How does tutoring work? When should you engage a tutor for your child? Answers to these questions and more.
1. At what age should parents consider having their children tutored? What are the warning signs that some remediation is necessary?
Parents can begin tutoring their children at four years of age to prepare their youngsters for the Pre-K admissions exams and interview readiness. While it seems surprisingly early to some, it can be a positive experience, one that helps kids forge an enthusiastic relationship with learning. Most children enjoy the special time and attention that the one-on-one format provides. Furthermore, they’ll feel more calm and confident come test day if they’ve been exposed to critical concepts and the various formats they’ll encounter. This usually translates to better scores. In addition, a good tutor can provide guidance to the parents about the types of games that will help deepen spatial, phonetic, arithmetic, and aural reasoning.
Many families, however, start incorporating tutoring in elementary school for any range of remedial needs, test preparation, executive functioning skills, application and interview coaching, and enrichment.
If your child exhibits any of the following, a (good) tutor might be in order: s/he appears stressed, is falling behind, grades are suffering, or is losing interest in school.
An experienced tutor is a professional problem solver and communicator in his or her area of expertise. Good tutors are sensitive to the psychological needs and goals of their tutees, and are able to accommodate a wide range of personalities and needs. While remediation is obviously important, tutoring can be about much more than bringing your child up to grade level or increasing a standardized test score. Regardless of your child’s age, struggles, or strengths, the right tutor enhances your child’s confidence by providing additional tools that he or she needs to thrive – Kalen Lister, Pre K-8 Expert
2. How does a parent choose the right tutor?
The right tutor is the right tutor for YOUR student. Professionals will ask questions so they can build relationships with their students and maximize the results they get out of the tutoring sessions. An experienced tutor will ask you questions before laying out a plan. A familiarity with the curriculum of the school your student attends, a sensitivity to the academic and extracurricular challenges that can interfere with preparation, and a sense of who the student is give a tutor the cues he or she needs to be effective. I like to meet with a student to go over a practice test to get a sense of what the student knows and how we work together before committing – or asking a family to commit – to a full tutoring program. The student needs to feel agency in the process to be fully invested, so it’s worth having a meeting in which the student is an active participant. – Lisa Liberati, SAT/ACT Expert
3. Can a tutor improve admission testing results for a) private K-12 school admissions and b) college admissions?
Absolutely! The benefits of working one-on-one is that the student gets an individualized experience specifically catered to his or her needs. As daunting as these tests can seem, a major part of the job in test-prep tutoring is figuring out the patterns and content of each test, whether for private school or college admissions.
Every test has its own secrets and special tricks, and tutors can help students recognize those and use the knowledge they already have to get a better result.
Tutors can also help make sense of the sometimes overwhelming and confusing private school or college admissions process. Tutors can keep students get organized and set specific goals for each test and school. Most importantly, tutors can help students feel prepared and ready to go on test day. Test anxiety is real and preparation and practice are some of the best tools against it. – Sam Perwin, Standardized Test Prep Expert
4. How can international students work with a tutor to address differences in academic curriculum between their home country and the United States?
Routinely I work with students from the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai who are either transferring, moving to, have moved to schools in the United States, or are taking US exams.
Parents and students are often concerned about differences between curricula and solicit my help to make the transition. Several tutoring agencies exploit this concern, extolling the need for a tutor to make this transition; but as I explain to my clients, in practice the differences are not that great, and often students are able to make a smooth transition without much help since the major differences between curricula are at an institutional level, and less so at the content level. Yet, if a student begins to notice significant deficiencies, or if a parent wants to preemptively smooth the transition, a competent tutor is a great resource. A tutor stands outside of the curriculum and sees the student holistically. A tutor thoroughly understands the academic subject, goals of the course, and can target the small areas where a student might need additional help. A good tutor engages the student at their level – brings them up to where they need to be and then pushes the student to engage the material at a higher level.
As a tutor, it’s my responsibility to prepare a student not only for the next assessment, but for future coursework and standardized exams like the SAT and ACT. Tutors also know the common mistakes and test questions and can help a student prioritize the importance of topics and skills.
It should be noted, however, that younger students might need some extra help with spelling and unit adjustments, while older students usually pick this up pretty quickly (and spell checkers are great at spotting the differences too!)
Also, older students moving from a UK system to a US system might not be accustomed to the frequent US assessments (quizzes and unit tests) while a US student moving to a UK system might not be accustomed to the more intensive writing assignments and the pressure of the end of year examination process. Of course, tutors can help with preparation for these exams too. – Garrick Trapp, Science Expert
5. How involved should parents expect to be with the tutoring and lesson preparation?
Students typically rely on their parents for scheduling help, reminders about upcoming tutoring sessions, and gentle encouragement to get assignments done. Of course, some students require more hand-holding than others and it’s up to the parents to determine the level of involvement that feels right. Parents generally don’t get involved with teaching the lesson but sometimes help their kids with homework if they’re willing and able. Of course, open communication with the tutor (and child!) is key to ensuring a good working relationship. – Mike Suppe, Math Expert
6. How do you determine what is a good score on the ISEE? On the SSAT?
It’s all relative! A good score completes a larger application picture that suits the schools to which your student is applying. Remember that the students who take the ISEE and SSAT are exclusively independent school applicants, a more competitive group than for many in-school standardized tests, so don’t be surprised if percentiles (which measure performance compared to other test-takers) are lower than they have been on past tests. That’s OK. – Loren Dunn, Writing and Test Prep Expert
A version of this article was published on Private School Review on February 10, 2017.