Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about what makes some tutors have great student outcomes and what sorts of things serve as obstacles to that. There are probably a lot of factors that collaborate to make a great tutor, but there are five that I believe are absolutely essential:
1. Great tutors help the student learn by learning the student.
Students learn differently, and every student comes to the table with a different set of skills, knowledge and expectations. What works for Ms. Kara Motivated who already has a 28 on the ACT might not work for Mr. Jeffrey Needsaboost. Our job as tutors is not to judge a student based on these factors. Rather, it is to meet to student where they are and do everything we can to help them see improvement. A tutor can not get the best improvement possible from a student if the tutor doesn’t know how the student learns best, what challenges the student needs to overcome in order to improve and what subject areas represent the student’s strengths and weaknesses.
2. Great tutors are always positive.
There is never a reason to belittle a student or leave with a student feeling worse about themselves than they did when the tutor arrived. I’ve had some students who were scoring very, very poorly on the ACT or SAT before. Some of them showed serious subject knowledge deficits that simply shouldn’t have existed in a high school student. However, nothing productive will come from dwelling on what the student can’t do. Instead, having a positive attitude and praising successes, no matter how small they may appear, is the only way to help the student move to where they need to be.
3. Great tutors have real expertise.
There is a reason we require our tutors to have scored in the 99th percentile on the test they teach. There is no substitute for being really knowledgeable and proficient at what is being taught. A teacher needs to have such a strong understanding of the content that they are able to explain the content clearly to someone who does not understand. This level of understanding is incompatible with anything but an extremely high score. To be clear, a high score is not enough on its own to make a great tutor. But it is a necessary component. Some of the major, nationwide tutoring companies hire instructors who have relatively modest scores. Kaplan currently advertises a 90th percentile requirement for instructors, and The Princeton Review advertises an ACT requirement of just 27 (87th percentile). Imagine you found out that your student’s math teacher at school was worse at math than 10% of the student body. That would of course make you ask why such a person was being allowed to teach a subject he or she had such little expertise at. The SAT and ACT are no different. Don’t accept such low score requirements for instructors.
4. Great tutors show up on time.
This seems like a basic point, but it’s a big deal. Students pay for a tutor’s time. Showing up late or leaving early is essentially stealing from the student. It is also disrespectful, and it sends the message that tutoring sessions aren’t very important. Tutors are constantly working to get students to take sessions more seriously, and showing up late undermines that. Everyone has something come up occasionally, such as unexpected bad traffic or car trouble. In these situations, the tutor should immediately inform the student of what is going on and ask the student if a session can be extended later than planned so the student doesn’t lose any time. No matter what happens, the student should get all of the time that has been paid for.
5. Great tutors help students work efficiently.
Students have a limited amount of time to devote to ACT and SAT prep, so part of the tutor’s job is to ensure that the biggest improvement possible comes from each hour spent on prep. This means that homework assignments should be designed to specifically address areas where the student needs the most help. Advanced students with high scores should not be doing the same homework that students with lower scores are doing. During sessions, time should be spent in directed, focused ways. Slogging through random problems without having a specific goal in mind is a bad use of time for the student.
If you are a parent shopping for a tutoring company to help your student prepare for the SAT or ACT, keep these five points in mind. Find out how the approach taken by your prospective tutoring company lines up with these five principles. There is a massive range of quality provided in the SAT and ACT prep industry, so don’t settle for something less than your student deserves.