How to Use Tutoring in College

College AdviceTutoring Isn’t Just for Failing Students

Often we associate tutoring as something failing students do in order to scrape by with a pass.  Tutoring, however, is not only for students who are not passing, nor is it advisable to wait for help until you are failing.  Rather, it is beneficial to start taking advantage of tutoring if you are getting “C’s” but want to do better or even if you are earning “B’s” but are hopeful for an “A.”  Waiting until you are failing often means it is too late for you to turn yourself around in a meaningful way; a tutor cannot cover a month or three months of the semester in a one-hour session.  However, if you start early, you can change your course before you get into trouble.  If your college offers free tutoring, you should take advantage of it, even if you do not think you need it.

Tutoring Can Surprise You

It is a truth universally acknowledged that students are not very good about knowing what they do not know.  This is why even students who are accustomed to earning “A’s” sometimes find themselves confused when they start to struggle.  Going to tutoring even when you think you do not need it can reveal knowledge and strategies you did not realize you could use to make your work even stronger.  For instance, maybe you are really, really good at writing a five-paragraph essay–but a writing tutor can explain why you will never earn higher than a “B” in college writing this way.  Or maybe you always were good at math until you got to Professor X’s class.  A tutor may suggest study strategies that will work more effectively for you in a new situation.  Going to tutoring at least once is a worthwhile use of your time.

Preparing for Your Tutoring Sessions

If you are filling out a form online for tutoring, you want to provide: the class, the type of assignment you need help with, and the specific concerns you have.  It is very important that you explain as specifically as possible what kind of help you need.  If you are seeing a math tutor, saying you need help with “math problems” does not give them enough information to prepare their tutoring session with you.  Explain what types of problems, what types of format (worksheet, paper, online assignment, etc.), and what specifically you do not understand.  Likewise, do not tell a writing tutor that you need help with “a paper.”  They already know you’re writing a paper (probably) because they are, after all, a writing tutor.  They need to know if you’ll be brainstorming together, working on an outline, or reviewing a finished draft for structure or for integration of sources or for something else.  They also need to know what genre you are working with: a summary, a literary analysis, a creative fiction piece, etc.  That way they know what materials to have ready and what kinds of strategies to employ.

Why You Should Never Arrive Excessively Early

You may have heard that you should arrive 10-15 minutes early for an appointment.  This makes sense if you are going somewhere like a doctor’s office where there is a reception area for you to wait while you fill out papers.  However, if you are going to tutoring, arriving fifteen minutes early to a half hour session does not make as much sense.  Consider the following scenarios:

  • Your tutor is already working with someone else.  You are going to have to wait 15 minutes for your turn.
  • Your tutor is actually on break.  They are not allowed to tutor you outside their working hours.  You are going to have to wait.
  • Your tutor does not begin work until 9:00.  You showed up at 8:45.  You are going to have to wait.
  • Your tutor did happen to finish up their previous session early, but now they are filling out paperwork and scanning your files to prepare for your session.  You are going to have to wait.

In almost any scenario in which you show up fifteen minutes early, you are going to have to wait.  Many students show up early because they are hoping to get a 45-minute tutoring session instead of a 30-minute session, or an hour and fifteen minutes instead of an hour.  However, this is not how tutoring works.  If you make an agreement with someone that you will show up at a specific time and will stay a specific length of time, you should honor that agreement.  Doing otherwise is suggesting to your tutor that you believe that your time is more important than theirs.  This is not how you want to start off your relationship with your tutor!

At the Session

Always arrive with your assignment and any rubric in hand.  Your tutor will not be as effective if they do not understand exactly what your instructor is looking for.  Some instructors may be assigning summary papers and some may be assigning analytical papers.  Some instructors may want you to reference specific sources or want you to answer specific questions.  Your tutor can’t help you fulfill the assignment if they do not know what the assignment is.

Also be prepared to work actively.  An effective tutor guides students to find the answers themselves.  They may ask you to write sample theses or to find and correct your patterns of error.  They may give you similar problems to work on.  They are not going to proofread your paper for you or do the math problem while you watch.  (Indeed, many writing tutors do not work with grammar at all because they do not want to be used as proofreaders, so check your tutor’s policies beforehand.)

Before you leave, take notes about what you learned and what next steps you will take.

After the Session

Be prepared to follow through with what you learned.  If your tutor gave you strategies to use, find ways to put them into practice.  If they gave you three steps to do while you continue to revise your work, do the steps.  Then, make a follow up appointment.  Tutoring works best when it’s a consistent effort.

10 thoughts on “How to Use Tutoring in College

  1. Briana says:

    As someone who has tutored for a lot of students, I second bringing the assignment sheet. Please, just bring the actual instructions you were given. Some people try to paraphrase with something like “I have to write about bullying,” but then I still have no idea whether this is an argumentative paper, a summary, a research paper, etc. I can’t make judgments about what the thesis should be doing, whether you should be using “I” and personal examples or not, etc. Please bring the assignment sheet. 😉


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, it is pretty amazing that many students don’t understand they need to refer to the assignment prompt to fulfill the assignment. And paraphrases of the directions are seldom complete or accurate!


  2. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    I am working in a university writing centre again this year after a three year break and I am glad to see this post! I hope it will be helpful to some students – especially the part about being specific about what kind of help they need…


    • Krysta says:

      I think the problem may be that students may sometimes not understand that specifying their assignment and need is important. Teachers, after all, sometimes talk like all writing is the same. “Weak thesis” may be all the marks a student gets back on a paper. Without specifics, this comment suggests that there is one correct way to write a “strong thesis,” regardless of what you are writing. So, naturally, the student doesn’t bother to distinguish between an argumentative paper or a research paper when seeking help because it all must be one and the same.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Yes, my favorite conversation. :p

      “What do you want to talk about?”
      “My paper.”
      “Ok, what questions do you have about it?”
      “How can I make it better?”
      “Ok, but…more specifically?”
      “Is it good?”

      Liked by 2 people

        • Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

          Yup, that’s the conversation I hear most frequently, but change “Is it good?” to “Grammar???”, haha. We actually had a training session this year about how to figure out what the student needs/wants help with when they don’t know how to articulate it – important skill for a writing tutor.


          • Krysta says:

            Ah yes, the grammar. Sadly, I see a lot teachers marking up all the grammar on papers and writing one sentence or phrase at the end. So, of course, the students think, “I clearly got a ‘C’ based on my grammar so I’ll just have someone proofread it and it will be an ‘A.'” Sadly, that is not how it works. But I see why the students get obsessive.


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