Choosing a Tutor: Four things the big companies won’t tell you

If you’ve decided to hire a tutor from one of the big test-prep companies, this post is for you. Here are four things you need to know, but those companies won’t tell you, about hiring a tutor from them.

First, your tutor may not be as experienced as you expect. You might think that all teachers do extensive training, then a supervised apprenticeship, then a few classroom classes before proceeding to big dollar (for the client) tutoring, and that most tutors have been doing it for many years. Not necessarily. At least two of the prominent test-prep companies typically start brand new teachers out in tutoring, not classroom work — you may be this tutor’s very first teaching assignment. Ask exactly how long your tutor has been tutoring and how many clients (s)he has worked with. And don’t accept a vague answer like “a couple of years” — teachers are taught to avoid being specific about this, but you as the customer are entitled to a straight answer.

Second, your tutor may not be very good at the test. Most of these companies say or imply that all their teachers scored very well; while some of these claims are correct, others are, to put it gently, partly true and partly creative embellishment. It can be hard for test prep companies to find qualified teachers and there’s a temptation to, um, stretch matters a bit. Further and perhaps more importantly, at some of the test-prep firms your tutor may never have taken the real test at all!1 I strongly advise insisting on a tutor who has taken the official2 test, not a practice version3; as for what score you should require, that’s a more complicated matter that I’ve written about in an earlier post.

Third, your tutor probably didn’t get as much training as you’d expect. At one of the largest firms training is just two or three weekends long (plus some homework); at another there is no in-person training at all, just a series of remote video modules. Training alone isn’t enough to make a tutor good and experience can make up for a lack of good training; all the more reason to insist on an experienced tutor.

Fourth, your tutor may have been assigned for reasons other than what’s best for you. Test prep companies have to juggle many priorities, including keeping all their teachers happy (or at least, happy enough that they don’t leave). When you’re on the phone trying to book a tutor the operator will tell you they have the perfect one for you, and that may be true, but it also may be that this particular tutor is the only one who was available, or the one who hadn’t worked in a while, or goodness knows what else. The lesson here is that you should not commit to a tutoring contract until you have interviewed the actual tutor.4

 

Notes

  1. To them, an internally-administered practice test counts … if it has to.
  2. Some may argue that it’s against the testing rules for teachers to take the LSAT and MCAT unless they’re applying to school; that’s correct but not relevant to you because there are plenty of experienced tutors who legally took the tests before they started teaching. You should insist on getting one of those tutors.
  3. This isn’t as much of an issue with SAT and ACT tutors but it’s very important, and a very common problem, with LSAT, GMAT, and GRE. For the MCAT it’s not quite as important if you are hiring different tutors in different subjects, but at least one of your tutors must have taken a recent (April 2015 or later), official MCAT.
  4. At some companies this can be difficult or impossible to arrange, but I believe it’s critical — tutoring is a very personal thing and a great deal depends on it. Considering that a tutoring package can cost as much as a car, the customer is entitled to know what (s)he’s getting; if they insist that you sign something before you even talk to the tutor, look elsewhere.