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‘Shark Tank’ winner returns to Las Vegas to pitch test prep firm

When Shaan Patel took his first SAT as a junior at Clark High School, he was dismayed to find he had scored only slightly above average.

But after locking himself in the library to study, he came back and recorded a perfect 2400 score — a difference he says allowed him to leverage scholarships and offers from universities to attend the University of Southern California for free.

“It completely changed my life,” Patel said.

Now the founder of Prep Expert, a test preparation company made famous by the TV show “Shark Tank,” Patel will be back in Las Vegas on Thursday as part of a presentation on reducing the costs of college. He’ll be presenting alongside another Mark Cuban-backed education company, ChangEd, which allows students to round up their daily purchases in order to pay off their student loans.

Cuban is slated to give the keynote speech at the event, which will be filmed for a future “Shark Tank” episode.

Patel started Prep Expert in 2011 out of an office near Henderson with a beta class of 18 students, who improved their scores by an average of 400 points in six weeks.

He says he based his model on the strategies he used to improve his score, such as using certain kinds of introductions and conclusions in essays that earn more points.

After realizing the demand for tutoring, Patel took the company to “Shark Tank” in 2015, winning a $250,000 investment from Cuban, despite other investors’ concerns that he was juggling medical school with the demands of running a business.

Since his appearance, Prep Expert has taught 50,000 students worldwide via in-person and online courses. Patel attributes that success to his staff, including teachers who all scored in the 99th percentile on the tests they’re teaching. During that same period, his company has generated $20 million in revenue, compared with $1 million before.

The company is headquartered in Las Vegas, though Patel is now a dermatology resident at Temple University in Philadelphia.

And despite being the founder of a test-prep company, Patel says he is not in favor of standardized testing as an admissions requirement. In recent years, a number of national universities have dropped SAT or ACT scores from admissions criteria in response to criticism that the tests are a barrier to low-income, minority and first-generation students.

However, students may be doing themselves a disservice by skipping the tests, Patel said, since merit scholarships are still given based on those scores. In Nevada, students with a GPA below 3.25 can still qualify for a Millennium Scholarship based on their SAT or ACT scores.

“It’s not a measure of intelligence. It’s a measure of how well you can take this test. It’s about learning to play the game,” Patel said. “And that’s what we’re teaching.”

Patel said he chose to hold the event at UNLV because of his local roots. He grew up in his parents’ motel on Fremont Street, attending urban schools that then had a 40 percent dropout rate. Patel has since earned a medical degree from USC and an MBA from Yale.

In the future, Patel says he’d like to take part in improving public education at Clark County schools as a way of giving back.

“Getting the emails from students who say, ‘I got this much in scholarship offers,’ or ‘I improved my score by this much,’ that’s always so great,” he said.

Registration for the event is available on EventBrite, and more information on Prep Expert is available at prepexpert.com.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218, or follow her on Twitter at @aleksappleton.

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