Tutors aren’t Magicians

Is there ever a time when I tell a student or parent not to schedule tutoring? Yes! It is rarely a good idea for a failing or struggling student to come to a tutor the night before an exam—not good for the student, not good for the tutor. The student stressed to the point of not being able to focus. Often, the student has been shown two ways to solve two different, but similar, problems and is mixing up the two methods. The student is often angry with the course, the professor, etc., and, clearly, frustrated. Secondly, the student now has to open up to a stranger, conveying reasons for not understanding, reasons for failing, etc., and that is an emotionally vulnerable place to be in the night before an exam and that can lead to covering.  Third, because the student is meeting with an unknown tutor, students/parents predictably schedule less than one hour of time (often 30 or 45 minutes), when three would have been much more appropriate. However experienced and composed, the tutor will not have enough time to build a rapport with the student, calm the student, and re-teach the student.  Then the student loses faith in the tutor and tutoring process.

I like exceptions to rules. If you really want tutoring the night before an exam, then:

  1. Have the student talk with the tutor for 15-30 minutes at the time the reservation is made.
  2. Resolve simple problems before tutoring (e.g., how to get into radian mode).
  3. Reserve 2-3 hours of the tutor’s time to prepare for a single chapter test.

Tutors can avoid this very uncomfortable scenario by asking new clients the date of the student’s next exam. Tutors should issue a disclaimer that it is generally not a good idea to get tutoring the night before (or the day of) an exam.




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Start Spring Semester Smart

When is the best time to seek tutoring, from both an academic and cost perspective?

Parents and students often wait until mid-February, after the first exam or two, to contact a tutor.   Once a student gets a C or lower on one or two exams, his chance of getting an A in the course becomes harder, and sometimes, mathematically impossible.

Economically speaking, the best time to start tutoring (if you suspect tutoring will be needed most of the semester) is at the beginning of the semester because you can ask (and likely get) a better hourly rate by prepaying for a package of tutoring sessions.  Be sure to know the changes/cancellation/refund policy on packages because policies are typically more restrictive.  Also, ask if there are closure dates and whether tutoring is available during spring break or national holidays.  You are not likely to receive a credit or refund if you or your teen takes a break from tutoring.  Remember,  you’re paying for weekly tutoring, whether you choose to use it.

You might ask why a tutor would offer a discount via a tutor package.  You might question whether they really are worth the higher rate when the package hourly rate is nearly half that.  Think of it this way:  packages save tutors time, the time that they spend talking and emailing and texting parents and students about scheduling.  Packages are meant for committed students with structured schedules who just need consistent, quality service.  It’s a win-win.

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Preparing for Final Exams–Dos and Don’ts

Students learn various academic subjects in school but most have no systematic way of studying for final exams.  Here are some Dos and Don’ts:

#1:  Organize exams and provide a correction sheet for each.
#2:  Decide on your grade goal for the final exam.
#3:  Distribute the amount of time you can study among exam content in #1.
#4:  Know the weight of your final exam and the lowest grade you can get on the final to maintain or improve your course grade.
#5:  Repeat #1-#4 for each subject/course.

Assess the sum of study time for all subjects.  Do you realistically have that much time to study between now and finals? If not, adjust your totals and grade expectations.

#1: Don’t switch tutors during dead week and final exam week.
Some students go to one tutor all semester and then pay for a group study session with a new tutor.  Your tutor knows your strengths and weakness and can provide tailored, 1-to-1 exam preparation, giving you a far superior learning experience.

#2: Don’t fight the math!
For some students, it is just mathematically impossible to get an A in the course because of low test scores during the semester.  So, do not aim for an A on the final if getting an A will not improve your grade in the course.  Time is better spent on other courses.

#3:  Don’t stay up late studying and don’t skip breakfast.
Especially for Math. Math or sleep?  More math or more sleep?  Definitely, sleep.  Math is one of the more difficult subjects and final exams are typically comprehensive.  Bring your best, well-rested self to the exam!

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Portrait of a Grateful Student at Thanksgiving

In some countries, education is not an option or it is deemed a luxury. According to We.org, “almost 60 million primary school-age children aren’t in school for various reasons, including the inability to afford the school uniform.”1 There are more than 10 nations that prevent girls/women from learning. 2

One way that all students—college, high school, or primary school—can show their gratitude for having access to education is to do well in school, to get high marks. If you are struggling with math, statistics, or other academic subjects, Thanksgiving break is the best time to remedy that. Whether you have two days off or the entire week, here are super strategies for success:

  1. Gather graded tests, quizzes, and homework; order them chronologically.
  2. Provide corrections to any test/quiz/homework where the score is less than 100%.
    1. Organize a test review session with a classmate to help motivate you.
    2. Use your book, your notes, online videos, etc. to help you make corrections.
    3. Contact a tutor if you’re still having trouble making corrections.
    4. Review the way the problem was done and determine the mistake you made.
    5. Ask “What did I learn by correcting this quiz/test?” and add your answer to your notebook.
    6. Review your online grades portal and make up any missed assignments.
    7. Arrange a “teach ahead” session with a tutor to get a jump on new material.

Now, thank yourself for making the most of your education! _________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. https://www.we.org/we-villages/education/
  2. http://www.tourdestfu.com/2016/02/10-nations-that-dont-allow-girls-to-go.html
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Transitions: Preparing for 2017 Fall Semester

Transition–Merriam-Webster defines transition as passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transition).

Whether you’re transitioning from summer to fall semester, from college to a profession, from high school to college, from 8th grade to high school, or primary to middle school, it is important to acknowledge the shift, to understand there will be an adjustment period, and to support yourself/students now with the tools needed for the passage:

1.  Identify transition support.  Transition coaches are helpful in making academic transitions.  They help you prepare for your new landing place.  My Neighborhood Tutor provides referrals to transition coaches.  Please see “Resources” or contact us directly.

2. Identify academic support.  Even if you don’t need one now, it will help to identify one or two tutors for your weaker subjects, just in case you need a tutor later on.  Why?  Many students underestimate the quantity and quality of work demanded when they transition, especially in math and writing, and finding a terrific tutor in the middle of the semester is not only stressful but unlikely.  

3. Get your backpack on.    Teachers/professors may provide lists of required items, but make learning fun and throw in your favorites.  Our favorites:  BIC® 4-color ball pen, Ticonderoga® pencils, Staples® Manual Dual-Hole Pencil Sharpener, retractable eraser, Swingline® Tot Slim Portable Stapler (with clip latch to attach to backpack), and Texas Instruments® 83/84+.

4.  Scope out studying places.  Will you study on campus? at home? at a friend’s place? at the library? at a park? at a cafe?  Try to find a place free of distractions.  Home often seems like a great place to study–just keep in mind that Lassie and Morris sadly qualify as household distractions!  All libraries are not the same. Visit a few during hours you’d use them.

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A Strategy for Managing My Summertime Downtime

What do you do with your summers?  I’ve tried securing gainful employment every summer for years.  This summer, I’ve decided to accept that I have an 8-10 week sabbatical from tutoring and to use it wisely.

First, I think positively—I’m off 8-10 weeks—who doesn’t like that?  Second, I rejuvenate myself by creating space (i.e., doing delayed spring cleaning), taking longer bike rides, and visiting friends who let me ignore them during the school year.  Third, I do business planning.  A key aspect of business planning is business evaluation.  I look at my tutoring income and expenses for the previous academic year, examine sources of customers, and assess successes of my students; then I plan for the upcoming academic year.  Fourth, I improve my skills.  I enhance my knowledge of a language, re-learn a subject to the extent I can tutor it, attend a webinar to enhance my instruction skills, take a workshop at my local Small Business Development Center, or engage in strategic, non-competitive networking.  Fifth, I let my mind wander….see where it takes me.  This often leads to larger-scale ideas such as improving math and English skills for students in my residential community or an entrepreneurial project that will serve as passive income for summer months.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the downside of a summer without tutoring income.  I manage this by setting aside money during my busier spring months, using passive income, using my lingering gift cards, eating in, and taking gigs.  I prioritize attending free community and business events over those that cost.  I use Time Banks otherwise known as mutual aid networks.  My local Time Bank (http://sfbace.org/) helps me get the services and goods that I need by using my primary summertime currency—time.

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Who Should Take a Summer Math Course?

The most common question that I get in May and June is whether a student should take a math course during the summer. My response has been the same for the last 20 years:  NO, not unless required. Students who don’t have a passing math grade are required to repeat the course. Rather than repeating the course in the fall, students typically take it in the summer. Because they are seeing the material for a second time, they perform better even though the course’s pace is much faster than during the academic year.

However, electing to take pre-calculus in the summer in order to take Calculus or Statistics in the fall is not something I’d recommend. The pace of a summer math course is 4-5 times the pace of the same course during the academic year, and most students can’t keep up. Secondly, since students are cramming 250 pages of math into eight weeks of instruction, students are not learning much and are retaining even less. Doing well in Calculus I is difficult even with a solid understanding of pre-calculus. Students who take pre-calculus in the summer will likely struggle with calculations and concepts of Calculus I throughout the course, which impacts their ability to do well in Calculus II…envision a rolling snowball.

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Is it Too Late to Get a B?

This time of year, the volume of calls triples, and parents are asking the same question–is there enough time to raise Johnny’s math grade from a D to a B?  Well it depends.  Typically, a student needs 6-8 weeks, but there are many assumptions in that estimate.  First, the D has to be closer to a C (70%) than a F (59% or less).  Second, there should be at least three testing opportunities in addition to the final, and other assignments such as homework or projects.  Third, the student needs some motivation to get the B.  Fourth, the student and parent need to agree on the number of hours devoted to studying math.

The first mistake most parents make is that they are not aggressive enough with getting the student back on track; they send the student for one session of tutoring per week, which is like throwing a life jacket to someone who is drowning.  Instead, the student needs to be pulled from the water.  When Johnny is drowning in math concepts, formulas, etc., he needs daily tutoring for a week or two and then 2-3 times a week thereafter.  And, still, there are no guarantees, which is the news that I really dislike delivering.

The second mistake most parents make is changing their stance to ”We just want him to pass (i.e., get a C-).”  Aiming for a C- is …well, it is a bit dicey because students with low math grades perform inconsistently on math tests.  So, I could help Johnny by making sure he knows the material well enough to get a B-, but he could get anxious during the test and get a D.

What’s the best solution?  Call in March.


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Education Fundraiser: Concord-AAUW’s Art & Wine (and Beer) Walk: Sat., 5/10

Stroll around Todos Santos Plaza and Salvio Square in downtown Concord, CA while enjoying fine wine and beer, viewing beautiful art, and meeting local artists.  Proceeds will be used to fund scholarships for local girls and women provided by the American Association of University Women.  $20 per person.  Must be 21 years or older to participate.  Purchase tickets here!

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SAT/ACT Combo Test, the PRA
Sunday, October 20, 2013, 8:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Moraga Country Club (upstairs)
1600 St. Andrews Drive, Moraga

Find out whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit for you: take the PRA,  designed to help you determine which test you would score higher on.  Get realistic practice, and answer the types of questions you will face on the actual exam.  You will receive a personalized score report pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses.  For more information:  http://sat-act.aauwoml.org/.

The Princeton Review is working in partnership with the Orinda-Moraga-Lafayette AAUW Scholarship Committee.

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