Monday, June 15, 2009
Finding an SAT Tutor: A Comprehensive Guide
Given the sheer number of SAT tutors out there, it's easy to become overwhelmed. With dozens of tutors claiming Ivy League pedigrees and perfect/near perfect scores, it can be hard to know who is truly capable of raising your child's scores and who is simply a hack. Below are some general guidelines you may want to take into account when looking for a tutor.
1) High scorers are not automatically great teachers
Scoring well on the SAT and teaching someone else to score well on the SAT are two entirely different skills, and possession of one does not necessarily imply possession of the other. Many people who score very well on the test have virtually no idea how they did so -- and anyone who has never had to dissect the exam and develop specific techniques for working through various kinds of questions will most likely be unable to explain to someone else how to develop those skills. In addition, a tutor who has always taken their critical reading/reasoning skills for granted and who has always been surrounded by other people with similar abilities, may be unsure of how to deal with a student who has never had the opportunity to develop certain basic competencies. A good tutor should be able to deal with any given student at the student's level. They should also be able to explain fundamental concepts, as well as their direct application(s) to the exam, clearly and effectively -- tutors who teach only tricks are unlikely to raise students' scores very much, and students should never feel uncomfortable asking for clarification. A tutor should also have some ability to connect with students on a personal level; the more comfortable students feel, the faster they will improve.
2) Choose a tutor based on what they can do for you, not just on what they've accomplished personally
A tutor should ideally have a track record of improving students' scores over an extended time period of time. It's very nice to be able to say that your child's tutor has a Harvard degree, but unfortunately that doesn't mean they'll be able to get your child into Harvard. If you can't look past a tutor's pedigree, you may be selling yourself seriously short. The best math tutor I've ever met -- one who's been tutoring the SAT for years and who routinely helps students raise their scores well over a hundred points -- is a brilliant teacher who graduated from Brooklyn College, and he has helped many, many students at top high schools gain admission to Ivy and Ivy-caliber schools. In the end, it doesn't matter where a tutor has gone to school if they are not capable of communicating material in a way that students can understand.
3) Advanced degrees don't really matter
Again, what's important is that a tutor know the test cold -- most of what a teacher learns in an M.A. or Ph.D. program will have little to no relevance in terms of teaching SAT skills. The material is at an advanced high school/beginning college level, and anyone beyond that level who can explain it effectively can be a good tutor.
4) Brand-name test prep companies are not all they're cracked up to be
While companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review have a good deal of the test-prep market cornered, the quality of their teachers varies drastically. In general, tutors are only required to be able to score a 650 or above on each section (whereas many independent tutors have scored in the 770-800 range) and must follow a standard script. There is little room to deal with the various strengths and weaknesses of particular students, and in fact, most tutors are actively discouraged from doing so. In addition, many of their materials do not adequately reflect the nature or the difficulty of the questions on the real SAT. If you are considering going through an agency, find out how much freedom tutors have in implementing their curriculum and what kinds of materials they use. Even agencies that boast significant average score improvements often emphasize a one-size-fits-all approach from which tutors are not allowed to deviate, and which may or may not work for a particular student.
5) Use the College Board book (8 Real SATs) only
Any tutor who uses books such as Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron's, etc. and who is unable to point out the flaws in the questions/model exams does not know the SAT well enough to be tutoring it and may very well waste students' time (and your money) covering material that will not actually appear on the exam
6) Most tutors are better at explaining either Verbal or Math, even if they have top scores in both
Many can fake it in their weaker section, but the best will admit that they're simply not qualified to teach both. You're much better off hiring someone who truly specializes in each area than you are hiring someone who has a less than 100% ability to explain certain concepts. If you're paying a lot of money, you deserve to get someone who knows the material cold.
7) Tutoring sessions must occur on a regular basis
A couple of sessions here and there won't work for a student who needs to raise their score by 100+ points per section. Skills must be consistently built and consolidated over an extended period of time.
8) Tutoring is a joint effort
60-90 minutes per week with a tutor by itself is not enough. Students *must* be willing to practice on their own in order for their scores to rise. A competent tutor should not be held responsible for a student's failure if the student has failed to put any substantial effort into improving.
9) Be aware that tutoring companies often pay their tutors only a fraction of what they charge their clients
Tutoring companies, particularly the larger ones, routinely keep 50-75% when their tutors are the ones doing all the work. Eliminating the middleman is cheaper for everyone.
Posted by SATVerbalTutor. at 3:14 PM