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SAT tutor brings more than high scores to class

Chris Okumoto, founder and lead instructor of Achieve Excellence Hawaii enjoying time off with his daughter.
Chris Okumoto, founder and lead instructor of Achieve Excellence Hawaii enjoying time off with his daughter.
Photo credit: Chris Okumoto

Every year, thousands of students throughout Hawaiʻi partake in preparation courses for one of the most difficult and important standardized tests - the SAT, a globally recognized college admission test. Colleges use those scores to understand what knowledge a student has and how well they can apply that knowledge.

High school juniors and seniors have SAT testing, and its counterpart the ACT, on their priority to-do lists and are encouraged by college counselors and admission professionals to get into a test prep class or tutoring support as soon as possible.

Chris Okumoto, founder and lead instructor of Achieve Excellence Hawaii, is a College Board test prep guru who has quickly become one of the island's favorite and most sought after instructors. Okumoto brings an easygoing style and positive "you've got this" attitude helping students to ease their anxiety about test taking and earn the best scores possible. He's researched teaching materials and applied the practical knowledge by taking multiple full-length practice tests, each time employing the strategies he teaches with significant improvement.

That real world skill shows up in the classroom and where it really counts - on test day. Honolulu Everyday People sat down with Okumoto to get inside the head of one of Hawaii's leading test prep instructors.

You have a positive attitude when it comes to learning and teaching. Did you always enjoy the process and cycle of learning?

Teaching has become one of my biggest passions in life. I truly enjoy making students feel comfortable by trying to establish a warm and open learning environment. And I love it when learners are engaged and are "getting it." In other words, it's a very special thing for a teacher when he or she sees students become really involved in the material and maybe even just as passionate in the subject matter. But I certainly wasn't always this way. In high school and early in my college career. I was a kolohe, disrespectful student in many of my classes! I may have even caused some of my former teachers to lose their passion for teaching!

What's the hardest thing you learned about making the adjustment from high school to college?

Teaching at the college level, as opposed to teaching at the high school and middle school levels, is actually easier in some ways. I think one of the reasons why is there are fewer disciplinary issues/concerns with college students. And in college, being a motivator seems to be a more prominent role of the teacher/professor. Motivating and inspiring people is something I truly enjoy doing!

What is the best tip you can give (in general) to students who are preparing to take their college board exams?

The best advice I can give to students preparing for college entrance exams (SAT and ACT) is to take them seriously. Don't make preparing for them your fourth or fifth priority. Invest some time and energy into getting yourself ready. Learn what the tests are like (structure, instructions, general information) if it's your first time, review the content that each section may cover, learn strategies for getting more correct answers or for saving time, and practice a lot (even analyzing your wrong answers on practice tests). Doing all of these things will not only improve your scores, but it will also increase your confidence, which does play a large factor in how you may perform.

How does the process of going through a test prep help a student improve? It is because of the way they digest information, etc.?

Going through a good test prep class helps students to do all of the above in an organized way and with an experienced mentor or guide. According to statistics from the College Board, only 55% of students actually improve from their first SAT to their second SAT. In other words, 45% either go down or stay the same. A great test prep class or tutor can help to ensure that a student not only improves, but significantly at that.

Do you have an interesting story about Achieve Excellence Hawaii that you'd like to share?

It's very interesting how God works. Two summers ago, I was slated to teach a summer school class at American Renaissance Academy. But due to low enrollment, the class was cancelled! There I was, thinking, "Now what am I going to do this summer?" And then He turned the light bulb on. For years, I had been toying with the idea of starting my own tutoring business, but I just never had the time. I then realized that God had closed one door because He wanted to see me go through another door He had opened up. And here I am, two years and over 130 students later, and enjoying every minute of it!

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