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Five Things to Look for When Choosing an SAT (or ACT) Tutor

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Everyone seems to be jumping in on the tutoring business these days. The tutoring industry has been scaled and monetized as well, with virtual conglomerates popping up every single day. These large corporations are hiring pretty much anyone with a pulse. Some of the tutors don’t even have a college degree. For example, take a popular tutoring brand, whose name I will not mention, with a major market differentiator of hiring Ivy League students as tutors. Please be aware of these marketing ploys so that you do not waste your money and your child's time on a less than professional service. You can avoid making this mistake by following my five step guide to hiring a test prep tutor.

1. The tutor should be a teacher also

While on the surface hiring a tutor with an Ivy League degree sounds like a good idea. After all, they clearly had the test scores and GPA to make it into an Ivy. But does that necessarily translate into a higher score for the individual they are tutoring? 

No, it does not. Why? 

Because the Ivy League student tutor is not a teacher. And the basis of a good tutor is the ability to teach. Teaching is not simply telling someone whether or not they got a question wrong and then quickly demonstrating for them how to do it right. Teaching is both a science and art form that takes years to learn and even more years to perfect. There are methodologies behind the ability to take a human being from one level of cognition to the next. So you want to make sure that the person that you are hiring to tutor your child is indeed a teacher.  What to look for? Well, first, find out if they are a certified teacher. They should have at least a bachelors, preferably a masters, in the teaching field. Ideally, they should have at least five years of actual teaching experience.  

(There is also another reason why you don’t want to simply look for “Ivy League” tutors, per se, or tutors who have perfect scores on the SAT to tutor your student.  I will address that reason in next week’s blog.)

2.  The tutor should have a track record of success 

Now I am going to sound like I’m contradicting what I just said in number one, but stay with me a while. So, let’s say you’ve now found a qualified educator to tutor your child. OK, you’re on the right path. But, you also want to make sure that this teacher has a track record of success in raising test scores.  Lots of teachers know how to teach. They can indeed take your child from one level of cognitive ability to another.  But has their approach and methodology actually resulted in higher scores on tests for multiple students?

When selecting a tutor, you want someone who has been tutoring for many years as well as teaching. You want someone that takes a strategic approach to teaching SAT or ACT prep. The tutor should be able to articulate to you in a step-by-step fashion how they are going to prepare your child to improve their score on the SAT or ACT.  

Don’t simply call up the school and ask for the names of teachers who are tutors. Most of them are willing to tutor for the right price. Once you have identified the individual or company you think you want to hire, make sure you ask them about their success rate, what methodology do they use when test prepping, and what strategies are they going to teach your child.  If they cannot answer those questions with clarity, keep looking.

3. The tutor should provide a guarantee.

Hiring an SAT and ACT prep tutor is a substantial investment for parents to make. Because of that, the tutor should provide some sort of guarantee.

In my business, our full-prep SAT/ACT package (25-30 hours of prep) guarantees a 200 point increase from the first PSAT score as long as the student has completed all of the homework and has taken six practice tests.  If all of these conditions have been met, and the student does not see a 200 point increase in their score, we provide them with eight additional sessions at no cost.  There are different versions of this, depending on the SAT package that the student signs up for, but this is similar to the standard guarantee that most companies provide.  

If you are investing over $2000 in test prep, and your tutor does not provide some sort of guarantee, find one who does. 

4.  The tutor’s methods should be codified as strategies

What do I mean by this?  It should be very clear to you by now that the tutor is using some sort of methodology for preparing your child for the SAT or ACT.  And those methods should be documented somewhere. Your child should have access to a list of strategies that they can go back to and read over and over again to ensure mastery. And they can return to this document three or six months from now when they’re going to retake a test.  When the tutoring package has been completed, your child should walk away with not only having completed multiple homework assignments and practice tests, but a list of strategies that they have learned.   

5.  Consistency in Tutors

It is not uncommon when using a company or franchise for test prep tutoring for your child to be tutored by multiple tutors.  This is a big red flag. There is no way that your child is going to be successful, nor are you getting your money’s worth, when every time your child shows up for the tutoring session, there’s a different person tutoring them!  A strong relationship between tutor and student is essential to the student’s success. And you can only have that when the tutor gets to know the student over and over again through a succession of sessions.

In my business, there are only two tutors: yours truly, Dr. Donna, and my math tutor, Jamie, whom I call the math wizard. Jamie and I have been working together for 18 years; we have honed our methodology and codified those methods into easy to understand strategies that have helped hundreds of students improve their SAT and ACT scores.  

Whether you choose to work with College Prep Tutors or go with another company or individual, I encourage you to use this list to ensure that you are not wasting your child’s time and your money on a less than professional tutoring service.  

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