5 Stars: Rounding Down Time

Here is one of the biggest tips I can offer to tutors aiming for 5 star ratings.

The idea is very basic. I don't know of anyone who likes a "Scrooge", a penny-pincher. You are in the service industry, so customer service matters a lot. It's never fun to round down time spent (so you get less pay), but it pays off in the long-run. If you've been with a student an extra few minutes over the scheduled hour, don't try to claim it. It will likely make the students pay more attention to the time than before, in a negative way.

Think of the extra time as a marketing cost; in fact, that is what it is. I have been tutoring full-time for two years now. In that two years, my name has spread very quickly through the surrounding community, both on WyzAnt and off of it. I average around one new tutoring request every day. I no longer worry much about open slots as they often get filled within 24 hours (except college times (i.e. before 3 PM school days), which naturally take longer to fill). I even have a waiting list of people who want to be contacted once I get a cancellation, as well as students who so desire my help that they are willing to meet at obscure times to get an appointment (i.e. midnight and later). Beyond keeping up on the sites and lists I am on, I do no other marketing other than word-of-mouth.

If you want a visual, think of this situation: Say you go to an ice cream place and order a sundae. Three different locations all offer the exact same amount of ice cream for the exact same price. However, the first uses a smaller cup and makes sure it is fully topped off, if not overfilled. The second uses the "correct" size and fills the ice cream to where it "should" be. The third uses a larger cup and doesn't fully fill it. All three places offer the EXACT same deal, but because of how they present it, you have a different reaction. You end up thinking the first is a good value, the second is "normal", and that the third place shorted you.

When you round down the time, in many ways you are even seen as better than the first store: not only are you making sure to "top off" the amount, but you are even doing it with the same "bowl" of one hour.

There is one caution here, and it is the reason I hesitated writing about this. You don't want to advertise the "topping off". It shouldn't be an expectation but rather a bonus. There will be times when you need to keep the session to an hour for whatever reason, and you don't want students thinking that they will always get the "topped off" only to not receive it, as it is human nature to then feel short-changed.

(Note: I use "hour" as that is the most common tutoring length, but it applies to any time amount.)


Do you charge for the amount of time you put in when prepping for a session with a student? I have spent hours getting things together for a tutoring session and have never charged, but heard that some people do. I was not sure if you do that and how people feel about that? Thank you.
Hello Linda, The key is communication and how the prepping came about. As a general rule of thumb, I don't charge for preparations if it's just a few minutes to put together some worksheets or something. However, if it is a larger preparation work, that can be a different story; talk with the student/parent beforehand about costs for large preparation projects. My suggestion would be to have about a 20 minute cutoff (15 sounds too short) between "short" and "long", and to charge half-rate for the long times. For example, if it took me 40 minutes to prepare something, I would charge 15 minutes extra (half-time, rounded down to the nearest 15), but that is only if I discussed it with the student beforehand. I hope that makes sense. :)

Hi Brian,

I have been tutoring for only a year with WyzAnt, and have only logged in just over 50 hours. I started this very part time and have now started adding about 10 hours per week. I have had some great reviews and also 5 star ratings, but I also have had some 4 stars. A few of them bother me and I don't know a good way to handle it. I had a student that I met with every week and her dad would give a 5 star one week and a 4 star another and he never was there when we tutored. He did not know what we were doing or anything and here he was giving me a 4 star. This really upset me because I feel they were not legit ratings, but have changed my status. Do you have any advice on how to bring this up and if I should even bring it up? Thanks so much, Linda

Hello again Linda (I assume you are the same Linda),

I actually did have a single 4-star rating myself, one of my earliest ones actually. Just like your case, it was with a long-term student. There was a difference though in that the student was also the one paying/reviewing the lessons. When I found out who it was (we couldn't always see who rated what), I approached him about it at the end of one of our lessons, coming from a standpoint of "why was that lesson not as good?" His response was that he didn't know what was wrong with the lesson, but wasn't a 4 still good. At that point, I explained a bit about how 4's are actually "bad" here, and then he decided to go back and change it, which is why I now am back to my perfect 5-stars.

In your case, the best approach will likely be a similar style, but possibly through email instead. Email the father to ask him why those sessions were not up to par. When you come from a standpoint of requesting knowledge, it keeps them from being as defensive. If he cannot say why they were 4's instead (perhaps the student said different things when he asked her how it went), then at that point, kindly request that he think of re-rating them, explaining how 4's are actually bad on WyzAnt.

Linda, just in case you are watching these comments, I just made a full blog on this subject. It will be up as soon as WyzAnt approves it.
Hi Brian
Let me start by first apologizing for the length of this post. I hope you can advise me.
I have been tutoring a bit over 50 hours. I feel committed to becoming an excellent Wyzant tutor.  The situation that concerns me right now is a mom who, at the get-to-know-you meeting (which ran more than an hour), was very upset with her son's school and state school board because of how she felt they were treating her son, who had not passed the required state assessment in a particular subject. They homeschool their son. In their state, the requirements and expectations for homeschooler seem to be many. She told me the state has offered an extremely long test that he can take now, or a shorter test that he can take in a month (and can repeat in June, if necessary.)
At our meet and greet meeting, we penciled in an appointment day and time, and the dad said he would call me either way to confirm or cancel our appointment. Neither mom nor dad called to confirm that they wanted to hire me by the evening before the first tutoring session was to begin,  so I called them. They were nice, said they did not realize they were supposed to call me, but that they did want me to tutor their son, and so we had a first tutoring session. Her son is 19, does not have adequate fraction, decimal, or percent knowledge, and the test includes much from Algebra II. However, I thought that he tried, had a good attitude and that the session went well. Mom sat at the table during the session and did talk again how badly they were being treated by the school and the state.
After our first tutoring session, I asked the mom how she thought I did and she changed the subject. I asked her twice again, and mentioned that I thought her son was doing well with the tutoring. He nodded. I explained about the 5 stars rating, and that if she was happy with the job I did, I would appreciate her ranking me "as" 5 stars, since a 5 star ranking is the "understood"  "pass" score that we all want. She said that it is a shame that the ranking available is not a 10 star spread. (Brian - I have never asked before for a 5 star rating from, or explained the rating system to, any customer, but I am thinking I might want to do that in the future, because often the customer just doesn't know how the ratings work for the tutors.)
I called her early last evening to confirm our **second tutoring session, scheduled for today. Again, she did not return my call. Then, today, half an hour before the 2:30 pm scheduled session, the mom called, said she had not received my last night's phone message until just now, that she was just so stressed by many things in her life,  and would like her son tutored in 30 minutes, anyway. I offered instead an appointment for the next day, and she took it, although rather reluctantly. When she mentioned that she was concerned whether her son would be tutored in time for the test in one month, I told her that we cannot guarantee a student's performance on an ultimate test. I also nicely reminded that this was not the first time that they had not phoned me, as they had agreed - (her husband had not called me before the first tutoring session to tell me whether or not they had even decided to hire me...) 
So, my dilemma is how to handle this situation. On the one hand, I want this boy to do well. On the other hand, I am worried because of the two non-callbacks from the parents, the mom's incessant railing on about how the school and the state are treating her, and my concern as to whether she is going to be satisfied, no matter what.
I want to take the time that it takes to properly develop my business as a Wyzant tutor, and I want my record to be unblemished. So, my gut feel is that I should take care of this right away, let the mom know (by phone or email?) that I don't think she will be satisfied with me, or perhaps that this situation is just not working out, and terminate the tutoring quickly so they can begin looking for another tutor. I worry about the boy who does need some help for a test in a month, as well as what the mom's reaction might be should I terminate the tutoring. I feel that tutoring in a "bad" situation with problematic parents is just not worth it. 
I do not know how to terminate a client. I have not yet billed them for the first session we had three days ago.  If I do need to terminate this, what is the professional way to do so? And, do you have any advice as to how I can proactively avoid this type of situation in the future?
I would greatly appreciate your feedback, Brian. Thanks.
Jennifer J
Hello Jennifer,
One thing to keep in mind is that ratings can only be done up to two weeks after a lesson is submitted, so any damage that the parents can do to your ratings would hopefully be limited. 
It's a tough situation. I've been in similar ones myself. There is no "correct" way to approach it. I certainly do not advise waiting three days to input a lesson. If the parent gives a bad rating that you cannot get her to change, then you can take the financial hit and have WyzAnt return the money to get it off of your record (and then you know not to work with her). By not submitting it in the first place, you are guaranteeing that you do not get the money. You would likely be in a much better position right now if you had submitted the lesson normally.
But, let's focus on where it is now. You can still use the strategy of inputting the lesson and "seeing what happens" to help decide what to do from here on out. However, if you have the financial stability (so you don't need the job), and you think that this student is going to be more trouble than he's worth, then drop him. There are other tutors out there and other resources for the mother (including schooling him herself and seeing how challenging teaching someone who is behind can be). One uncomfortable truth we have to be willing to accept is that we are indeed replaceable (trust me, I've learned that lesson the hard way this past month with my longest-running student).
If you are going to end the student, keep it simple but polite. I find it best to be honest but nice about it, but that's my style and students know it. Just be forewarned that there will very likely be some consequences after doing so. The mother might have influence with a wide range of friends. Or, she might try to get you to resume anyways (not a good idea to do so after you've quit). 
It's a tough spot with no good answers. The best thing to do in the future is to submit the lesson normally so that you have more information on how the parent will act. 
As for my own similar situations, twice I've had to stop students because of the mothers. Other times it did work out in the end by perseverance.


Brian S.

Certified, Full-Time Tutor of Most Subjects

4500+ hours
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