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Amazing Grades

Finding a Tutor

In today’s hyper-competitive college admissions environment being smart or talented may not be enough. That’s why it’s important that students have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to be successful.

Families often rely on schools, teachers and guidance counselors to help them select courses, clubs, sports and summer activities that maximize their child’s chances for admission into a competitive college. However, even with the best help from school professionals, students can encounter difficulties.

One of the best options for parents and students, even gifted ones, is to enlist the support of a tutor. Fortunately, tutors are more available and more affordable than ever.

How Do I Know My Child Needs a Tutor?

The students who can benefit the most from private tutoring to gain an academic edge typically fall into three categories.

Students who lack an essential academic foundation. Maybe they were ill, had a poor teacher in a prep course, changed schools or simply didn’t pay attention. For whatever reason, they’re missing essential knowledge, skills or understanding to achieve success in a particular subject. A tutor can identify the gaps and address the student’s specific needs.

Gifted or talented students who want and need more. Teachers in large classrooms must teach to the average student. Gifted students who learn faster can stagnate academically because they aren’t challenged. They may lose interest and their minds can wander. A tutor can see where the students are on the gifted spectrum and develop a personalized program to challenge them, encourage their academic development and stimulate their enthusiasm for learning.

Students doing test prep or applying to colleges. Test preparation and test-taking skills are vital to students’ academic success. Yet even the best schools can fail to properly prepare students for the thinking processes required for success on the SAT, ACT and other standardized assessments. Tutors can provide students with an arsenal of weapons for these exams, preparing them to deal with the range of content and to analyze and identify the types of problems. Great tutors are able to equip students with a strong foundation in content knowledge and the ability to breakdown a complicated question.

Finding the Right Tutor for My Child

Identify your needs. Carefully identify the subject or area of need. Does your student want help with reading and comprehension, mathematical problem solving or SAT/ACT problems? Be specific and establish firm, reachable goals and objectives. Before committing to a tutor, be sure that you have a clear understanding of fees, the schedule of activities and cancellation policies.

Assess the tutor’s communication skills. Will your child and the tutor communicate effectively? Observe how they interact. Are difficult concepts discussed in an easy to understand manner? Does the tutor clearly explain his approach to tutoring? A great tutor will clearly explain how the sessions will be organized and how your student’s needs will be met.

Assess the tutor’s technical skills. It is important to make sure the tutor’s knowledge in the subject area your student needs help in is fresh and recent. A tutor who recently took calculus and is still actively doing mathematics is more valuable than another who received an “A” in a college course 10 years ago. Determine whether the tutor will tailor the tutoring sessions to your child’s learning style. Ask if they have worked with children the same age? Are they familiar with the textbooks and other materials your child is using in school? Carefully review the tutor’s profile and credentials. Inquire about the tutor’s academic background, grades received, and course rigor.

Assess personality and teaching style. Is the tutor someone that your student will enjoy working with? Does she maintain the student’s interest and admiration? Is she willing to work within the students’ time constraints? Are their personalities and communication styles compatible? Do you have any issues or concerns?

Run a background check and check qualifications. Verify experience, test scores, transcripts and references. If appropriate, run a criminal and sex offender background check. Ensure that the person has represented himself truthfully.

Monitor and assess results. Once the tutoring begins, request periodic reports from both the tutor and your child’s teacher. Monitor and assess the outcome and tone of the sessions to ensure that the learning environment remains effective, amicable and fruitful. Ask your child how it’s going. Pay close attention to what he says. He should express enthusiasm. You should also see a noticeable academic improvement within a few months.

Improving academic achievement requires strategizing, hard work and patience. Great tutors will make the best use of time to learn the student’s strengths and weaknesses, how she learns and what techniques work best. They will then develop an individualized learning plan for once a week or as needed sessions. A great tutor will motivate your student and improve her grades and test scores with amazing results!

Chuck Cohn is the founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, a nationwide network of more than 900 tutors who offer help in math, science, English, test preparation, foreign languages and social studies. Visit to learn more.

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