Meet the Kaplan Experts: Tyler Fara, MCAT Instructor

by Tyler Fara, MCAT Instructor | October 14, 2021

The Kaplan Team is often cited as why schools stay with Kaplan, year after year. At Kaplan, there’s an expert at the heart of everything we do, whether it’s leading a class or developing innovative tools to help your students achieve their career goals. With our “Meet the Kaplan Experts” blog series, we introduce you to Kaplan’s extensive network of faculty, medical, and educational experts and delve into their diverse areas of expertise so that you can learn even more about your Kaplan team. This week, we're pleased to introduce you to Tyler Fara, MCAT Instructor.

Tell Us About Yourself

It's really hard to say who I was before Kaplan! I graduated with my master's from Colorado State University and immediately went to work teaching for Kaplan. That was over a decade ago and so I've really spent my whole career here! 

Before that, I was a ski bum, a bouncer, a greenskeeper, a suit salesman, a waiter, and then a molecular genetics researcher. And maybe that sounds like a crazy smorgasbord of jobs, but I think it tells the story of me: I'm a curious, personable, science-loving, thrill-seeker...which makes for a good teacher.

Test Scores: MCAT, 98th percentile

What are your particular areas of expertise?

I'm an expert on science instruction, mathematics, video creation, and whipping together phenomenal potatoes au gratin.

Tell Us About Your Experience in Medical Education

Who or what experience inspired you to pursue a career in education? 

My answer is obvious: Rick Boutcher. Rick was my Kaplan Center Manager in Denver when I started at Kaplan. At the time, I thought Kaplan would be a cool side job for a while. I had no idea it would turn into a decade-long career that would take me everywhere from California to New York. I didn't imagine I'd be writing lessons and recording videos and leading teams of content designers. And to be frank, if it weren't for the early coaching and mentorship of Rick Boutcher, none of that would have happened. Kaplan would indeed have been a cool side job for a while. But Rick, who was a teacher before he was a manager, showed me how to be an effective teacher, and then I got hooked. In fact, in a broader sense, when you populate a company with excellent, brilliant, and motivated teachers, and those teachers go on to become excellent, brilliant, and motivated managers and mentors, then the community within the company reflects that. In my time working at Kaplan, I've had many amazing mentors. But Rick was the first one, and the one who still had the most outsized impact. I'm grateful for that.

How long have you worked for Kaplan and what drew you to your current role?

Recently, I stepped back from my full-time role at Kaplan, though I have stayed on as a part-time MCAT teacher. I had been working for Kaplan as a content creator and lesson designer, but I returned to school to work on a Ph.D. in mathematics. See, it turns out that if one wants to be a more effective teacher and content creator―especially in physics and chemistry―then one might study mathematics to improve their content knowledge...which eventually turns into studying math just for fun, and then that leads one to want to quit their full-time job in order to become a professional mathematician! (At least in my case…) I actually like to think about it from this perspective: At Kaplan I have had the opportunity to help so many students find their way into their higher calling, and so it is fitting that along the way I found my calling too.

Which current or future education/test prep innovations do you wish you’d had access to when you were in university?

I have a unique insight into this question: I graduated in 2007, but now I'm back at school. For context: Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman the same year I was. YouTube launched while I was in my junior year. Wikipedia was a brand new resource and professors swore it was unfactual, untrustworthy, and everything just short of evil. Now, I am back at school to work on my PhD. So I have a little bit of an A/B comparison! 

And the innovation I am most grateful for is the huge community of people willing to generate content for free. Many of my classes use open source textbooks. There are obviously hours and hours of free videos online. But even beyond that, communities like Stackexchange, Quora, Coursera, and others have sprung up which allow content creators to create and share educational content with huge audiences. This huge boon obviously also has drawbacks: solutions to homework problems are easy to find. Test security is hard to protect. Students can cut corners in all varieties of ways. But, I think that those drawbacks are really just sparks that get thrown when the "old way" of treating knowledge as a guarded and gated resource grinds against the "new way" of crowdsourcing open content.

Institutions that find innovative ways to help grow these crowdsourcing communities will succeed while also shaping a better tomorrow.

Share your insights into the Medical Education Industry

What is the most important aspect of a partnership between Kaplan and the pre-med students we serve?

Kaplan knows these tests, inside and out. I have had the pleasure of working on the content development team as a content creator and lesson designer for many years, and so I know first hand how much effort goes into researching these tests. I've done a lot of that research myself. In the broader context of science education, a great innovation of the last decade has been the huge, almost overwhelming quantity of resources that have become available, most for free. But even still, standardized test prep is a relatively niche part of science education, and so a relatively small amount of content exists that is specific to test prep. Moreover, the air in the world of standardized test prep is filled with rumor, opinion, theory and conjecture. Everyone who has ever studied for and taken a standardized test has some pet premise about why the test is the way it is! So, the most important aspect of a partnership between Kaplan and our pre-med community is our position as a factual, bedrock authority in a world of otherwise shifting speculation.

Why is it so important for institutions to prepare students to “think like a doctor/future doctor?”

To me, “thinking like a doctor” means thinking critically, which is a term that gets used an awful lot in education. So, I like to offer this definition for the term critical thinking: "Critical" as in, "Given an overwhelming amount of information can you identify the stuff that is truly critical?" Obviously, doctors use this skill every moment of the day. Of course, medical school itself has been compared to drinking from a fire hose, so med students use critical thinking in this sense as well. But even beyond that, our world today is so full of information. The skill of filtering that information and focusing on what is truly critical, that skill is vital to successful adults in today's world.

Advice

Is there a quote or saying that you live by?

"When one teaches, two learn." 

-Robert Heinlein

A good part of the joy of teaching comes from helping others, for sure. I love coaching students to that Aha! moment. I love sharing their successes. But also, from a more self-centered standpoint, I love that teaching requires me to think deeply about science and math, and to keep learning and sharpening my knowledge. I love how a student can sometimes ask, "Couldn't you think about it this way?" and suddenly my own understanding will fundamentally shift. So, it is true that when one person sets out to teach, that person learns as well. When one teaches, two learn. 

My advice to students would be: Find ways to teach this material. Especially when you're stuck, try explaining what you do know and see if that helps you figure out what you don't know. And you don't need to teach in any formal capacity! You could explain a concept to your dog or cat, or to the kitchen sink while you do the dishes. You can talk to yourself in the shower, or write down your thoughts as if you were journaling. I have done (and I continue to do) all of these things. Even better, you could find a friend studying for the same class or test and take turns explaining concepts to each other. Don't feel like you need to be a master to try explaining a concept to someone else. Instead, be assured that explaining this material to others will help you become a master.

And finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

Teaching the MCAT for Kaplan has certainly changed my life for the better, and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to share some of my insights with you. Thank you for reading. 

It's really hard to say who I was before Kaplan! I graduated with my master's from Colorado State University and immediately went to work teaching for Kaplan. That was over a decade ago and so I've really spent my whole career here!  Before that, I was a ski bum, a bouncer, a greenskeeper, a suit salesman, a waiter, and then a molecular genetics researcher. And maybe that sounds like a crazy smorgasbord of jobs, but I think it tells the story of me: I'm a curious, personable, science-loving, thrill-seeker...which makes for a good teacher. Recently, I stepped back from my full-time role at Kaplan, though I have stayed on as a part-time MCAT teacher. I had been working for Kaplan as a content creator and lesson designer, but I returned to school to work on a Ph.D. in mathematics. See, it turns out that if one wants to be a more effective teacher and content creator―especially in physics and chemistry―then one might study mathematics to improve their content knowledge...which eventually turns into studying math just for fun, and then that leads one to want to quit their full-time job in order to become a professional mathematician! (At least in my case…) I actually like to think about it from this perspective: At Kaplan I have had the opportunity to help so many students find their way into their higher calling, and so it is fitting that along the way I found my calling too.

See more posts by Tyler Fara, MCAT Instructor