SAT/ACT Tutors - How to Decide If You Need One and Find the Perfect Fit For You

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Tutors are an excellent resource when it comes to test prep, but only if you pick the right one. Learn more about the role these instructors play and find out how to choose a tutor who can best help you.

The Role of a Tutor

Whether you're taking the SAT, ACT, or another standardized exam, it's no secret that proper preparation is absolutely critical to ensuring a good score on test day. One of the most popular means of studying involves hiring a tutor, a personal instructor who provides guidance and advice.

tutor and student

The main difference between these professionals and teachers is the degree of customization that a private tutor can offer. Whereas teachers are bound by curricula and teach in a much more linear fashion, tutors are able to zero in on an individual student and focus exclusively on any needs or weaknesses that the student may have.

How Do I Know If I Need a Tutor?

While tutors can be a great resource, not everyone needs one. If you're better off on your own but insist on hiring someone, it's merely a waste of time and money that may end up hurting your test scores.

The quickest and most effective way to determine your level of need is to take a practice test. These exams can be found online or in preparation guides and are an excellent means of predicting your performance on the real thing, be it the SAT, ACT, AP, IB, or whatever test you're preparing to take.

practice test

When you take your practice test, pay attention to more than just your final score. Obviously, your grade is going to be a major factor, but make note of other problems you may encounter. Is the format confusing? How well were you able to manage your time? Scoring well on standardized tests involves a lot more than simply knowing the content. You'll also need to understand and utilize test-taking strategies, and tutors can be an excellent resource if you're struggling.

Practice tests also give you an idea of what kind of tutor you may need. If you have trouble on all sections of the exam, you'll want to look for a tutor who can give you guidance on a broader scale. If you ace one section but completely bomb another, you should seek out more specialized tutors with advanced knowledge of English, mathematics, or science.

How to Find Tutors

Unlike your regular teachers, tutors are unique in that the student (in this case, you) has the option to pick one out.

For starters, your school should have either its own tutoring program or contact information for students looking for help. These programs are usually free or offered at reduced cost and eliminate the risk of scams and unreliable tutors. The downside to this route is that you may not have many (or any) options; schools typically have few tutors to spare so choices are limited.

If you decide to look for outside help, there are a number of private companies such as C2 and StudyPoint that offer SAT and ACT tutoring services. As with schools, tutors working for these companies are vetted, so you don't need to worry about their competency. These services can be pricey, which may make them unavailable to you depending on your budget.

If neither of these options seems appealing, don't be discouraged. No matter where you live, there's usually a bevy of private tutors looking for work. These people are usually college students, retired teachers, or stay-at-home parents looking to stay sharp. Check your local paper or job board and you should find at least a few suitable candidates.

happy tutor

How to Pick Your Perfect Tutor

Now that you know where tutors can be found, it's time to choose one. While the freedom to select your own tutor is a huge advantage, you also want to be careful in making your selection as it may determine whether or not you pass your upcoming exams. Here are a few tips to help you make the right selection:

  • Schedule an 'Interview': If possible, arrange a meeting with your tutor to learn more about them. Just like passing a test involves more than just knowing the content, being a good tutor involves more than simply having a degree. Find out about a candidate's teaching philosophy, what credentials or education level he or she has, and what the proposed study plan entails.
  • Know Your Own Goals: Even the best tutors need help from their pupils. In order to provide quality instruction, your tutor needs to know what you wish to accomplish, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what your metrics for success are. Before asking for help, be sure that you know exactly what kind of help you need.
  • Make Sure You Get Along: Remember, this is someone that you're going to be spending a lot of private time with. You don't need to be best friends, but you should at least be able to tolerate each other. By the same token, don't pick someone just because he or she seems friendly. It's better to have a strict tutor who forces you to work hard than a relaxed tutor who doesn't push you to improve.
  • Check Your Progress: After a few sessions, take another practice test to see how far you've come. Pay attention to the same details mentioned above. If you feel more comfortable and perform better, good! If you don't notice any marked improvement, it may be time to look for someone else.

study session

The right tutor can make or break your performance on standardized tests, so don't just pick anyone. Doing your research and confirming that someone is a good fit will go a long way towards making you feel more comfortable on test day.

By Bill Sands
September 2017
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