I tapped into his competitive spirit as a debate champion, challenging him on each question, eventually raising his confidence (and his math score 180 points).
Lastly, the published materials are rarely enough. When I want to drill students on a certain subject, I'll write up ten SAT-style questions for them while they do a question bank—a skill I derived from writing the very questions that appear in Kaplan's products. When a new strategy or explanation is needed, I'll invent one on the fly, drawing on my journalistic skills of making the complex simple.
Which tests do you tutor?
SAT I: Writing, Math, and Critical Reading. SAT II: Math IC, Math IIC, French, Spanish. ISEE/SSAT.
If we hire you, how many sessions would we need?
It depends on where the student is starting, where he/she is hoping to get to, and how quickly he/she learns. Usually the schedule is one 1.5 hour session once a week for 10-20 weeks before the test.
Where does the tutoring take place?
At your home, or at another location convenient to you. I live in Brooklyn and I have a car.
What is your working philosophy?
Anyone can parrot a few strategies and correct some wrong answers. I look at the whole student—who they are, who they want to be, and what's holding them back. The problem might as easily be algebra, dyslexia, or poor discipline. I identify the problem, then go to work convincing the student that both my perception of the problem and my solution are correct. You can lead someone to the right strategy, but if you can't convince them that it's the best way, they're not going to use it. I work to make my students an active participant in the process—to see me as an SAT coach instead of a tutor. Tutoring isn't a magic bullet, but if students want to reach their goals, I can help them.
How many students have you worked with over the years, and how well have they done?
Since 2000, I have tutored approximately 40 students for the SAT and SAT II, and other tests. Each year, I keep my number of tutoring clients in the single digits so I can devote appropriate attention to each.
In just a few weeks with a study plan I invented, I took a student from a 650 Writing to a 750. I took a student from a 750 combined on the old SAT to an 1150 (+200 in each section). I can help most students reach the 600 level in any subject regardless of where they start. I can help most students in the high 500s get into the high 600s. And for talented students who are willing to work hard, I can bring them well into the 700s.
These are just general guidelines. After seeing a student's diagnostic test results and working with him or her for a couple of sessions, I will say where I think we can get to. Assuming the student cares and works hard, I am rarely wrong.
If you're a journalist, why do you tutor?
It's a tough media market these days, and tutoring work lets me focus on the stories that matter to me most. But tutoring is also incredibly gratifying—in just a few short months I help students get in contention for schools that might not have considered them a few hundred points ago. I help them have options. I put them in position to meet their dreams. That's pretty exciting.
Can I speak with references?
All of my business comes from word of mouth, and I keep up with many of my clients well into college. Just email or call and I'll put you in touch with one or a few of them.
Email: mail AT ethantw DOT com