How to Find the Right Tutor

If google NYC tutoring company, you’ll get over 2,000,000 results. That’s a lot of options. It’s better than no options, but too many choices can be exhausting. How do you know that company or person you’re considering for tutoring or for a mock exam is any good?

You may have read another checklist on how to find the right tutor. Maybe it was good, but maybe not. Check the source. If it was written by a company that provides tutoring, it was made to steer you to them and away from their competitors. For example, I worked for a company that told people it was essential that their child’s mock exams were hand-scored. This was a lie. We were the only ones who advertised hand scoring, so of course that was all important. In truth, hand scoring provides very little extra information, especially as most students don’t write down their work. Trust me, I corrected tests for 20 years.

What follows is the non-marketing, honest version of what to look for when hiring a tutoring company. Biometric Edge doesn’t offer tutoring, so we have no ulterior motives, and we can give you honest instruction on how to find the best tutor or company, or at the very least, avoid spending a lot of money and time with the wrong one.

Are they focused on tutoring, or is their attention spread thin?

Which of the following sounds better: lobster from a seafood restaurant that just serves lobster, or lobster from a diner with 20-page menu?

Obviously, it’s not from the diner, because a restaurant that does everything usually doesn’t do anything really well. The same is true of a tutoring company that spreads itself too thin. Now, it’s different if we’re discussing a billion-dollar company such as The Princeton Review. They have the money and the resources to do it well. But a small company?

Be especially wary if they do high school and college admissions along with tutoring. I know both industries, and both take a lot of time and experience to master. College admissions, especially New York City college admissions, is much more than just helping with essays: it’s first and foremost understanding which colleges are right for your child. It often means visiting schools and keeping up with admission rates and knowing how many other students your child is competing with.

For the record, you’re competing with the people like you from your area, so what schools are right for someone changes if they’re applying from the Horace Mann School or Dalton than when they’re applying from a public school in the Bronx.

Getting into a top private high school in New York City is very difficult and nuanced, as well. Type NYC private school admissions and you’ll see how many companies make their livings off parents fighting for a few open spots. A high school admissions consultant should know how many open spots there are at schools like Spence and Riverdale. They should know people on the board.

A small company that claims to do both most likely doesn’t have the resources to do both well, and it’s taking a big risk with your child’s ability to get into a top college. To me, this is a sign that that company’s focus may be more on making money than honestly helping you and your child succeed. And unlike ordering lobster at a diner, hiring the wrong college admissions consultant will last longer than food poisoning.

The best tutoring companies focus on just tutoring. It’s ok if they tutor for all different kinds of tests, since there are so many similarities across tests.

An example of a high school and college admissions company that has their priorities straight and that provides great service is Dunbar Consulting. They just do admissions, and they’re very good at it. They’re also very expensive, so heads up. They had an opportunity several years ago to join forces with a tutoring company. They would have had to do almost no extra work and would have made considerable money, but they turned it down because they want to solely focus on admissions.

Do they know the differences between the ACT and SAT or the ISEE and SSAT and which is better for your child?

Should my child take the SAT or the ACT?

One of the most common questions I get from parents of high school students is whether their child should take the SAT or the ACT. I’ve read a lot of answers to this question online and I’m always mystified at how many people miss the most important question: is your child good at math?

The SAT math sections account for 50% of your score. The SAT verbal section, which consists of the grammar section and the reading comprehension section, accounts for the other 50%. The ACT math section accounts for 25% of your score. The ACT English, ACT reading and ACT science sections each account for 25% of your score.

So if your child absolutely hates math and struggles with it, the ACT could be better for them. Conversely, if they love math and don’t like to read, the reading-heavy ACT is most likely going to give them trouble. This is a huge part of determining which test is better for your child, the SAT or ACT. It’s rarely brought up, and that’s confusing.

In addition, the ACT forces students to work quickly. If your child is not a fast worker, especially a fast reader, they’re going to have trouble finishing the sections, especially the ACT reading section, on which you really need to hustle. Finally, ACT math questions are more like the math questions students see in school. SAT math questions force students to apply their knowledge.

If you’re unsure which test your child should take, schedule a full mock exam of each test and compare. Your child will probably have one test they liked better (or more realistically, hated less).

Should my child take the ISEE or the SSAT?

They should probably do both. They can concentrate on one, but it can’t hurt to take both because schools only see the scores you submit and the tests have enough in common that studying for one pretty much means studying for both. The only differences are that the ISEE verbal section has synonyms and sentence completions while the SSAT verbal section has synonyms and analogies. Also, on The Upper Level ISEE (for current 8th, 9th and 10th graders) and The Middle Level ISEE (for current 6th and 7th graders), one of the math sections has quantitative comparisons []. The SSAT doesn’t. Also, ISEE math tests more difficult material.

The biggest difference is the scoring. Math on the ISEE makes up 50% of your score, because two of the four sections are math (verbal and reading are the other two). On the SSAT, math makes up 33.3% of your score, with verbal and reading making up the other 66.6%.

I don’t think it’s a deal breaker if a company doesn’t understand these factors when determining which test your child should take, but it’s a bad sign.

Who are there tutors? What kind of training do they give them? How many do they have?

A company should have a method for what they look for in a tutor, and it can’t just be that they’re smart and come from a good college. There are a number of companies that almost exclusively hire tutors from Ivy League Universities. That’s not a terrible idea, but it can’t be the only criteria. Just because someone did well in school doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good tutor. In fact, some of the worst tutors are people who never struggled academically and have no idea what it feels like.

I took French my freshman year of college. I fell behind early and remained lost the entire semester. I was hopeless, but the instructor called on me every class, even though I never knew the answer. It was humiliating and awful, but it taught me empathy. I know what it’s like for students to feel bad about themselves during class. I know what it’s like to pray that a teacher doesn’t call on me. It has helped me connect to and inspire my students who were struggling, because I understood them.

I’m not saying someone who’s never struggled can’t do it, but it’s often hard for them to fathom how someone can listen to a teacher speak for 50 minutes and not learn a single thing.

If you’re calling up a single tutor, as opposed to a tutoring company, ask him or her if they ever struggled in school and how they relate to students who struggle.

As for the number of tutors a company has, there’s no magic number, but you want to know that they have different types of tutors for different types of students. Some students need to be pushed while some need a more gentle approach. Some students only respect someone sporty, while others have a better rapport with someone who reads a lot.

The reason you’re asking these questions about the tutors is not for a specific answer but instead for the way the question is answered. If it’s answered quickly and respectfully, that’s a good sign. If they don’t have any idea what you’re talking about and try to make you feel bad for asking, that’s bad.

Can you change tutors?

No tutor is going to please everyone. Sometimes, through no fault of anyone, personalities clash. You may realize after a month that your child isn’t listening to their tutor. When this happens, you should switch tutors. This can be uncomfortable if you like the tutor, but it’s worth it, and any company should understand and make this switch without making you feel bad about it. Make sure your tutoring company allows you to switch tutors.

Know that if your child has only had one session with their tutor, the company may suggest you try another session. That’s a reasonable suggestion, and you can still say no. If you’re absolutely sure it’s not a good match, demand a new tutor immediately.

How many mock exams do they recommend and do they offer them?

Mocks exams are an absolutely essential part of the test-prep process. They help spot errors that may not show up in regular tutoring sessions. Mock exams also build stamina and give students an idea of the level of concentration they need to bring to a long test.

Your child should take at least two mock exams, preferably three. It’s ok if the company does not personally give mock exams as long as they have a place your child can go.

Would you recommend they take an exam with Biometric Edge?

I said I wasn’t marketing anything and here I am, marketing my company. But understand that I’m doing so because I tutored for standardized tests for over 20 years, and during that time I’ve corrected thousands of mock exams. I know what mock exams show you and I know what they miss. The idea that looking at just the score of a mock exam will show you what your child is doing wrong on the exam is wrong. It’s like looking at the score of a tennis match and trying to tell what someone is doing wrong with their swing.

Biometric Edge provides something that no other company can. During our mock exam consultation, we track students eye movements, so we know if a student is going back to reread a passage when answering reading questions. We track timing so we know how long a student spends on each question, and we compare to the average time of everyone who’s gotten that question right. We measure pulse rate, so we know what makes a student anxious and how they handle that anxiety (some students do better and some do worse). We track every topic and type of question, so we see where your child is strong and where they’re weak, and we measure all of these metrics against everyone else who’s taken our exam. We give you and your child crucial information to help them perform at their best. This is material you wouldn’t know even if you took 100 mock exams.

Tutoring companies know this, but some of them are very territorial with their students. If you discuss taking one of our mock exams with them, and they try to dissuade you, something is wrong.

Finally, understand that sometimes, you need to break up with your tutoring company. If you’re upset with them, make a change. It will be better for everyone.