How to Make the Most of a Tutoring Session

Posted by Nikita on 2/29/16 9:30 AM



After you’ve decided to work with a tutor, you might be unsure of what to expect, or how to differently approach your study strategy. After working with many students, I have come to notice some of the key characteristics that help students to be successful.  Although every student-tutor relationship will be different, here are some overall tips to help you make the most of your (and your tutor's) time.

These goals apply on both an overall level (throughout a relationship) as well as a specific level (throughout each session), so I've broken each tip down into those two areas.


1) Have an overall goal, and a session-specific goal.

  • Overall: When you start a tutoring relationship, it is crucial for you to have a goal! In quality improvement science (something I've learned a lot about as a medical student!, organizations/people trying to make a change will set themselves a 'SMART' goal -- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Being able to do this helps both you and your tutor understand what it is you want to achieve, and can guide a syllabus and individual sessions.
    How to: To set this type of goal, you have to think about more than just 'doing well on a standardized test' or 'improving your grade in a class'. A good goal to have is along the lines of 'I want to score a 510 on the MCAT in the April 2016 sitting'. This sets a specific and measurable score, gives you a timeline, and hopefully, based on your prior testing and academic performance , will be attainable and realistic within that timeframe.  Your tutor can help you evaluate and modify this goal If need be throughout your time together.
  • Session-specific: While your overall goal can guide your studying schedule, individual session goals keep you and your tutor on track and make sure that you don't leave the session with unanswered questions.
    How to: Try to focus this goal on areas of your preparation (see below) that have left you feeling unsatisfied. For example, if you are preparing for the SAT and had a tough time with the math sections of a particular practice test, make it your goal to understand the questions you got wrong. This isn't just going through the questions but also looking for patterns, understanding strategy, and seeing if there is any targeted practice you can do to help those areas.

2) Come prepared

  • Overall: It is really important that students are prepared to put in time outside of tutoring. I have seen very capable and diligent students who simply don’t have the time to perform their best while they’re working with a tutor. While tutors can help you identify your weaknesses, explain complex problems, and help create a schedule, you’re still responsible for the bulk of the work and for understanding the material.
    How to: Before or during your first session, make sure to be very upfront with your expectations for the relationship. Clarify if there are any significant breaks you anticipate and major commitments that might limit the assignments and prep work that you are able to do. Addressing this right off the bat will get your tutoring started off on the right foot and save time later on.
  • Session-specific: It is a simple truth that you will get more out of a session for which you have prepared. For standardized test students, you will most likely have an online question log that your tutor will ask you to complete with questions that you either got wrong or were unsure of. It may seem tedious, but from a tutor's point of view, it makes a really big difference. It helps us to prepare for sessions by looking at those questions beforehand so we don't waste your time trying to figure out how to explain them during a session. It helps us track your weaknesses over time, and make sure that we're targeting necessary areas for improvement right away.
    How To: Fill out the question log! For academic subjects, your tutors may ask for this  information in another way, but it is equally important. Additionally, you should have an idea of what areas you felt were going well (or not) since your last session. Even if you got every question in a section right, if you felt like you failed we want to know that too, so we can help manage any anxiety or stress you might be experiencing.

3) Be honest

  • Overall: This is most important when starting a tutoring relationship. As I alluded to earlier, it is of the utmost importance that you are honest with your tutor about your prior experiences and your current commitments. Any classes in which you struggled, tests that you bombed, subjects that give you flashbacks to an awful professor -- tell us about it! It helps us form a complete picture and figure out the best way to help you. We will also try our best to work with your schedule, and we’ll be honest if we don't think that's possible. It's better to tell us that you work 20 hours a week and play a varsity sport (or 3) than to just assume that you'll be able to squeeze in standard session preparation with no adjustments.
  • Session-specific: Tutors expect a lot of their students prior to every session, and we know that. We do understand if you weren't able to complete all of the assignments one week or if you did poorly on something that has already been reviewed. The most important way to learn from these things is to share them with your tutor!  If the work is too much, he can readjust your schedule, if you don't understand a concept, they can look for another way to present it. If you aren't understanding something mid-session, make that clear! Your tutor won't be offended, but he will be grateful that you told him early instead of letting a small problem get bigger.

4) Give feedback

  • Overall: Sometimes the end of a relationship can be abrupt (and unfulfilling!) for tutors who feel invested in their students' results . Make sure to reach out post-test/class and let your tutor know how things went for you! If it went well, she'll be thrilled with you, and if not, she'll be available to talk and reassess. We appreciate any feedback about how the relationship could have been made better.
    How to: Reach out! After tutoring, students have their tutor’s email, phone number, often Skype address...all of those ways are completely acceptable and welcome!
  • Session-specific: It is really important during every session to communicate your feelings about how things are going. Again, don't let problems balloon into a huge issue before addressing them -- if you aren't understanding the way your tutor explains every question in a specific section, let them know to try something different rather than trying to work your way through it by yourself afterwards! I promise, your tutor wants you to get a lot out of this, but they can only do that if they know what is working and what isn't.
    How to: The best way is to bring it up in person right there during the session. Tutors are used to adapting their teaching styles and want sessions to work best. If you think of something after the fact, reach out via email or phone at any point!

If you’re able to make it a point to do most of the things on this list before and during your time with your tutor, it will set you up very well to succeed. Tutees who focus on making their tutoring sessions go both ways put themselves in a great position -- they know what they want, are prepared to get it, and come ready to help themselves by providing their tutor with as much information as they can. Tutors are always trying to help their students in the best way, but can only personalize curricula once they know what the goals, challenges, and constraints are.


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