Thoughts on Tutoring by Robb

Tutoring to me, from my experience, is several things. To be a good tutor you should be patient, listen, try different approaches, learn what works and what doesn’t, for each student client, and don’t be afraid to give tough advice.


When I first meet a student, he or she is usually afraid of failing, stressed out, some on the verge of tears. The student needs someone to encourage him/her, to raise self-esteem, almost serve as a counselor. I try to make sure my students know they are in good hands, that they chose THE tutor for the job. With my experience and success, I know that’s true for my subject: organic chemistry. I also know and ensure the students that they are not stupid, that they will pass their class and go on to be a success in their career no matter how they do in ochem. I have discovered that there is a direct correlation with how bad you are at organic chemistry to how great a doctor you will be. My dad is a neurosurgeon and sucked at ochem. One of my worst students ever became a neurosurgeon, other students are now veterinarians, nurses, have great jobs. One even became a patent lawyer.  I also  know that I can help them immensely. That’s just my confidence.


The goal is to transfer that confidence to students through success on tests and the final. So, at first, I am cheerleader, then I am collaborator, a member of a two person team. I tell them I am not to blame for them failing a test nor am I to credit for them succeeding on a test. I am merely a guide on a trail. They have to hike the trail themselves. They have to put in the work, but I will save them hours of frustration or prevent them from going down the wrong path. Often, I have to “unlearn” them as some professors teach the subject poorly or in a way that just confuses students. Most professors know how to teach the subject, but a lecture is far less efficient than one-on-one tutoring can be.


During the first session you need not only to impress them with your knowledge but also with your ability to turn difficult, confusing concepts into simple, easy to understand terms. This can achieved several ways but my style and strength is to make the material funny, memorable, and actually fun. I show students how to attack problems, what the common patterns are, how professors try to trick students, how they word questions, and the typical questions students should expect on tests. There are some pretty common questions. After the first session you build rapport and even greater trust. You always want to encourage them but you also want them to make mistakes, show them where they tend to err, and have them practice both in front of you and on their own.


I teach students how to practice tests fast, to mimic the testing environment, and I create some great sample problems. In fact, professors have seen my sample tests and said “that’s a great question.” If they have old tests from their professor, I make new tests that look exactly like their old tests (I know how to use ChemDraw) with both similar and harder questions. I sit with them in their actual class, when it’s empty, and give them sample tests to practice. I pace the rows, I distract them, I declare “10 minutes left”, and anything else to stress out the practice test session. I sometimes bring all my students together to race each other, making it a competition. Being a study skills expert has made me a very successful tutor and tutoring service owner. In fact, my “Guaranteed A or B or FREE!” program started 25 years ago with my organic chemistry students. If you can guarantee a grade in organic chemistry, you can guarantee a grade in any class. Organic Chemistry is known as the hardest class on a college campus. Even Engineering majors have told me they hate that class!


But nothing matters more for student confidence than kicking butt in their class. Results are my litmus test, and my students either pass or lead the class. I am very proud of my work and my career. Nothing is more important to me than a successful student. I have even cut my rates if a student can’t afford me. No student gets left behind is my motto.



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