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Taming the monster of college entrance testing

Rochester Business Journal
June 8, 2012

Mike Bergin knows that taking standardized tests can be stressful. The owner and president of Chariot Learning LLC strives to combat that stress by giving students comprehensive exam preparation.
Brighton-based Chariot Learning offers personalized SAT/ACT tutoring to high school students in the Rochester region. Bergin, 43, says the core of what Chariot Learning offers is individualized instruction.
The tutoring company works mostly with students in the Brighton and Pittsford areas but is trying to build awareness in Webster, Victor, Penfield and Fairport, Bergin says. It works with students in public and private schools.
Bergin established his business in 2009 and says it has grown by roughly 100 percent each year, largely because of the connections Bergin has made with educators in the area.
"Over the last three and a half years, I've been able to build relationships with the guidance counselors and other advocates to really help connect our services with the families that benefit from them," he says.
Exam preparation can come from many sources-books, the Internet and retail prep companies such as Kaplan Inc. and College Board. But Bergin claims his tutoring program offers something different.
His program cuts out most of the fluff of the retail prep programs and tailors the preparation to the students, Bergin says. For instance, if a student is weak in critical writing but strong with math, then the program focuses on the areas that need work, rather than reiterating concepts that the student has already mastered.
"We really want to be efficient," Bergin says, "not just to protect our clients' budget, but nobody wants to waste a teenager's time. Once a teenager knows you're wasting her time, you've lost her. We don't want that."
The impact of Bergin's program thus far bodes well for the future of Chariot Learning. By continuing to offer academic coaching, addressing core reading and writing skills, and running practice exams at local libraries, Bergin hopes to reap benefits. He recently developed a vocabulary program called Roots2Words. Through one email a day for 26 weeks, Bergin introduces students to a new Latin or Greek root for English words. He enhances that with a weekly quiz and vocabulary fiction piece.
An in-home tutoring service, Chariot Learning's general SAT/ACT prep program ensures that students learn in a familiar environment with the tutors traveling to them.
Bergin employs six tutors. The number of students constantly fluctuates. Bergin estimates the business currently tutors roughly 100 students. The service charges a flat fee of $100 an hour, with no requirement of a specific number of hours of tutoring.
Bergin took a leap of faith in establishing Chariot Learning. His extensive background in test preparation, beginning with Kaplan 17 years ago and later in his role as director of exam prep at Huntington Learning Centers Inc., allowed him to gain insight into the mechanics of test preparation.
"My experience with what retail prep companies have looked for over the years definitely affected how I set up Chariot Learning," Bergin says. "I had these ideas about what really works.
"My feeling was, honestly, if Chariot Learning's approach didn't work I was going to pursue something other than test prep. This is how I wanted it to work, and if it didn't work this way, then it wouldn't work this way, and there was only one way to find out."
Chariot Learning's approach has proved successful. Students have raised their SAT scores by 80 or more points and increased their ACT scores by six points.
Much of Chariot Learning's growth has come from word-of-mouth, a method that has been and will continue to be the best way for spreading the word about the business, Bergin says.
"My idea was utopian in the beginning," he says. "I thought that if Chariot Learning was structured in a way that was really going to work and I put the right people in place, then I can count on word-of-mouth being a big driver of business, and in fact that's come to pass."
Katherine Alexander is a Rochester Business Journal intern.6/8/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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