CORONAVIRUS

FinnPREP keeps tutoring students despite disruptions from pandemic

More time equals better ROI, tutor says

Kelly Finn (right) talks to 2019 Prairie High School graduate Cris Hammond about his work for the ACT to apply to colleg
Kelly Finn (right) talks to 2019 Prairie High School graduate Cris Hammond about his work for the ACT to apply to colleges and universities during a session at her tutoring business FinnPREP in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Kelly Finn loves tests — or rather, helping high school students increase their scores on tests that affect their future educational goals.

Finn owns and operates FinnPREP, a concierge tutoring service, with all tutoring happening one on one.

“We specialize in test prep for the ACT test and AP course tests,” said Finn, noting it provides personalized study plans for students and administer a series of pre- and post-tests during their tutoring.

Finn said they find the one-on-one tutoring to be more effective than a classroom model.

“Students sign up online and schedule appointments online. Parents and students like that it’s flexible, that they can pick time that work for their teens who are often very busy,” Finn said.

“Our system also offers accountability. After each session, I update parents on how the session went.”

Tutoring sessions typically happen in person at FinnPREP’s office in the NewBo neighborhood. But given the changes with the pandemic, FinnPREP has been able to shift gears and offer tutoring session via online platforms such as Zoom.

Finn said her company also is offering more online resources during this time as she looks at offering do-it-yourself test prep products in the future.

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FinnPREP was started a little more than eight years ago. At the time, Finn — who has her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa — was working as a professor at Loras College in Dubuque and was asked by a friend to tutor her daughter before taking the LSAT.

“I got some books and over Thanksgiving break I found out that I like test prep and teaching it.” she said.

“I’m a test hack,” she added. “I went into the ACT test and the AP tests, and I figured out the fastest way to work the problems. We have found that is what really matters as these tests are timed and they put more on the test than most students can actually work, so timing is really important.”

Finn said their service is of great value to students and their families because so much of college admittance and scholarship dollars are related to test scores.

At FinnPREP, they work with all levels of students.

“Going to college can be very expensive,” she said. “Let’s say you have a high or midlevel GPA (grade-point average). If you can get a high score on the ACT, you have improved your application and chance for scholarships.

“We have students who come here who have low scores (on a previous ACT) and need to increase their score just to be admitted to college. And we have students who come here who have a midlevel score who want to improve that so they can get some money for college.

“Then we have the higher level students who come here who want to go to college on full-scholarship or they want to go to an elite college.”

Finn said her company relies on referrals from parents and students to keep growing.

“So many parents email me asking questions about the ACT test itself and when their student should start studying.”

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Ideally, Finn said, students would look into work with FinnPREP during the summer after their freshman year.

“In 10th grade is the main time to be working on testing,” she said. “My highest scoring students come to us during the summer of their ninth grade year, do some studying over the summer, and go in right at the beginning of their 10th grade year and get a very good score.

“We do prep seniors, but it’s like anything else. When you get out ahead of it you are going to have a better result. And the sooner you start, the larger your return on investment.”

Finn said her company has seen tests scores increase by an average of five points for students for the past six years.

For example, she had a student come in with a score of 13 on the ACT, a lower score, Finn recalled.

“She had hopes of going to the University of Dubuque, but her score of 13 meant she wouldn’t be admitted there. She prepped with us and got a 19. It changed everything for her and now she’s going to the University of Dubuque,” Finn said.

“I enjoy when the students get their score and you know often they’ll thank me,” she added. “They’ll send me a text or I’ll hear from parents what the student’s scored. It’s another way we document our value.”

While Finn handled all aspects of the business for the first four years, she now works with three additional coaches — teachers in the local school system — who provide tutoring services and she’s in the process of increasing her team.

“With all the social distancing that’s going on and not knowing how long it will last, it’s important for us to keep serving the families and teens at home during this time,” she said.

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“I hear from parents that we are helping provide some structure and focus in their day.”

The national test date for the ACT has been moved to June 13.

“We are about nine weeks from that now,” she said last week when interviewed for this article. “When people ask me the ideal time to start preparing, it’s about eight weeks out.

“Kids need some time to work on this to get optimal results.”

A number of small businesses still are at work during the pandemic. Know one that might make an interesting “My Biz” feature? Let us know via michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

• Founder and CEO: Kelly Finn

• Business: FinnPREP

• Address: 1120 Depot Lane SE, Suite 100, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 249-2047

• Website: finnprep.com

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