The Match Game: Choosing a Tutor


Selecting a tutor is not unlike the process of choosing someone to date.  It seems like there are thousands of options out there, but finding the right one be both difficult and overwhelming – not to mention a serious cash investment!  We want to try to alleviate the stress a bit by providing you with a basic list of questions to ask of a tutor before making the final (and hopefully great) decision: 

 1.       What is your experience with this particular test?

With experience comes an increasing amount of knowledge about not only how to do each question but more importantly how to effectively teach the test to students of different skill levels, backgrounds, and learning styles. Generally, the more experienced the tutor, the more likely you are to get a carefully crafted study plan that will allow you to reach your goals.  Tutoring college-level Calculus for years does not automatically qualify someone as to be a stellar SAT or ACT tutor.  These tests, particularly the SAT, are filled with similar “tricks” year in and year out that experienced test prep teachers will be familiar with and have the ability to explain to students.

2.       What would be your plan to help me?

A good tutor should be able with a few questions to begin to formulate a rough plan for you. In a short conversation a good tutor should be able to outline at least a rough plan for most students and describe how he or she plans to help you improve your score. This plan should include how often they believe you’ll have to meet, how often you’ll be taking practice tests, and how many of those tests will be proctored versus taken at home.

 

3.       What is your availability?

Sure this may seem obvious, but scheduling can be the cause of serious problems in a tutoring relationship.  Just as it would be nearly impossible to date someone who works from 7pm-7am if your shift goes from 7am-7pm, you’ll need to make sure your schedule matches up with a potential tutor’s.  If you’re schedule is jam-packed with sports and other afterschool programs during the week, make sure you are consulting with a tutor who is available on the weekends.  One of the bonuses of hiring a private tutor is the flexibility you can have to schedule the sessions.  Make sure that you are choosing someone who can fit the sessions into your schedule. Be clear up front with your needs in terms of scheduling, but also give test prep the priority time it deserves.  Since you are paying for it, it’s in your best interest to schedule sessions you can attend and then actually attend them.

 

4.       What is your willingness to travel?

Another potential bonus of choosing a private tutor is having the option to meet at your own home or another destination convenient for you.  While some people prefer meeting at an office, school, library, or other mutually convenient location to avoid the potential distractions of working at home, make sure you set out the plan at the beginning with a potential tutor.  You don’t want to find out after dating someone for a month that they only go to Queens in the summer, if you live in Queens year round.

 

5.       What is your hourly rate?

If you can’t afford lobster dinners on a regular basis, you probably want to avoid dating the town snob.  The same holds true for tutors: Know your budget.  With the sheer abundance of tutoring options out there, chances are good that you will be able to find one you can afford.  Should you go through a company to select your tutor, ask if they have different levels that they offer.  For example, Bell Curves tutors can either be classified as Professional, Premium or Elite level, depending a number of factors including, student success and feedback, and how long they have been teaching the test.  When deciding which level of tutor is right for you, there are other things to take into account which maybe be more important than price.  For example, if you are just beginning your prep and have longer than 2 months before your test, chances are good that you do not need a Premium or Elite level tutor.  On the other hand, if you have worked with any tutors in the past, or have a score that is above 85% on any section or below 30% on any section with less than 6 weeks before your test, tutors with more experience might be a better fit for you.

 

6.       Do you offer any tutoring packages?

Many tutors and companies will offer package rates as you increase the number of hours you either purchase in advance or commit to.  Make sure you discuss this option before starting out.  Also ask what the policy is on switching packages as you go along.  Some companies will allow you to “jump up” a package if it becomes obvious that you will need more time than you  originally purchased.  For example, if you purchased a 12-hour package at $90/hour, some companies will allow you to switch to a 24 hour package at $80/hour and retroactively charge you the lower rate for the hours you already completed.  Make sure you know your options!

 

These are just a few tips to steer you in the right direction when choosing a tutor, but there are also the intangibles like that elusive “chemistry”.  Even though someone may look great on paper, sometimes their personality or teaching style just does not mix well with a student’s learning style.  Should this happen, make sure you know in advance about any refund policy or the ability to switch to a different tutor within the same company.

Also keep in mind that the best tutors work to design a program specific to you and thus should ask you a lot of questions in order to learn more about your ability level, educational background, history with this test in particular and testing in general, and score objectives. In any initial conversation with a tutor you should expect that they have several questions. Here are some of the questions we always ask before working with a client:

1. What are you previous scores?

2. What trouble did you have with the test (was it timing, content, or strategy)?

3. What preparation did you do prior to taking the test?

4. When you review your work what kids of mistakes do you typically find you make (careless errors, just don’t know how to do something, or didn’t see a “trick” at the time but saw it afterward)?

Lastly, be wary of empty promises. As  with most instruction there are no guarantees, increasing SAT or ACT scores takes instruction and practice and a lot of work on your part. No tutor, no matter how talented will get your score up significantly if you don’t practice, so there is no way to promise a specific increase.

Good luck and don’t forget– ask questions to find the tutor who is perfect for you!

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