Math Tutor

Effective Methods for Tutoring By A Professional Math Tutor

by Tutor Glen D. on

This article is about the best method for ensuring that a student succeeds in math and benefits from the tutoring experience.  The primary thing for the tutor to keep in mind is that, while the parent may be paying the bill, it is the student who is the primary client.  The student’s needs may sometimes be at odds with what the parent perceives as the best approach to getting a better grade.   The tutor’s focus should always remain on the student.

My strategy is a “two step” approach:

Step 1:

Regardless of how poorly a student is currently performing in class, I always immediately start every new client by teaching the student “ahead” of the class.  In other words, I teach the course material that the student has not yet been taught by the teacher.  Why?  Because one of the biggest problems with most students is that they are “lost” in class.  They do not understand the material that is being presented to them by the teacher, and they are reluctant to raise their hand due to concerns about how they will look in the eyes of their classmates.  Their natural fear is that they will look foolish and that they will be the only ones who do not understand the material.

The way to conquer this fear and build up the student’s confidence is for them to hear the material first from me in the privacy and safety of their own home.  Here they can freely express their thoughts on whether they understand the material without fear of looking “bad” in the eyes of their classmates.    I also have the student demostrate their proficiency by doing problems in front of me, so that I can be sure they really understand what I am teaching them.

The power of this approach is that when the student then hears the material from their teacher, they are already familiar with it.  This yields two very important benefits.  The classroom experience is now a positive one instead of a negative one.  The student develops more confidence and less anxiety about attending class.  Most importantly, the teacher now becomes my ally in teaching the student new concepts.  Now I do not have to play “catch up” by attempting to teach material that the student has already heard in class, but did not understand.  Instead, the teacher reinforces concepts that the student has already learned from me.

This approach has been extremely effective at building up the student’s confidence, and enhancing their understanding of the material presented in class.

Step 2:

Many of my students are already “under water” with a poor grade and a lot of confusion about the material.  So, it is important to also go back and review prior material that the student did not grasp the first time through.  Since mathematics tends to be cumulative, it is important to fill in the missing gaps.  So, I try to spend time each session to go back and review old material.

This two step approach has been extremely effective.  The humorous analogy I use with my students is that they are a little bit like a sinking ship.  We must keep the ship sailing along (by working ahead of the class), but we must also pump out the water that is already in the hold (by going back and filling in the missing gaps from prior material).

The students love this tutoring method because it immediately builds up their confidence.  The classroom experience becomes more positive, the teacher becomes a valuable ally, and the students invariably improve quite dramatically in their academic performance.

To my fellow tutors, I hope that you will consider trying out my approach.  I think that you will find it very effective.

In a future article, I will outline my approach to SAT training, which is very different than the approach outlined in this article.

About the Author: Glen D. is a math professor at a local Boston area college and a math tutor on His expertise is in math tutoring for elementary through college students of all ages and abilities. He also offers a very successful SAT training program. Glen lives in Natick, Massachusetts with his wife and two children. He does most of his tutoring in his students’ homes. He has turned many frustrated “C” students into confident “A” students by using the approach outlined here.

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