What Should I Look For in an Academic Tutor?

3349979270_1315260035_bDoes your son or daughter need an academic tutor? Or, are you a student yourself looking to get up to speed? Here, Fairfax, CA tutor Jason N. explains the importance of finding the right tutor for you, and what exactly to look for…


Unfortunately, it is common for students to feel like their tutor is not a ‘good fit’ and thus search again for another one. Looking for the ‘right’ tutor can be an arduous process. Many students and parents believe that finding a good tutor is only about his or her subject acumen. Here I review other, often-overlooked factors to keep in mind when looking for a tutor, to raise the chances of finding someone you or your son or daughter works well with and feels helped by. When you finish, hopefully you’ll know what else to look for!

  • Your Tutor Should Form a Relationship With You

Effective tutoring hinges on your tutor’s ability to connect with you on a personal level in a few ways that have little to do with the subject matter. I’m not saying your tutor needs to be your best friend but he or she should tune into and express interest in your interests and personality. The relationship you construct with your tutor may be just as important (if not more important) than his/her subject knowledge. It’s often what makes the professional relationship ‘click’ or not. You only feel comfortable and push yourself to learn and grow if you feel respected, comfortable, and safe with your tutor.

  • Your Tutor Should Be Sensitive to Your Needs & Preferences

Effective tutors cater to the specific needs and preferences of each student. A basic example of this is discovering what you enjoy the most, i.e. reviewing books together or always practicing conversation if Spanish is the subject, and your tutor should be able to go with it, match you and meet you where you are. Your tutor should be open and receptive to your requests. In this sense, your tutor needs to be sensitive enough to detect where you are emotionally regarding your subject matter and tailor his or her “educational interventions” appropriately. This implies responding empathically (without over-doing it), validating your difficulties and complexities of the given subject. For example, if the subject is Spanish, you should feel comfortable communicating to what extent you would like him/her to correct your pronunciation (frequently or barely ever) depending on your preferred learning style, motivation to learn and comfort being corrected, and your tutor should adjust his style accordingly.

  • Your Tutor Should Be Sensitive to Your Age, Comfort Level, & Intellectual Capacity of Subject

Effective tutors are especially aware of the developmental stage of each of their students. Younger students mean more visual learning, for instance. This doesn’t only refer to your chronological age but also your intellectual capacity and overall level of emotional maturity to handle the discomfort of not knowing while having an outsider explain. Your tutor should be sensitive to this, as it will also help the two of you gauge the optimal amount of time to conduct a tutor session, which can usually range anywhere from 30 minutes up to 3 hours. The goal is for you to feel challenged in the subject matter before you reach your threshold (i.e. when your brain feels fried).

  • Your Tutor Should be Hopeful, Fun, Creative, and Encouraging

Another overlooked aspect is the level of hopefulness, encouragement, positive reinforcement, and praise your tutor brings to the table, especially in the face of your frustration, doubt, insecurity, and sometimes mere lack of interest in subject matter.  If you get an answer right, or make any type of progress, you deserve praise or positive reinforcement. In this case, your tutor should give you a ‘high-5,’ or a similar gesture, to foster the professional relationship with you and express caring. Furthermore, your tutor’s ability to infuse passion, playfulness and creativity into the tutoring sessions is essential; they can feel drab or routine if you do same thing every time, and even more so if your school teacher in that subject matter bores you. This particularly applies to you if you don’t want tutoring but your parents insist. You most likely won’t get anywhere if your tutor doesn’t spark your interest in the subject and do a little bonding before attempting to teach. This will also later help your tutor appropriately challenge your knowledge of the given subject, pushing you to learn without going over your head.

  • Your Tutor Should Use Language You Understand

There is a giant schism between your tutor’s knowledge of your subject and his or her tutoring skills. We have all had teachers in high school or college who didn’t teach us much, despite their expert status on the given subject matter. Your tutor’s job is to explain key concepts, patterns, and ideas from our subject non-esoterically, in layman’s terms and in a fun way tailored to your personality and interests. This includes mnemonic devices, stories, songs, pictures, anything ‘out of the box’ that links the subject matter to your life in a personal way and makes it more ‘friendly’ for you. Your tutor’s ability to do this will stem from the professional relationship he or she builds with you.

  • Your Tutor Should Get You Actively Participating

Effective tutors frequently elicit student participation. Outcome studies show that student participation is directly related to tutoring’s success. If you are passive or quiet, you most likely aren’t learning much. If you’re quiet with your tutor, no need to panic, just request a more collaborative approach with your tutor. He or she should be able to ask you, “How can I make this a better experience for you so we can work together more effectively?” A tutor’s relational skills and ability to accommodate to your specific learning needs cannot be overlooked; it is often more important that his or her subject acumen.

  • It Ultimately Depends on You!

Lastly and most importantly, remember that the most effective tutors can’t ‘make’ you pass a class if you don’t focus and put the work in. You’ll usually need to work harder than your tutor, as tough as this may sound. You most likely will need to study in between tutoring sessions. If you pass or not, learn or not, take advantage of the sessions or not, it reflects your effort too, as opposed to only your tutor’s abilities. That stated, voice your needs to your tutor. If he or she doesn’t adapt to your learning style, subject needs and preferences, it most likely will be time to try someone else.

JasonNJason N. tutors in English and Spanish in Fairfax, CA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here! 



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