As distance learning became the norm in 2020, UWorld was well positioned to grow its market for online high-stakes test preparation.
Born in 2003 out of founder Dr. Chandra Pemmasani’s own efforts to study for the U.S. medical licensing exam (USMLE), UWorld set “the gold standard” in the healthcare education industry. In recent years, the company—which started out as USMLE World—is growing its empire beyond healthcare to accounting, law, finance, pharmacy, and college prep.
In 2010, the company relocated from Baltimore to Irving with five employees. Now headquartered in Cypress Waters in Coppell, UWorld has more than 350 employees in the U.S. and India.
Already in 2021, the company has received accolades for its Advanced Placement prep as the Remote Learning Winner from the Tech&Learning Awards of Excellence and a Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center for its ACT and SAT College Prep solutions.
The company also offers prep for NCLEX, MCAT, USMLE, and more.
‘We make really hard stuff easy to understand’
“Our mission has always been to help students achieve their academic dreams, no matter what their circumstances are,” Pemmasani said in a statement. “The past year has presented enormous challenges to educators, families, and students, and we are honored to be recognized as a tool that has supported today’s high schoolers on their journey to higher education and a successful career.”
Or, as the company’s website puts it, “we make really hard stuff easy to understand.”
Under the gun of COVID-19, the 2020 EY finalist and his team at UWorld applied their knack for teaching difficult subjects to distance learning in public schools by “reinventing the ways students focus, engage, and learn.”
By helping high school students in AP courses and readying them for the SAT and ACT, UWorld “is uniquely positioned to help schools transition from traditional classrooms to online learning through accessibility, performance tracking, and powerful insights,” Pemmasani told Dallas Innovates.
And the company continued to improve its advanced test prep options. In July 2020, UWorld acquired Chicago-based Themis Bar Review to help students pass bar exams in multiple states.
Rick Duffy, CEO and founder of Themis Bar Review, said in a statement, “Under the UWorld umbrella, we will maintain our unwavering commitment to developing only the highest-quality content and offering it to as many law students as possible.”
In February, the company announced the UWorld Career Advancement Scholarship to help ten students reach their target score on the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1 exam. Each recipient receives $1,400 worth of tools and financial aid, including UWorld’s CFA exam prep course, November 2021 exam fee, and CFAI one-time enrollment, per Yahoo Finance.
Pemmasani said the firm’s plans for the future include continuing to expand its verticals to prepare students for college and advanced careers while making UWorld a household name.
Meet the founder
Pemmasani was featured in Dallas Innovates’ Future 50 in Dallas-Fort Worth in the 2021 edition of our annual magazine. We talked with Pemmasani about UWorld’s rapid expansion in 2020, plans for the future, and helping students take their education into their own hands. Here’s a takeaway:
On UWorld expanding in 2020:
Despite 2020’s obstacles, UWorld has moved forward with rapid expansion into multiple new industries. UWorld is known as the gold standard in the healthcare education industry, and has been for nearly 20 years. More recently, we have taken our method of content development that has made our healthcare learning tools so popular and brought them into new verticals such as accounting, college prep, finance, legal, and pharmacy. Our goal with this expansion is to provide individuals with high-quality learning tools that maximize retention and give them their best opportunity of achieving their academic and professional goals.
Our sweet spot is finding high-stakes exams with complicated material and low pass rates. Our secret to success is then taking those difficult concepts and making them easy to understand. The goal of our expansion into other verticals is to help students and professionals succeed in their academic or professional careers because they fundamentally understand the principles being tested by the exam, not just because they perform well on the exam itself—although we certainly expect superior exams scores as a natural byproduct of focused study.
On tracking student performance and helping students achieve big goals:
A considerable challenge for schools and districts during distance learning is the potential to lose track of an individual student’s educational needs when they don’t have daily, in-person, classroom engagement. UWorld is meeting this challenge by allowing schools to gauge student performance through faculty portals and online performance-tracking, ensuring that no student falls through the cracks.
We believe our products will help students achieve their target scores on the high-stakes exams that are the gateway to their academic and professional dreams. We’re not just helping them get ready for one test. Whether students are studying for the college entrance or a professional licensure exam, they’re mastering academic concepts as well as learning how to learn, which will impact their success in school and professionally long after they take those tests.
On responding to the challenges of COVID-19:
The major challenges for students and families have been the lack of stability, structure, and the battle against learning loss. This fall, parents had to make the transition from traditional in-classroom education to whatever their district decided to do right before school started. Many parents continue to struggle with supervising their child’s education while working 40+ hours a week. Reinventing the ways students focus, engage, and learn had to be done on the fly, and many are still working to find the right balance.
UWorld is uniquely positioned to help schools transition from traditional classrooms to online learning through accessibility, performance tracking, and powerful insights. Our materials are available on every popular device. Studies show that 84 percent of teenagers have a smartphone, and those numbers go up as students get older. We’re doing everything we can to reach students where they are, both in terms of technology and background knowledge. We encourage students to start by taking a pretest to determine what they know and what they need to work on. From there, they can proceed at their own pace and on their own time. We’re helping students become their own teachers and close knowledge gaps on their own.
Due to the interruptions of school this spring, the only educational progress some students made was through UWorld. With most of the large school districts starting the fall in a distance learning model, students are leaning on online learning, and we’re there to support them.
On the importance of building community in virtual teams:
A point of emphasis at UWorld is community. I believe that the best work comes from a place of collaboration, which happens among friends. This is especially the case now, when people around the world are perhaps more isolated than ever. For this reason, departments take part in monthly virtual team-building activities in addition to bi-weekly Q&A sessions with leadership, and company-wide virtual events planned by an employee-led social committee. UWorld is built on helping students succeed, which permeates the company’s culture.
On what’s next for UWorld:
In addition to continued expansion into additional verticals, we’re looking to make UWorld a household name within institutions. We’ve developed content and learning tools that are far more than just exam preparation. While there are question banks to ensure individuals are prepared to ace their high-stakes exams, the content we’ve developed is intended to be beneficial throughout the academic process. For example, medical students don’t just use UWorld to prepare for their USMLE but also as a study tool for their clinical rotations. Similarly, the content we’ve developed is intended to be a curricular supplement for individuals preparing for their CPA, PA, MBE, or other professional certification or licensure.
As I learned myself when preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination, active learning helps students develop a growth mindset. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may have grown up being told that they aren’t, for example, “good at math.” But when they take the learning into their own hands and build that growth mindset, those self-defeating thoughts get replaced by the conviction that, with hard work, they are always able to get better.
A version of this story was originally published in Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue.
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Our fourth annual magazine, Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue, highlights Dallas-Fort Worth as a hub for innovation. The collective strength of the innovation ecosystem and intellectual capital in Dallas-Fort Worth is a force to be reckoned with.
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