1. Make time for tutoring.

Imagine if your chemistry class were only 1 hour a week— you probably wouldn’t learn much chemistry, right? Tutoring works the same way; in fact, in many cases, tutoring involves breaking habits, which can require a lot more practice than learning something for the first time.

For that reason, an optimal tutoring program isn’t just the time you spend with your tutor. Take a look at your schedule and try to map out 2-4 hours, outside of session time, to:


Academic Support Test Preparation Organizational Coaching
  • Make a good faith effort on coursework before you meet with your tutor
  • Review notes you took during your previous session(s)
  • Work practice materials as necessary
  • Review notes you took during your previous session(s)
  • Work practice materials
  • Look over and reflect on what you missed
  • Work at least 1-2 full-length practice tests leading up to your real test
  • Update your planner daily
  • Sort your school papers daily
  • Reflect on/journal about organizational lapses
  • Gather/audit materials for your organizational coaching sessions


2. Pay attention to yourself.

The ability to think about your own thinking is called metacognition. It’s one of the most important tools for learning, and it starts with understanding that there’s not just one way to miss a question on a test and not just one way to fail a class.

After you finish an assignment (or get a test or paper back from your teacher, or have an organizational plan fall through) ask yourself questions like:

  • Are there any patterns in the types of question I missed or the types of mistake I made?
  • Was there something about my working environment— like where I was sitting or what was going on around me or what time of day it was— that made this assignment easier or harder?
  • What worked well for me, that I want to make sure to implement again?
  • What, if anything, do I want to do differently the next time I work a similar assignment? (Be specific.)
  • Is there anything I should do/review/ask my tutor about before I do a similar assignment? Is there one particular difficulty I keep coming up against that I want to talk over with my tutor?

Part of your tutor’s job is to pay attention to you and figure out where your obstacles are— but, at the end of the day, you’re the only one with a front-row seat. By reviewing your mistakes and taking the time to start thinking about what your specific challenges are, it’s going to be much easier for you and your tutor to address those challenges.

3. Be willing to face what you find difficult.

My first day of college, a professor told my Italian 101 class that the greatest impediment to learning a new language is vergogna—“shame.” In order to become fluent in a language, you have to be willing to make mistakes, to imitate accents that probably sound ridiculous, to have people laugh and correct your grammar, to tell people that you’re sorry but you don’t understand them.

Needless to say, vergogna doesn’t just affect the learning of languages. You can easily get so wrapped up in avoiding the things you’re not good at that you never give yourself a chance to be better at them. Furthermore, failing is one of the most valuable things we can do in life. Your tutor can help you to understand and hopefully avoid repeating old mistakes— but making new mistakes is how we learn.

4. Be honest with your tutor.

Sometimes it’s not shame that holds us back but a desire to be polite. When something is our fault, we want to keep the consequences from affecting other people; if we feel like we “should have” understood something, we don’t want to make it anyone else’s problem.

Maybe your tutor is in the middle of an explanation, and you start thinking about what time you need to leave the office to pick up your sister, and then you’re thinking about whether you need to put gas in the car, and suddenly you realize you don’t have any idea what your tutor just said. They say, “Does that make sense?” Desperate not to reveal that you weren’t tuned in, you say yes.

But that is not what your tutor wants.

Your tutor’s job is to help you learn, and if they have a false idea of what you know (or, worse, a false idea of how much you’re absorbing in-session), it’s hard for them to work effectively. And since that’s not what either of you want, it definitely doesn’t count as polite.

5. No, really— be honest with your tutor.

Maybe you don’t have time to do 2 hours of homework. Maybe your tutor keeps explaining things with sports metaphors that don’t make any sense to you, or they ask you to “look over your missed questions” but you don’t really know what that means. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, and your tutor may not know it doesn’t work for you unless you tell them that.

In other words, advocate for yourself. One of the biggest potential benefits of tutoring is that you get to take a more active role in directing your learning than you do in a typical classroom environment— but only if you speak up.

6. Do your own (best) work.

Sometimes being honest isn’t about what you do or don’t understand— it’s about what you didn’t get done, despite your best intentions.

Sometimes the week just didn’t go like you planned, and you left yourself only 30 minutes to do 2 hours of homework. Rather than rush through it like a maniac and do poor, unreflective work— or, so much worse, copy the answers instead of attempting the problems— you should do a good job on what you can get to and then tell your tutor you ran out of time for the rest. That’s life. Your tutoring homework is important, but your tutor also understands that you have other things going on in your life, and sometimes tutoring gets crowded out. It’s so much easier for your tutor to recover from that than to recover from bad data.

7. Be willing to try new things.

Some students believe all they need to do in order to improve is practice— and practice is important, but not if you don’t reflect on that practice and learn from the mistakes you make. Improvement is almost never the result of luck or magic. If you don’t change what you’re doing, you shouldn’t expect different results.

Moreover, most students have to experiment a little to find the approaches that work best for them. If you try something and it doesn’t work, reflect on what you liked or didn’t like, talk to your tutor, try something else. Most importantly, stay positive and don’t give up.


By Erin Webb, Open Door Education Master Tutor & Co-Owner