161,000 watch this Montclair High School wiz do math on TikTok
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Leon Wang, 16, a rising senior at Montclair High School, has always helped his classmates with their schoolwork.
He served as an honorary teacher’s assistant in elementary school. By the eighth grade, Wang had turned his passion into a business, offering tutoring services to students in multiple grades. He grew that enterprise — eventually taking on six additional tutors who work with him.
But when the pandemic hit last year and schools went virtual, Wang couldn’t meet with his clients as they experienced the difficulties of learning remotely.
“I was lucky enough to learn the SATs and all the subjects in person,” Wang said. “And I understand that there is a huge impact virtual learning had on other students around the world, and I wanted to do whatever I could do to make it easier for them.”
Wang saw an opportunity to help more students with their schoolwork while reaching a wider audience: TikTok, where he goes by the username “leonthetutor.”
“It never really came to me to start posting videos until I took my SATs and I scored pretty high on that. I got a 1550,” Wang said. “And it just came to me like: If I was able to do this on my first try, then maybe I can help other people do the same as well.”
Early this year, Wang started posting math videos, with instructions on how to solve problems. He’d take part in video trends, too — TikTockers often lip-sync to lines from songs or other video clips.
It was one of those videos that catapulted him into viral territory.
On April 12, Wang posted a video with the caption “Conclusion: follow me for 1700 on your SAT” (Wang’s joke aside, 1,600 is the top score possible on the test since 2016). Over his head are the words “I didn’t study at all for my SAT what am I going to do?” And then there’s the sound. A game streamer who goes by the name Tubbo shouts “Oh my god he’s dead! No!” before the 2012 pop hit “Gangnam Style” starts playing. More on-screen text tells the viewer to follow Wang’s account.
(If you don’t watch a lot of TikTok videos, you’ll have to trust us — it makes at least a little more sense in the context of the platform.)
The video got more than 600,000 likes, and gained him 13,000 new followers. The account quickly grew from there.
“I never imagined it would blow up,” Wang said. “When I started my TikTok account, I expected maybe 300 followers by the end of next year.” By July 1, he had more than 161,000. “It’s just insane.”
Since then, Wang has been posting daily videos. Some walk the viewer through math problems. Others give tips on acing the SATs. It takes Wang under 30 minutes to shoot and edit each. He incorporates dancing and music to make his videos more appealing to his viewers.
“I include some of my personal life and my school experience,” Wang said. “The key is to grab the viewer’s attention in the first few seconds, or the video won’t do well. It’s a balance of incorporating learning along with things that are interesting.”
With hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments in each of his videos, one of the challenges Wang faces is connecting with his audience while balancing his school and personal life.
When he first went viral, Wang would spend seven hours answering every question and comment that came his way. This became overwhelming for him, especially since last school year he joined several clubs and did extracurricular activities while taking six AP classes and keeping up his status as an honor roll student.
“That’s what I think is one of the drawbacks of having so many followers,” Wang said. “I can’t connect with each of them on a personal level.”
Wang now spends between two to three hours on average responding to his followers. Even though he is unable to answer all the questions, he said his main motivation is helping others as much as he can.
“The satisfaction of being able to help others really makes everything worth it,” Wang said. “I get comments every now and then saying, ‘Thank you so much for helping me improve my score this much,’ or ‘[I’m] getting this much on my math test or getting an A in this class.’ It’s just the best feeling in the world.”
Throughout his TikTok feed, Wang has been able to connect with several people from around the world, he said. He’s been sponsored by numerade and he has partnered with V2admissions.com, which helps students with college admission, and PrepScholar.com, which helps students with their SATs exams.
Even though Wang will continue making videos, he is not focused on becoming famous, he said. His main goal is to get into a four-year university and continuing working as a private tutor helping his students reaching their highest potential
“I don’t really care about relevance. It’s more like, ‘How many people I can help?’” Wang said. “As long as I’m helping this certain number of people, then I am happy with what I’m doing. It’s more about the impact that I can have.”