As my twentieth year of teaching draws to a close, I am beginning to get phone calls about summer SAT tutoring. With school out for a few months, summer is the perfect time to prepare for the October SAT exam. One call I recently received was from an old friend from high school who now lives in Texas. Although I would be honored to tutor her daughter, living in Pennsylvania poses a problem. During our recent conversation, she asked, “Since you are unable to tutor my daughter in person this summer, what should I look for when I hire a private SAT tutor?”
That is a really good question. I told her I needed to think about it and I would get back to her. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Credentials– A private tutor should be a certified teacher with all of the updated clearances. In Pennsylvania all licensed teachers must have the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, & child abuse clearances. Of course these are not necessary for a tutor, but it’s nice to know the person coming to your house to work with your child has the proper clearances.
2. Experience- A private tutor should have some experience under their belt before you hire them. Yes it’s true you have to start somewhere, but for a test as important as the SATs, you really want to hire a tutor who is very knowledgeable about the exam. In addition, an experienced tutor should have worked with many different types of students. Usually a good tutor has worked in the area for a while. Ask your friends with high school age children if they have heard of any good private tutors. Many times, one or more of your friends have hired a private tutor already.
3. Knowledgeable- A private tutor should not only have experience, but solid content knowledge too. They should have in depth knowledge about the basics about the exam (number of questions, number of sections, how often it’s given, etc.). In addition, they should have multiple strategies to attack the questions for various types of learners.
4. Flexibility- A private tutor should not only have extensive knowledge about the exam, but they should know what type of students they are working with. A good tutor is sensitive to the needs of all of their students. Some are struggling learners who need all of the help (and patience) they can get, while others are highly gifted and only need a refresher. I can usually tell within a session or two how much work we will need to get a student the score they need.
5. Reliability- a tutor should also be sensitive to your schedule & to make the time for tutoring. One of the reasons tutoring works is in its consistency. Tutors that keep canceling or rescheduling appointments are a red flag. I get that things happen, but if they can’t be there to help your child succeed, find another tutor.
6. Friendliness– this one sounds trivial, but it’s important. A tutor should develop a good rapport with a child right away. Preparing for the SAT can be a long & tedious process. Having a good rapport with a child can make the sessions spent together worth the time & money. Children who do not like or get along with their tutor can hinder progress. I find using a bit of humor (especially at the expense of the College Board) can go a long way to building rapport.
Ultimately, the decision is yours, and you need to feel comfortable with that decision. Before you invest the time and money in a private tutor, do your homework to find the best fit for your child. Good luck!
Lou Blair is a high school social studies teacher and a private SAT tutor. He has been teaching & tutoring for twenty years.