Improving Academic Performance

How to Get the Most Out of Private Tutoring

Posted by Mo Murthi on Tue, May 12, 2015 @ 01:32 PM

private-tutoring-chicago-1Finding a good tutor is not easy (we can help with that!), but once you've found someone who works well with you, there are some things you can do to get even more out of the relationship.

The advantage of private tutoring over group preparation is that you don't need to spend time on things you've already understood, and can instead focus on the topics you don't understand.

In order to do this, the tutor needs three things: time, a syllabus, and an accurate assessment of what you don't understand. 

Time is of the essence. If you schedule your first tutoring session for the night before your exam, you are not giving your tutor enough time to help you. Even if the tutor is very good, much of the time will be spent assessing your understanding instead of directly preparing for the exam.

If you're finding a course difficult, seek help early – it's only going to get tougher as the course progresses. Get help early, work through your initial difficulties, and you will understand later developments better. Not only will you get a better grade but you'll also learn more.

Plan on establishing a long-term relationship with a tutor – it's rare that one or two sessions will make a substantial difference to your performance since the tutor, in addition to assessing your knowledge, also needs to understand how best you learn. In my experience, tutoring sessions become much more effective after the third or fourth session, by which time I usually have a good idea of which teaching approaches work best for a particular student. 

You should give your tutor a clear idea of the material to be covered and the depth in which it must be covered. Your tutor will ideally be able to teach the subject at a level substantially more advanced than your course, so he or she needs to know how deep to go to help you. Get your tutor a syllabus for the course and as many example problems as you can from homework and tests. The more information and time you give your tutor, the better he or she can prepare for your session and the more value you will receive.

The last part of the puzzle is the tutor's assessment of your understanding. I once had a student who had been out of academics for a few years and was tackling a required course in integral calculus. Initially she said she needed help with integration by parts (typically about halfway through a first-year college calculus course), but during the first session it became apparent that she didn't understand what a derivative is. Basic knowledge of differentiation, the process of calculating derivatives, is an absolute requirement for someone learning integral calculus and a prerequisite for the course. During our second session, I realized that the student didn't really understand SAT-level algebra and graphing, so even differentiation was too advanced for her. We had to go back to the basics and work through high-school algebra and geometry before we could even begin to tackle college calculus. Had the student not sought help early, or had I relied on her assessment of what she needed, we would have had no chance whatsoever of getting her through the calculus course. 

The other lesson I learned from that incident was that students frequently wait until they are totally lost before seeking help. By that stage they've skimmed over and 'sort of' understood various topics that are building blocks for what is to come. If the foundation of your house is weak, it's not a good idea to keep building higher and higher. Therefore, if there's anything you're even remotely unsure about, let your tutor know right away and then put in the time to learn it thoroughly before moving on to more advanced topics.

In short, to get the most out of your relationship with your tutor, start early, get the tutor as much information as possible about your course, and be clear about the gaps in your understanding.

About the Author

Mo has been tutoring with MyGuru since 2011, and has helped high-school, undergraduate, and graduate students with a variety of math, science, and engineering courses as well as preparation for standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, and GRE. In 2014, he accepted a position as a Managing Tutor, where he is primarily tasked with helping MyGuru build its team of tutors in Austin, TX.

Mo studied chemical engineering, obtaining his BS from the University of California at Berkeley and his MS and PhD from Northwestern University. After his PhD he worked as a "quant" (quantitative researcher) at a prominent proprietary trading firm in Chicago, adapting mathematical models from many areas of science, engineering, and social sciences to apply to fixed-income financial derivative markets. 

Since then he has been interested in sustainable rural development, volunteering on projects with Engineers Without Borders and other organizations in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. He was recently awarded a prestigious Fulbright fellowship to do research on Stirling engines as a method of generating electricity from heat.

When he isn't working, Mo practices Zen meditation and Japanese swordsmanship. He might also be found hiking through the bush or, if he's anywhere near the ocean, scuba diving or freediving.

myguru newsletter subscription