Questions to ask yourself (or your child) before paying for a private tutor

Lots of students (and parents) dive into private tuition as a quick-fix solution without really considering their needs (see my other post from this week). Ensure you make the most of the time you pay for by considering these points before you start. 

What course am I studying? 

If you are preparing for an examination it is important to know what exam board and course you are studying. Some exam boards even offer more than one syllabus (for example OCR A or OCR B); if you are studying for science GCSEs, check whether you are preparing for double award or separate sciences. Are you going to be entered for higher or foundation tier? 

You may not know the answers to all of these questions, but the more you find out in advance the more your tutor can prepare. A lot of information can be obtained from your textbooks and revision guides, or from the school website – but the simplest way is to ask your teacher.

What level am I working at right now?

Your school should be giving you feedback in some way to tell you your current attainment. This may be in the form of a written report or termly grades, or it could just be written or verbal feedback from tests and assignments. 

What am I aiming for?

Your target should be a measurable outcome, but it doesn’t have to be your final exam or even mock exam grade. It could just be that you want to increase your test percentage by ten percent in the next two months, or that you want to feel confident enough to ask questions in class.  It should be realistic and achievable, without selling yourself short.

Having direction will help you make the most of your tuition time
What areas do I most need to improve in?

It’s a real challenge for a tutor to unpick the brain of a student who really doesn’t know what it is they struggle with. Go back through your notes, topic tests and textbook to try and recall which parts of the course you found the hardest. Alternatively, it could be a skill or particular application of a topic that is holding you back – calculations, practical techniques, or long written explanations.

Your teacher at school will probably be able to give you some hints – in fact, it’s more than likely they already have! Read through marking comments and report targets to see what they suggest. 

What if I don’t know what I find hard?

That’s not uncommon, especially if you feel really lost in a subject. Try filling in the blanks in these sentences:

  • I thought I understood ____________ in class, but I did badly on the test.
  • I really tried hard to get my head round ____________, but I still didn’t understand it.
  • I write lots down when I get a question about ____________, but I hardly ever get any marks.
  • Whenever I get a question on ____________ I make loads of stupid mistakes.
  • I thought I understood ___________, but then we learnt about ______________ and now I’m confused.
  • Whenever I get a question on __________, I leave it blank because I have no idea how to answer it.
What areas can I work on independently?

This is the question most students skip, but it’s arguably the most important one! No one would expect to make much progress in their fitness goals if they went to the gym for an hour a week and did nothing else, and yet this is how many students treat their private tuition sessions. 

Be proactive

Having identified the areas you need to work on, see what resources are available to boost your learning and set aside time in between tutoring sessions to do this. Several short periods of activity are much better than one long session.

quiz sheet
Regular use of short quizzes or flashcards is much more effective than infrequent cramming sessions

Are there questions or quizzes you could practice on your own? Could you make flashcards? These sorts of activities will help you more easily bring information to the front of your mind – this means your tutor can spend time more usefully helping you with the application of knowledge, rather than just trying to recall facts. Ask your teacher if there are resources they recommend, such as workbooks or websites. At the end of your tuition session, ask for advice about what to do before the next session. 

What if I’m really short on time?

Have a look at the time you already spend on the subject you’re struggling with during the week. How efficiently are you using that time? If you find a subject hard, it’s likely that you take a while to settle into a homework task and become easily distracted. Set a short timer on your phone or, even better, use a kitchen timer or stopwatch so you don’t have to have your phone in the room. By keeping the time short at first you will focus more; you can gradually increase it the more you practice.

Using a physical stopwatch or timer is a visual way to keep you on track

Have a look at your screen usage – we’re all guilty of letting games, social media and other distractions fill up our days. There are lots of apps that will tell you how you’re spending your time, and you’ll probably be surprised by how much it adds up. Try swapping some of that mindless scrolling for an app like Quizlet – you can still play games but you’ll be testing yourself on things you actually need to know!

Still no time?

If you are looking at your busy timetable of school, homework and extracurricular activities and you can’t find a time to fit in anything else alongside your tuition session, then maybe this is not the right time for you to start. Perhaps a more useful strategy would be to spend that hour a week building up your knowledge, making flashcards, and using quizzes. You could set other targets that will help you improve at school, such as asking questions in class or acting on your teacher’s feedback. Then look for a tutor for the holidays, perhaps with a more intensive schedule. 

Sometimes you have to make time to achieve your goals

If you feel you can’t put off the tutoring because you have mocks or exams to prepare for, then maybe one of your other commitments needs to be put on the back burner.

The one thing we all have in common is that we’re all different

I wrote this post because I’ve seen so many lists of things to ask your tutor before you start. Before you decide on the logistics – how much you want to pay, whether you are willing to travel and which afternoon you have free – take a little time to figure out what you’re aiming for, why you need help and how you can best help yourself. You will probably find this process helps in all your subjects, and not just the ones you need a tutor for.

Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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