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One question I just received on a different blog was how to handle the 4-star ratings that come up. No matter how good you are, someone will not be satisfied. I personally have received two 4-stars here on WyzAnt, one when I was just starting out, and one just today. For the 4-star early on, it was from a weekly student who only rated the very first meeting as a 4-star. When I learned it was him (either WyzAnt didn't let us see ratings back when I began or I just hadn't figured out how), I approached him about it at the end of our next meeting. One thing I've learned in life is to ask questions instead, so I simply inquired as to why the first lesson was a 4-star to him. He thought back and couldn't really remember why; the session had gone well to him, and he couldn't remember anything in particular that went wrong; he simply thought that 4-stars was still "good". When I explained to him that it wasn't really how things worked on WyzAnt, how only 5-stars is "good"... read more

Here's a study tip I gave to a student just tonight. One of the issues that I see with students is that they only study for tests, starting the night before or so. As a tutor, I know that strategy rarely works well. When I ask the student why he/she doesn't study just a little bit every day, the response is generally the same: there's no point studying beforehand since I'll have forgotten it by the test. That is why I have my own strategy. It's one to get students started with learning the importance of studying. For some, it might be enough on its own for the learning (or grades) that they desire; for the rest, it's at least a step in the right direction. It's actually very simple. All I say is to take a minute or two per section that the student has learned thus far. Then, after doing a quick review, take five minutes or so to go back and hit the roughest section in more detail. It generally takes 15 minutes top to do, and it really helps to keep the ideas fresh. I further... read more

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... read more

Welcome to another blog about key ideas that I think contribute to a 5-star rating. No matter how good you are, eventually you will be asked a question that you don't know. I have a very extensive range of knowledge, and yet I find myself being asked questions beyond my limits weekly. I am often reminded of the Orkin commercials where customers keep asking the most random questions, assuming the Orkin man can answer them. The truth of the matter is that tutors are humans too. One of my mottos is that "One of the greatest strengths is to know one's own weaknesses." It's never fun to admit that you are unsure of something, but it saves a lot of pain later on. In my experience, often times students still want to know your best guess, which you can then give them. Most appreciate it even more when you are honest that something is beyond your knowledge, at least directly. Sometimes, when I am more sure, I will give my best guess with a qualifier of it being only an educated... read more

One thing that caught me off-guard this summer was the difference between school-year tutoring and summer tutoring. Last year, the vast majority of my summer tutoring was for the ACT. This year, my name has expanded quite a bit, as has the diversity of subjects. If you are a full-time tutor, my advice to you is to get ready for anything for the summer. You may get students who want to get ahead for the next year. You may get students who are taking a summer school to make up for a failed class. You may get a really random tutoring request (I am tutoring a student in chess this summer). You may end up helping a junior with sending in college applications. You may find a college student who wants many large chunks of time to get through a necessary class. It's not just a diversity of students either. The tutoring itself can be radically different than during the school year. I didn't have much experience developing lesson plans before this summer started (besides for the ACT)... read more

There are several simple ideas to help get good ratings. At least around me, I've heard some horror stories of bad tutors, so I've decided to start up a new blog series about some of the things I do that I think set me apart from others. The 15 - 30 Rule: This is a very simple rule that I implemented early on in tutoring and has helped me enormously throughout my career thus far. For every 15 minutes of driving time between students, I give myself 30 minutes to do the drive. That's it. There are many reasons for this: 1. Sometimes students have almost grasped a concept, and it gives me a few minutes to wrap up a concept. 2. Very often, parents don't realize that you are on a schedule and wish to chat about their child and their progress; this allows you at least a few minutes to spare with them (although some parents take even longer than 15 minutes to talk ... so you have to politely excuse yourself). 3. In some cases, you will be asked to provide homework... read more

If you want to learn how to program but are getting overwhelmed by the number of options as well as the various wordings in programming language, there is a free program called StencylWorks ( that simplifies the coding language by using blocks to visually show the coding instead of the standard typed languages. A friend of mine has really taken to StencylWorks and is working on a set of tutorials for it. She also offers free help for using StencylWorks through her livestream. If you want to learn how to program, this is a great place to start. You can branch off from Stencyl into Actionscript 3 (the current major programming language for flash) and from there can tackle the basics in most languages.

If you tutor long enough, especially if you tutor long-term for students, these questions are bound to come up one day: questions on religion, sex, gender issues, abortion, etc., the untouchable questions. Being a full-time tutor myself, they come up with frightening regularity, with religious questions coming up at least once a month and sexuality questions a few times a year. As such, I have learned it is best to get an idea of your approach before the questions come. First and foremost, I believe it is important to include parents in any dialogue. I do not mean going to get the parents of the child. Rather, I mean to open the conversation with asking about the student's parents. For example, "Have you asked your parents about their opinions?" or more directly "What did your parents tell you about this?" Find out if the student has reached out to their parents or not. If the student has not, find out why; if the student has asked them, ask what the parents... read more

I am writing this both as a warning to fellow tutors and as an excellent case study of what NOT to do in a business. I do not know if it is just the Barnes and Nobles in West Bloomfield, MI or if this affects more stores nationwide. Today, when I went there, I was shocked to see a new sign at the cafe: "Starting November 11th, we will no longer be allowing tutoring nor game playing in the cafe" (or something very similar). So, be forewarned that B&N may no longer be friendly to tutors anymore (a shame since that location in particular was one of my more popular tutoring locations). Now, as for the case study in business/marketing, this new policy makes no sense. In the evenings (when I am there), about a third of the cafe tables are being used by tutors/group studying and another third by card/rummy players. Most of these tables have plates or drinks on them, showing that these people did indeed buy from the cafe. This B&N even reserves tables for the game... read more

Since my first part of describing full-time tutoring was written when I had been a full-time tutor for about a month, I have decided it is time to do an update. Many things have not changed, but I figured a condensed list of things to know that may come up as a full-time tutor would be helpful to some of you reading this. 1. First and foremost, to be a full-time tutor, one must have a passion for tutoring. There is no substitute for passion (and patience), and it is needed not only to tutor better but also to survive the career. 2. Know that tutoring is unlike any other career that I know of. No two weeks will ever be the same. I'm not just talking about different sections of math books either (although that does change of course). In my experience, my schedule is only a rough estimate of the week ahead. Students will cancel, new students will come in, someone will want additional time to help for a test, etc. 3. Learn to love to drive. It is possible to get students... read more

One thing that I find advisable to many students is to treat their homework as if it was a test. That means no looking back in the book nor notes and putting oneself under time pressure. For the time pressure, I have found a good portion of students know when they are going "fast" vs. taking their time, so I don't advise hard time limits, rather that they self-discipline to stay in that "fast" mode. There are several main benefits I see to this method: 1. It shows the student whether or not they actually know the material by the concepts instead of just memorizing how to do problems based on examples. 2. It makes the student get used to working in "rush" mode, so test time limits don't affect them as much. 3. It allows the student to get done faster so they have more time for other activities. In most cases, treating homework as a test is a win-win. As a tutor, I like to see the focus on the concepts, and the majority of... read more

These are among my least favorite conversations to have. What do you do when a student just is not getting something and you need to build up their confidence without offering false hope? And moreover, what do you do when the father looks to you to offer confidence when the student is obviously struggling? That was the question I had last week with a student struggling in the ACT. I had offered multiple approaches but none of them were working (in the 30% or less correct, not even finishing on time category). My approach is a simple one, albeit I do not know if it is the best (one reason I am writing this blog: for you to comment on your own ideas/suggestions). I tell them that we can keep exploring new alternatives or returning to old ones until we find a method that works. If I have run out of ideas, I expand the possibilities to "perhaps next week I will have some new insight". The design is to keep the hope alive while not sugar-coating the situation. The... read more

When it comes to the ACT (and similarly the SAT), there are many different ways to study. I have found one to be the most efficient use of time. First off, buy or borrow an ACT prep book, one with at least two full-length tests. This way you can start off studying by taking one of the tests from the get-go (WITH time limits, just like a real ACT test). Doing so will allow you to find one's strengths and weaknesses. For example, say you missed a lot of questions on trigonometry; then, you know trigonometry is an area to focus on for studying. Now that your studying is focused, look for how to solve the problems that caused the greatest difficulty. You can generally find how to do problems in other sections of the book, through using a tutor, or even looking for similar problems worked out online. Also, be sure to look at time management suggestions for taking the test itself efficiently. Once you think you have covered all of the main areas of concern, trying taking the... read more

Perhaps the most common question I am asked in physics is "how do I start this problem?" I often use the following 6-step process for solving most physics problems: 1. Determine your starting location and positive direction (look at example for clarification). 2. Write down what you know. This includes any numbers given, their corresponding units, and the corresponding general variables (i.e. V for velocity, D for distance, etc.). 3. Use logic to determine any additional information that you know. For example, if there is a problem that dropping or shooting anything, chances are gravitational acceleration will be involved. 4. Look at all of the variables you have and determine what physics equation(s) that relate the information together with your end goal (what the question is asking for). 5. Solve it down to find the unknown. 6. Use logic to look at your answer and then be sure to use significant digits. For example, say... read more

Yes, there is a second myth that follows that letter around (see my previous blog for part one: the idea that all students can get an "A"). One common misjudgment I see a lot off is the idea that if someone has an "A", then they have learned the material. Just like with the previous myth, this one is indeed true a good portion of the time... but not always the case. Take one of the classes I had in high school for example. I ended up in my Spanish class with a 120%, well over a solid "A". Yet, Spanish is one of the only classes I have ever taken that I don't list as a subject that I tutor. This is because I didn't learn much at all in the class. The teacher designed it for students to pass. For example, anyone who hadn't done their previous homework could work on it in class to finish it. And, as you can guess by my %, extra credit was given out like crazy. I know this is a bit of an extreme case (even though completely true), but... read more

Ah, one of the most controversial topics in all of schooling. There is an idea out there that any student can get an "A" in any subject. While it may sound nice, it's a load of baloney. Now, for a lot of classes and for a lot of students, an "A" or "A-" is a reasonable expectation. The issue is when we try to say that it is possible for any class and any student. Not every student is the same, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. To see what I mean, take an extreme example, such as my Abstract Algebra class in college. 49% was considered an "A" in that class, and very few students even did that well. We had under 2 hours each test to answer 10 questions that would take us weeks to solve as a group. Or, look at the ACT/SAT tests, where you have under a minute per question. Some people (a lot actually) do not have brains wired to think that quickly. Even when they do, quick mistakes are bound to crop up. That is why... read more

This is an issue that I personally run into occasionally. I tutor most students only once per week, but they might have a pressing question on a different day, so how does one help them out without actually going to the house? Both email and phone calls are possible but both lack in how much you can do. Thus, I have been searching for an alternative solution similar to one of my older companies: I used to work for another online tutoring organization before I realized I didn't agree with their ideas on timing (only 15 minutes per student regardless of how many questions). One thing that company did well was to have a good online tutoring system where there is a writing area and a typing area so that discussion and figuring out problems could be handled simultaneously. I do not know why it took me so long to figure it out, but IM is a very viable option for tutoring, especially when combined with a phone call. For example, Yahoo has IMvironments, one of which is called Doodle... read more

I am always pleased to find new ways to learn material. And, when that method is computer games, all the better. For all of you biology students out there studying the make up of cells, I highly advise trying out Cell Craft. It is a free game at Kongregate that goes into decent depth as to how cells function while doing it in a silly fun storyline involving platypus. Seriously though, it is a well-done learning tool that may make learning about cells a bit easier and more fun.

One area I see a lot of students struggle with is how to graph the transformations of graphs. Thus, I have created a format for a simpler way to graph them based on my knowledge and the input of students that I have tutored in the past. I know this looks long, but it is mostly the explanation of two examples. If you already have a general grasp, you may look down to the next bold section (the table) for the example on how I put the transformations together. The first step is to find your four changes: horizontal scale factor, vertical scale factor, horizontal translation (shift), and vertical translation (shift). The horizontals are paired with the X in the original function and the verticals are on the outside. In function notation, if g(x) is your original function, then: f(x) = a * g( b * (x - c) ) + d, where a = vertical scale factor, b = horizontal scale factor, c = horizontal translation, d = vertical translation. For example, if my... read more

Please note first off that this is written primarily about the ACT. I have not taken the other tests, but I have a feeling that what I write here will be at least partially relevant to them. Some of the fundamentals for preparing for the ACT test morning are pretty straightforward: 1. Get enough sleep the night before (and the night before that too. Many forget that two nights ago does have a strong impact on performance). 2. Eat a hearty breakfast. Eggs work well for me, but really anything hot to start the body going, and avoid sausages and the like. Most are made with turkey, which we all know from thanksgiving helps put people to sleep. 3. Leave early so you can arrive early to reduce stress. 4. If you have time to worry, you have time to do some last-minute studying ;) Now, there is one major thing I would like to point out that many of you reading this may not realize about the morning of the ACT: once you enter the building, the test is still far from... read more

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