Archive for March, 2012

These are good tips for choosing a tutor, but I cannot guarantee you will get a winner using them, or that you won’t pass on someone who would have been great. Looking for tips on choosing a tutoring company? Check out my How doth the little crocodile blog entry.


  • Do they offer a free diagnostic test from a previous actual SAT test? If you happen to have an existing PSAT or SAT score you are comfortable with using as a baseline that’s fine. But if they don’t offer to help you get a real baseline score first, don’t even meet them. Noone can tell you how much your child has improved without a reasonably accurate idea where they are starting from.

  • Are they willing to explain some problems to you directly, or to your child with you present? If the answer is no, don’t even meet them. Saying “I don’t want to hand out hours of free tutoring or special approaches I use” is fair. Saying “I cannot think of *anything* I can demonstrate to you for free isn’t/

  • Are they trying to convince you they can guarantee a massive increase in a few hours of tutoring, or that they can get any student to a perfect score if you purchase enough hours? Don’t even meet them. Test prep doesn’t work well in just a few hours – you’ll either be disappointed, or discover you are being set up for a ‘oh, I guess we need to do more’ routine. Score gains depend on a lot of factors – noone can get every student a perfect score. Both of these scams usually involve putting the blame on your kids for either not ‘getting it fast enough’ or ‘not trying hard enough’. Don’t put your child through a guilt trip just because someone didn’t want to be upfront about what it would cost and what to expect.

  • Is there any suggestion that you can’t back out once you’ve paid a set program fee? Don’t meet even them. NOONE is the right tutor for every child, and the only ethical thing to do in that situation is refund the remainder of your money.

  • Are they claiming that all students should always answer every question, that they know the secret to which test dates are supposedly easier, or that all colleges superscore? Don’t meet even them. None of those is true and any tutor who doesn’t know that isn’t even trying to stay informed. They just want flashy simplifications that will create a feeling of insider knowledge and magic trick.

Ok, you’ve found one promising enough to meet. SHOULD YOU HIRE THEM?

  • After hearing them explain a few things, ask yourself two questions. Do I believe this person understands the material? And, do I believe they can explain it clearly to my child? We have all had teachers who were clueless and we have all had teachers who were very knowledgable, but didn’t have the ability to communicate effectively with their students. You want someone who can deliver on all levels, non-negotiable. If they don’t make you feel that way, don’t hire.

  • Can they explain what materials they intend to use and why? If not, don’t hire (and frankly, I’d be leery of anyone who isn’t using The Official SAT Study Guide or The Real ACT Prep Guide as a major resource for practice material).

  • Can they explain how they will adapt the tutoring to your child as an individual? Bear in mind, the details will change as they get to know your child better. But they should be able to give you something more specific than “Oh, I always gear it toward the student.” If they can’t, don’t hire.

Great! You’ve found someone who comfortably meets all these criteria. The tutoring seems to be going well, and you feel confident it is helping. But you’re wondering what to look out for along the way, signs that things are even better than you had hoped, that you’ve hit the tutor jackpot. SHOULD YOU BE JUMPING FOR JOY?

  • Does your child enjoy their sessions? No, I am not kidding. If they have had 2-3 sessions and you aren’t seeing any signs that your child is enjoying it at least a little bit, you may want to reconsider your choice in tutors.

  • Does your child seem less nervous about the prospect of taking the real test?You should be seeing their confidence increase.

  • Is your child sharing things with you about the sessions that they think are interesting or showing other signs of deep processing? Did they talk about a great tip they learned? Something interesting in a passage they read? Maybe it’s not even something they mention; you just start to notice they are using a higher level of vocabulary naturally or that their other grades are improving.

These, my friend, are excellent signs that your child is getting a great deal out of their test prep tutoring!


     Deciding whether or not to guess when you have 5 answers left is a perfect example of one of the key principles of mastering SAT math – step back. Take a moment to process the problem and be sure your set-up is correct, because if it isn’t, everything else will go wrong.

     There are problems that look hard, but if you step back and process the concepts, you discover they are actually quite easy. And, of course, the other trickster – the problem that looks easier than it actually is. One example of this is the classic problem about traveling 30 mph going to a location and 50 mph on your way home – you are asked for your average speed and there’s a temptation to just say to yourself “Hey, the average of 30 and 50 is 40. It’s 40, I’m done!” But if you step back from the problem and think, you will realise that it must have taken longer to get there (since you were going more slowly) than it took to get home, and that the extra traveling time must have dragged your average speed down. Dangitall, there are going to be extra steps.

     So, let’s now look at guessing at 5. You might run across people who advocate this and their logic is as follows:  Since you gain 1 point for every right answer and lose 1/4 for each wrong answer, you will get 1 right and 4 wrong out of every 5 questions. 1 – 4(1/4) = 0 so they declare that there is in fact ‘no penalty for guessing’ and proceed to try to convince you this is a safe plan. And admittedly, it looks good at first and triggers an eye-widening omg effect as the reader thinks they have stumbled upon some revelation.

     Now there are a lot of potential problems with this approach, but we won’t be going into all of them right now. On its own terms, a crucial mistake has already been made. So what went wrong? The proponents did not step back. Stop and think – does it make any sense that you can be 100% sure of getting exactly 1 right and 4 wrong? Of course not. You might get 0, 2, 3, 4, or 5 right. To properly assess the probability, we need to put it in context. Like a weighted average, we need to factor in the likelihood of every possible outcome for those 5 questions.

     We now redo the math, correctly, and discover that getting 1 right and 4 wrong, far from being a guaranteed starting point, actually only occurs less than half of the time (about 41%). The next most likely scenario (at about 33%)? You guessed it – getting all 5 wrong. 😯 Your odds of getting all 5 wrong are much greater than your odds of getting 2, 3, 4 or 5 combined.

Welcome to Gotham Tutoring’s SAT blog 😀

I will be using this blog primarily to discuss specific SAT and ACT issues. If you are looking for general advice, it’s out there in abundance and I don’t intend to rewrite all of it. If you find a lot of conflicting information on something, please let me know and I will try to help you sort it out. Blogging is a new venture for me and I’ll be editing a lot. I would appreciate it if you didn’t link to any articles until you know from me that they are ready.