Test prep sector is always a special sector for a country like India, where parent's spend (in ratio of their salaries) on child's education is one of the highest.
Numerous edtech startups are eyeing this sector as an opportunity and creating their own niche for different types of examinations. One such company is QSLEAP which helps students to access premium test prep at no cost. I recently had the opportunity to interview Soumik Ganguly regarding QSLEAP's journey.
What’s the best way to define QSLEAP?
QSLEAP provides guided and learning adaptive test prep that can be freely accessed by anyone who is looking at international mobility or would be aspiring to apply to undergrad, post-grad, and MBA programs at Universities across EU, UK, USA, Canada, etc that accept test scores of the GMAT, GRE, SAT and LSAT. A high test score is an added advantage while applying to top programs, and QSLEAP ensures that there is an unbiased access to premium test prep without any cost.
What problem are you solving, for whom & how?
LEAP has been designed to help aspiring students planning to apply for undergrad, postgrad, and MBA programs at universities across the world that ask for GMAT, GRE, SAT and LSAT test scores. It allows prospective students to study at their own pace and ability, and guides them through an evolving, adaptive study schedule, to control the outcomes of the test prep.
Studies show a direct correlation between the economic status of individuals and their test scores. Mediating this relationship is the entire framework of premium test preparation. Thousands of deserving candidates are left behind because they can’t afford the costs associated with these courses.
QS LEAP was created to remove this privilege-related bias. Our goal was to allow anyone who has access to the internet to be able to access high-quality test prep, through one of the most-advanced platforms in the world; advanced by virtue of its learning frameworks, learner adaptivity, and social benchmarking, as well as offering classes and thousands of free questions.
What is the driving passion? What is your vision going forward?
We believed in democratizing the learning systems that are available to candidates today, and test-prep was one of those silos that has, for years, been riding on putting a price on learning content. This bias is the reason many thousands of deserving candidates have lost out. The team is filled with people who have community achievement at heart, while building out a platform that uses cutting edge technology and learning science. Going forward, we intend to solve the life long learning journey for every candidate- by providing test prep, and thereafter skills development modules by partnering with some of the largest content providers in the world.
Who were your early adopters? How do you keep a check on user satisfaction with students using your platform?
Our early adopters were students from across the US, India, SE Asian countries and Latin America. We got candidates from some of the top universities in the world (MIT, Stanford, Harvard, etc.) prepare on the platform for their GMAT or GRE. Progressively we also got testimonials from students who did not have access to premium test prep because they couldn’t afford, but then with LEAP they prepared for their tests. A few of our leaderboard users belong to such background. Such stories are amazing check points for us and it keeps us grounded to deliver better learning outcomes every day.
How did this start under QS? Tell us about your team, who do you have supporting you?
QS LEAP was launched on the 1st of June 2015. The platform was a result of over 3 years of research, and launched as the world’s first free and social test prep platform. In the first year itself, the platform got excellent feedback from candidates who used it to secure high scores in the GMAT and SAT, and who then went on to secure admits in top US universities. In the past 3 years, we had more than 5 million questions solved in the system that allowed us to learn about how students improved between sections, and what paths they took towards these improvements.
Along with personal prep, QSLEAP also has synchronous prep in the form of free-classes. These classes are delivered by excellent tutors for free, and candidates who need inputs on specific areas of a topic can attend these sessions. We then keep a track of how these candidates progress, which is a measurement of learning effectiveness.
And finally, since the test-prep journey is a prelude to the application journey, we have included nifty tools into the QSLEAP ecosystem that help candidates in school selection, admissions counselling, and application building. Innovative tools such as the “Application portfolio” allow candidates to know their competitive rank amongst others who are interested in applying to the same program, view their match percentage, and monitor the progress over a certain period of time. This allows them to make better application choices. QS is a well known counselling system for thousands of candidates worldwide, and therefore QSLEAP gets that support by means of intelligent integrations.
Where do you see QSLEAP in 12 or 18 months from now?
We are looking at growing to more than 200,000 registered users learning in the system, and progressively extend the platform into language prep such as the IELTS and TOEFL. We are also launching the world’s largest skills development platform in partnership with Hogan Assessments, edX, and Udemy that would help candidates to continue on a life long learning journey on QSLEAP
What is the biggest need/void in your organization?
The biggest challenge that we intend to solve is the outreach. We cannot stress enough the need to reach out to millions of candidates across the world. Our funding limits that at the moment, and we are seeking more investments or commercial partners who would help us solve the outreach problem.
Any thought leader or companies with innovation which you follow for success? Whether in the EdTech space or in general?
We closely follow the likes of Khan Academy with whom we share the vision of providing premium quality learning for free. We also follow some product companies that are not necessarily from our domain, but the tools and models they use can be replicated in Edtech through some innovative thinking.
Why does QSLEAP call itself the most advanced test prep platform? How are you different?
In the past three years, we have seen more than five million questions answered by users. This has enabled us to learn how students improve between sections, and what paths they take to reach these improvements.
We then use this data to deliver a combination of learning frameworks – interleaving (dividing tasks in a way that aids recall), spaced repetition, and retrieval practice (testing with feedback) – which sits on top of user-generated learning data. This means we can make the entire platform adaptive to the learner and learning style, a first when compared to other platforms, introducing recommended videos and notes at places where the user deviates from expected learning trajectory.
.Who would you call your competitors?
As such, since our model is a bit unique, we don’t see anyone else providing something similar. However, candidates do end up comparing us with other providers such as Magoosh or Ready4. Our bet is that we will surpass Magoosh in another 3 years in terms of volume of candidates as well as measured learning outcomes.
What advice do you have for students preparing for GRE, GMAT, SAT?
I have taught candidates for standardized prep in my career, and my suggestion to them is to:
- Plan in advance and create a good study schedule that is not cumbersome
- Do not stress on early days of prep, as keeping oneself motivated is tough and one needs to give some time before the learning curve starts peaking
- Do not get stuck in solving similar questions in a given week, and always mix the prep between verbal or quant or reasoning
- Revision is a must, and we do it on LEAP through retrieval practice. It is only through small bursts of revision that you would remember what you practiced
- The test is not the end of your life. There are Universities that do not use these scores as Cut-offs, and there are also others that do not consider test scores at all. Do some research and keep a Plan B in place