Obviously I myself am a private SAT tutor advertising my services so this article could appear to be self-serving. But there are some universals to choosing the right tutor and this article discusses some of the factors that need to be considered and some of the steps that can be taken to ensure that you choose the right SAT tutor, regardless of who that might be.
In a separate article I cover the question of whether to hire a private tutor or one from a major test prep company. In that article I make the point that although it may seem “safer” to go with someone from Princeton Review or Kaplan, there are many advantages to choosing someone who is not affiliated with a major company. Ultimately, however, a lot depends on the actual tutor that you get so whether it is through a major test prep company or a private SAT tutor, most of the considerations and steps that should be taken would still apply.
The most obvious consideration is price. The big companies will often have a set rate and may have slightly different variations to account for the differing levels of experience of their tutors. Keep in mind that the parent company keeps most of the money and the tutor gets a relatively small percentage, which is why most tutors who are really experienced and who can command even a modest fee choose not to work for large companies. Another thing to keep in mind is that price is not a guarantee of experience or effectiveness. I have tutored students who were taught previously by individuals who are well-known within the SAT prep world and who charge exorbitant fees – in most of the cases I was shocked to learn what the tutor was actually doing with the student and was left wondering how they could continue to charge what they do given how apparently ineffective they seem to be. Unfortunately there are parents who WANT to pay a ton of money because they believe that means they are getting someone really good.
That said, price should be an important consideration because although it does not necessarily speak to the ability of the tutor, you need to find a budget that you are comfortable with and that you can sustain. Sometimes parents think the process is going to last 3 months only to find out that their child really needs to prepare more or take the SAT an additional time and this can occasionally lead to a longer time frame than was originally envisioned. The last thing you want is to skimp on SAT tutoring or change tutors after your child has already developed a relationship with one simply because of financial considerations.
Another consideration is how well the tutor fits with your child. Its obviously difficult to gauge this without meeting the tutor, which is why you don’t want to commit to a block of hours or to a tutoring package without first meeting with the tutor. This is another disadvantage of going through a major company – they will often urge or even require you to sign up for a tutoring package and will often not let you meet or vet the tutor that your child will be working with without a financial commitment on your part. I personally set up a free 1-hour in-person consultation with my new clients so that they can learn more about me and the process that we will embark on and to get a sense for how well I fit with their child. Whoever you hire, its obviously a good idea to have an initial meeting prior to making any large financial commitment, so avoid any tutor or any company that prevents you from doing so.
Finally, and most importantly, you obviously want to make sure that the person you are hiring is an experienced and extremely effective SAT tutor. One way to do this is to check references. Here again the large test prep companies might make it hard if not impossible for you to do this. Nevertheless no matter who you hire its useful to get 1 or 2 references. Additionally, in order to get some real answers from the references, it’s a good idea to ask some very specific questions (not just, “tell me about tutor x”). For example, you may want to ask how the tutor motivated the student, how the student responded to the tutor, how long the process lasted, what was the score improvement, how many times did the child take the test and why, etc.). By asking some pretty specific, targeted questions you will help ensure that you are speaking to someone who was actually a client of the tutor in question and you will learn a bit about what the process looks like from someone who just went through it with that tutor.
Probably as important as getting references, if not more important, is to actually vet the tutor directly. This may seem difficult for someone who does not know much about the private SAT tutoring process, but its probably the best way to get a sense for how experienced and proficient the tutor is. The answers that the tutor gives and the confidence and ease with which he or she gives them will give you a general sense of the tutor’s level of expertise. Additionally, if you are considering more than one SAT tutor you can compare the way the different tutors answer the questions to get a sense for their relative level of experience and mastery. Here is a list of questions that you could ask:
What are the factors that, in your opinion, most determine how a student ultimately scores?
How do you individualize the game plan? In other words, how do you gauge what a student needs most to improve his or her score and how do you structure things based on that?
What materials do you use? Do you rely on official SAT tests or those of a major test prep company or both?
What is your methodology with regard to tutoring students for the SAT and how is that reflected both in the overall game plan and in the learning that happens within the individual tutoring sessions?
How do you deal with poor time management issues (i.e., a student not being able to finish a section of the SAT in the time given)?
Do you tutor all sections of the SAT and how do you divide up the time with a student to cover all of those sections? Do you have certain sections that you tend to start with (i.e., Math and Writing first and Critical Reading later)?
As the sessions progress, how do you continue to gauge where the student is weak and how to allocate time, both in terms of what you cover in the sessions and what you assign for homework?
When was the last time you took the SAT and what was your score?
There is really no right answer to any of the above questions, but any good private SAT tutor should have thought through all of these issues countless times and be able to give you knowledgeable and confident answers. Additionally, as mentioned above, if you have the opportunity to speak to more than one SAT tutor you will be able to compare the way they answer the questions to see not only who you see more eye-to-eye with in terms of their overall philosophy and approach but also who seems to have a better general level of experience and expertise.