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Rapid Shifts from Conventional Classroom-based Test Prep to Online Learning

08-Jul-2020   Mr. Arpit Oswal, Designation: Head of Product, Testbook   Author: Akshit Goel

There has been a major curve in the strategies of classroom test-prep behemoths such as Aakash, TIME, and Career Launcher, where these entities are gradually migrating to or introducing small elements of online learning. The coronavirus pandemic has accentuated the pace of the shift towards online learning and has forced offline players to incorporate online elements in their models to facilitate remote learning. One of the major players in the online test prep ecosystem is ‘Testbook’. ‘Testbook’ offers government test preparation services for 120+ exams through its different product offerings suited to different types of learners.

In an interview with Mr. Arpit Oswal, Head of Product at Testbook, we attempt to identify the key reasons for the strong adoption that online test prep platforms are witnessing and discovered how ‘Testbook’ through its diverse product offerings, interaction-based learning and a customer need-based product strategy is differentiating itself from other players in the industry.

Q. According to you, how has the growth been in the Indian Test Prep landscape over the past 3-4 years? How did online and conventional brick-and-mortar test prep companies contributed to the industry growth?

Out of the major demands for online test-prep, Test Series forms a major portion of the students’ requirements. Over 5 crore students prepare for various government exams each year and that has been increasing consistently. A lot of exams have moved online in the last 5-6 years, leading to a lot of adoption from students for online test preparation. We expect these trends to continue. With so many exams moving online, the EdTech start-up ecosystem grew as a whole with lot more adoption from students. Offline players are also complementing their center-based teaching with an online platform. Offline players were moving online or introducing online learning much before COVID, as part of the long term scenario but a lot more would now be adapting to the online ecosystem due to the situation at hand. This will be both, a challenge and opportunity for them.

Q. The online test prep ecosystem itself could be segmented in 2 halves. One would be companies catering to school students such as Toppr, Vedantu and Byjus, while other would be catering to college students and professionals such as Testbook, Gradeup, Oliveboard. How do you feel these companies differ from each other, if we keep the product and target audience out of it?

User behaviour is different for both segments. For post-grad test prep segment, where users take multiple exams throughout the year, the subscription model works better. K-12 test prep students generally focus on just one exam or very similar exams in the same domain.  Also, the paying customers in each segment are different – in K12, generally, parents of students play a key role in purchasing decisions whereas in post-grad Test Prep students are your direct customers.

Q. How has Testbook achieved scalability operating in the industry since 2012?

Growth has been pretty good for us especially in the last 2 years where the entire online education ecosystem started to build up pace. In terms of acquisition channels, online is still the key driver for our growth. We leverage content marketing and our freemium model to acquire users. We have added over 5 million users in last 2 years itself.

Engagement and conversion rates go hand in hand. If, as a product, we are able to engage users effectively, it goes a long way in ensuring that their trust is placed on the platform. For conversion, you need to nudge the users at the right places with the right offerings in their learning journey. For example, a student gives a free mock test on the platform, and then the platform guides him/her to improve in their weak areas. This helps smoothen the learning experience for the user on the platform too.

Q. How does Testbook’s business model function, with respect to its different product offerings?

There are two major offerings- Testbook Pass and Testbook Select.

Pass is a platform subscription plan.  A pass gives access to all the self-paced courses and test series available on the platform to students. We offer more than 150 courses and over 5,000 mock tests in Testbook Pass. It allows students to prepare for 90-110 exams through a single plan. Students, who wish to prepare for multiple exams, see a clear advantage of pass. Most of our users prefer the yearly pass.

The second offering is Testbook Select, which is a Live-classes based learning approach. All the lectures are delivered live where students can interact with the teachers and seek clarifications in the class itself. What differentiates Testbook Select from other Live-classes based courses is the Testbook Coach Program. Every student enrolling in the select course is allotted a personal coach. The coach, who has cleared the exam himself/herself, is a mentor for students and takes part in assessing the student’s performance and helping them chart their progress curve. We have seen close to 4x increase in our engagement numbers and also in the performance of students. The coach gives personalized analysis for student’s problems/weaknesses, assists them in identifying their strengths and helps them to form the right strategy for their exam preparation. We observe that human touch and two-way conversations facilitate better trust between the student and the platform. Testbook Select works on a pay per course model.

Q. What are the bottlenecks that online test-prep players in the industry face?

We realized that a major part of our target audience is in tier-2 and tier-3 towns. One of the key challenges was Payments as many of these students don’t have credit or debit cards. Therefore, we launched an E-Card system which is similar to a mobile recharge card. We have our owned centers & franchised centers along with tie-ups with local book stores and cyber cafes especially in Delhi NCR, Bihar, UP, and Rajasthan, where these entities help us to sell these passes offline, in exchange for a commission. We are also trying to expand our presence and include the E-pass payment facility at all local shops, to expand the reach of our product further.

Q. In the business of Online Education, it is all about how good your tech interface is and how the platform supports learning seamlessly. Any new or cutting-edge technologies that Testbook’s platform leverages?

Currently, we help students identify their weak points based on their responses on various mock tests, and recommend them the right courses to overcome them. We have also simplified the student analysis to a level where most students can interpret it easily and take further actions accordingly. Our algorithms also enable us to enumerate the questions in the right buckets so that student can devise their test-taking strategies better. For example, our algorithm tells students what were the tricky questions in the test that students should have been careful about or some questions that a student should have skipped as they consume a lot of time, and so on.

The next challenge for us is to develop a personalized learning path for each of our student which will help them clear exams in the optimum amount of time. Say a student coming just a couple of months before the exam should focus only on topics where he or she has the highest probability of scoring higher. We have been collecting a lot of the data in the system from the very beginning to build the AI-enabled Coach, as it was always the part of the Testbook’s vision. Having achieved more than 35,000 selections in the last 4 to 5 years, the data knows the recipe for winning and will empower our AI. It will help every student learn at their own pace and follow their unique learning paths to success.

Q. How has the demand for Test Prep been impacted due to the COVID situation? How has Testbook’s business been affected due to the pandemic situation? What are the strategies that the company is leveraging to make the most out of the increasing familiarity of people with online learning?

A few government exams that were lined for the April period were postponed to the August-September period. The private job market remains uncertain. With unemployment increasing in the private sector, people would pin their hopes on government jobs. So we can see a significant surge in demand for Test Prep in the coming months.

At Testbook, we observed a temporary dip in engagement immediately sometime after lockdown started as an after effect as few exams were postponed, but post that, we are seeing an increasing trend in traction on the platform as more students adapt to online learning. We also ran campaigns where we gave full platform access to students, which gave a huge boost for course enrolments. Over 5 lakh students enrolled in various courses available on the platform in a span of 48 hours.

Q. What is the future growth scenario that the industry would witness? What would be emerging trends or new technologies that would impact competition and business growth in the future? What are Testbook’s plans for the future?

A lot of students from Tier 2 and Tier 3 would of course now be coming online for the first time and people would have much greater acceptance of online education as an alternative to offline coaching classes and private tutors. Many students, who considered online education as a secondary means of learning earlier, are now compelled to consider online learning as their primary source of learning.  COVID has just accelerated all the trends that were already there. Changes that would have happened over the years, have happened in just a couple of months. One major change could be a lot of offline players will also try to have some online presence and will compete against already established online players, making the entire ecosystem more competitive. There will also be a lot of collaboration between offline and online players.

Talking about Testbook, we are very much focused on our core test prep segments. We are looking to continue our expansion to new government exam categories. We will be focussed on State level exams, where producing content in local languages would be the key factor.

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