BY MARC MOSS
In the mid-1970s on Staten Island, countless students were scrambling to prepare for the spring Regents examination, the uniquely New York end-of-the-year test of a high schooler’s wits and memory retention.
The best math tutor in the neighborhood was Arnold Birnbaum. He arguably was the best tutor in every subject, his son Michael tells the Rockland County Times. He possessed a knack for explaining each topic and question “in such a clear and simplified way that students would find it easy to solve any problem.”
Michael recalls, “I can tell you how good he was through experience because he tutored me throughout high school.”
So, come Regents exam season, Arnold Birnbaum would get such a high demand that he could no longer find the time to tutor all of his students. In the spring of 1976, he came up with a simple but momentous response to this dilemma.
Arnold Birnbaum developed a six-hour course reviewing the entire Regents curriculum in one day. He told all of his students to bring $30 and taught the class in his basement.
The six-hour course was an instant and resounding success. He didn’t know it that first day, but Arnold Birnbaum had thus founded Regents Review, the original one-day Regents review course, and 40 years later, a leader in the downstate New York test review industry.
In 1977, Arnold Birnbaum was getting so many calls that that he was able to run the program on multiple days. He then hired the best teachers he knew to teach other subjects and grew the program from there. The program remained solely on Staten Island for 25 years until his daughter expanded it to Long Island.
In 2005, Michael, the company’s director, brought the program to Rockland County. Regents Review has since expanded to Westchester, Orange County and Manhattan.
“We get bigger every year,” says the second-generation exam guru.
The company also holds reviews for AP exams and SAT II subject tests.
Michael Birnbaum explained, “In our sessions, we review the entire curriculum in one day. We provide students study material on the morning of the class—this is great because they don’t have to go out and buy any additional books. We then use this material as we go over everything in a topic by topic format.”
A topic is reviewed and then the students are assigned a few Regents-type questions that pertain to the topic. The teachers then go over questions and explain why the correct answers are correct and why the incorrect answers are wrong.
During the session, the teachers will also discuss test-taking tricks and techniques. Every hour, the students get a 5-10 minute break. “This is very important as they need to rest their brains, use the bathroom or just stretch out and get ready for the next hour,” Birnbaum said.
The students also get a one-hour break for lunch, generally between noon and 1 p.m.
“The classes are intense but they are very effective,” boasts Birnbaum. “Many students tell us how much more confident they are after they take our classes. At the end of the day, the students will take home the material they worked on and they can continue to study with it before their exam.”
The Rockland County Times asked Birnbaum what has changed recently and over the decades with the Regents exam.
He replied, “The biggest change we have seen is the alignment of the math Regents exams with the Common Core standards. The state gave some guidance, but was vague about specific types of new upcoming questions. We have also experienced the state changing curriculum for a specific subject. [When this happens] we immediately begin working to coordinate our materials with the new curricula. It keeps us on our toes. Regardless, every year, we have different teachers evaluate our material and we constantly update it to keep it aligned with the current Regents curriculum.”
Spring Regents exam preparation forces students to dig back in their memory to subjects they covered way back in the beginning of the school year.
“The test covers an entire years’ worth of material,” Birnbaum said. “Most kids don’t remember topics that they learned in September or October. This usually causes them to get stressed out as they don’t know where to begin. Our instructors take that stress away and teach them everything that they need to know. The teachers will advise them on certain facts that they should put to memory because they are included on the exams every year. The instructors also emphasize which topics require slightly less focus because they are seldom included on the Regents exams.”
What makes Regents Review special? Why does it have a winning formula for test prep?
Birnbaum answered, “We are the original company to offer a one-day test prep. We do our best to find the most enthusiastic instructors who are passionate about the topic they are teaching. In our experience, students generally enjoy our classes and want to attend for multiple subjects. It’s not uncommon for parents to call us and say that their children learned more in one day with us than they did in class all year.
“Recently, a parent called explaining that her son, whose grades were good all year, was suffering from anxiety because of an upcoming regents exam. This particular student had trouble remembering subject topics he had learned in September and October and a few others along the way. After taking our one-day class, the mother contacted us to let us know that her son was feeling confident and that he received a 98 on the particular exam.
“Not only was his grade a success, but even more importantly, he lowered his test anxiety and restored his confidence, the greatest success of all.”
There is still time for high schoolers to prep for the Regents. Those interested in Regents Review can visit their website at www.passtheregents.com or call 914-420-0732.