Pranav Gupta is the Director of High School Admissions, High School Honors, and Advanced Placement Prep for MEK Review.
The following is an interview between him and our marketing writer:
Working at MEK
Interviewer: What does your title mean? What’s your leadership position at MEK?
Gupta: My main motivation and goal throughout the summer is to prepare our students for the upcoming school year. In our high school enrichment programs, our students are taking courses because they want to get a head start on the year ahead. Working with the upcoming eighth graders as part of the High School Admissions Prep Program is one of my top responsibilities, and from that BCA Prep is one of the biggest programs at MEK. These students are applying to magnet, private, and parochial schools and need to prepare for the SSAT, ISEE, or HSPT. Therefore, a majority of the training that happens is centered around those tests and preparing for the BCA exam.
Interviewer: What is your favorite part of teaching at MEK?
Gupta: What I love about MEK is that over their almost 25 years in business, their structure has been developed and fine tuned year after year. MEK strives to give students the best experience and best impact by creating this structure. Because you can be the best teacher with the greatest of intentions, but without a set structure to support it, it’s always going to be an uphill battle.
In terms of physically teaching, I would definitely say it’s the bond we create with the students that I enjoy the most, especially in the summer. Summer is different in the sense that you’re seeing them more frequently than in the fall or spring. Right now I teach three 1500 classes, and I have an amazing bond with all of the students.
There’s 18 students in the Zoom meeting and any time that I need comic relief, we can talk about The Office or I will pull up Reddit and share some “Shower Thoughts” and we can laugh together. Those moments keep them engaged, so then I can continue to teach them and challenge them. The key is to keep them always engaged, so they are always growing, always progressing. And I really enjoy that challenge.
Interviewer: What is your advice to students who want to earn a perfect 800 on the SAT math section?
Gupta: I think it’s all about mindset and expert instruction. To earn a perfect 800, you have to see every test as an opportunity to train. Because every question has to be correct, you have to follow the same steps no matter how easy or hard the question is. You almost have to become robotic when it comes to testing procedures, which is a skill tied to mindset.
High school enrichment programs, like high school honors, have a different focus because these courses are more content based versus exam prep where the focus is test taking strategies. Both sets of students need a strong mindset to succeed, but their goals are different.
It’s a common misconception that if a teacher teaches a student everything on the curriculum, the student will be able to achieve a perfect score. However, this is false because a student who is able to earn a perfect score on a low stakes practice test, might not be able to earn that same score when they’re under a time constraint surrounded by other students.
I think it is important to instill confidence in students. In fact, that’s part of MEK training. We always talk about mindset, mindset, mindset. I learned the importance of teaching students the proper mindset the hard way. It’s not just about teaching them content, it’s about teaching them confidence and grit in the face of academic stress.
Interviewer: What is your advice to students applying to BCA? What’s the best way for them to prepare?
Gupta: I think the age of the students applying to BCA makes the program unique, especially since this is probably their first time taking a competitive exam versus SAT or ACT students who are a little older and have some experience with high stakes testing.
The BCA Prep students are rising 8th graders who only have one opportunity to take the BCA admissions tests. This experience differs from the SAT experience because students have the option to take the SAT more than once in order to earn their goal score.
But the main difference between BCA Prep students and SAT Prep students is that the rising 8th graders need a longer maturation process. That is why MEK adapted their program to support a longer timeline. The BCA Prep students need time to change their mindset so that they are maximizing the probability of a great score while minimizing the potential for silly mistakes. Since the BCA admissions test is a one time test event, a perfect score is not guaranteed. However, BCA Prep instructors are training students to put their best foot forward.
Even though the BCA admissions test is only 40 questions in length, we are frequently asked by parents why their child requires such a lengthy preparation period for such a short exam. It is important for parents to understand that while the test is only 40 questions, the difference between their child gaining admission or being rejected comes down to half a question.
A lot of rising 8th graders believe they are ready to take the BCA admissions test because they are in high level math and English courses at their school. However, they are not ready. There are gaps in their learning that need to be addressed, and they need practice with the actual test.
That’s why our BCA Prep Program has three different parts. Summer Exam 8 is where students learn foundational skills that they’ll need for the exam. Phase I is when students begin their test training. Phase 2 is the final nine weeks during which students take an actual test in a simulated exam environment. We create a real testing experience in order to prepare them for the competitive nature of their actual test day. For some students, this might be the first big test event they’ve participated in, unless they’ve been a part of MAPC or math competition.
The way teachers handle rising 8th graders is much different than how they handle 11th or 12th grade students. Most rising 8th graders haven’t been pushed as hard as their older counterparts. They are a lot more fragile and impressionable. That’s why giving rising 8th graders the correct guidance is so important. The focus, discipline, and study habits we teach them at MEK, not only helps them excel on the BCA admissions exam, but also positively impacts their performance at school because they know what they have to do to earn top grades. This, to me, is the most rewarding part.
BCA Prep is meant to be difficult because BCA is a difficult school, and at MEK we want to prepare our rising 8th graders for all the challenges that lie ahead so that they can persevere and thrive.
Interviewer: You attended Rutgers University, correct? Any advice to seniors planning to apply there?
Gupta: Rutgers is an underrated school. It truly is an amazing, affordable option for many students. The school has a lot of funding, a large research budget, and a very strong STEM department. If you’re planning on going to graduate school, Rutgers is a great gateway into top tier graduate schools. I had a great experience at Rutgers and loved my time there.
Comedy and Teaching
Interviewer: I heard a rumor that you used to do standup comedy in college? Is that true?
Gupta: That’s a soft lie. (laughs) I did an open mic twice. It’s not like I was doing stand up. I forget the name of the place. There was a comic book store in New Brunswick on College Ave, which is the main street. On the top floor of the comic book store they used to sell food, but almost every night they’d have an open mic night. If they liked you, they’d have you do a five minute set, and they’d pay you in food. So they asked me to come do a five minute set. There weren’t too many people, but they gave me a free burger and fries. I love stand up comedy, so it was great.
Interviewer: Are there any ways in which telling jokes on a stage and teaching in front of a class have similarities?
Gupta: Yes, teaching and performing are definitely similar. In a virtual setting, I am very conscious if a class is disengaged. It’s a feeling that teachers get. If I’m teaching a question using effective techniques, and I sense that they are disengaged, I stop teaching and try to get them back into the mindset where they’re more receptive to learning.
When my 1500 classes or my 8th graders disengage, I am able to joke around and laugh with them until they are ready to learn. Once I see that they are ready, I start teaching again. It’s all very seamless. It’s my job to get my students into the mindset of learning. But when they aren’t engaged in the learning, it’s my job to get them back on track.
I think that having lighthearted moments in a class is necessary, especially in a virtual setting. When classes are in person it’s easy to control students through body language, but in a remote class, you have to control their brains more than their body.
Interviewer: What do you like to do outside of MEK?
Gupta: I play a lot of tennis, that’s my main hobby. And I watch a lot of sports. I’m a huge NFL fan. I watch the NBA, tennis. I am a huge fan of anything other than baseball. Baseball is too slow.
Interviewer: Do you have any favorite teams?
Gupta: The first Super Bowl I ever watched was with my brother in 2003 when the Patriots played the Panthers. Whenever I tell people I’m a Patriots fan they call me a bandwagon fan. I wasn’t born here, so I always felt like a fraud if I said I supported a specific team. But I like every team, especially in the NFL and NBA. My favorite tennis player of all time is Roger Federer.