As an industry veteran, I’ve looked through the websites of many competing tutoring companies and owner-operators. For the owner-operators, a selling point is often that other companies employ “graduate students doing tutoring as a side gig,” while the owner-operator is – by contrast – a “full-time professional tutor.” The former is many people’s picture of the test prep tutor – an intelligent graduate student doing hourly tutoring as a side job, not a serious pursuit. But is this characterization fair? That depends on the company. In many cases, test prep tutors are quite a bit more qualified in the field of education than that characterization suggests. While smart graduate students can certainly deliver effective instruction sometimes – many great and experienced tutors were those smart grad students at one point – a professional tutor will have a larger breadth of knowledge and pedagogy, a much larger body of positive score outcomes, and a record of consistent performance across almost all types of students. As a result, companies who develop and employ professional tutors will consistently help deliver the best results for their students.

My own staff provides a clear example of what a professional tutoring staff looks like. Of our 17 tutors, seven are full-time high-school teachers. Two are college professors. Eleven already have Masters Degrees or higher; two more are teachers currently pursuing M. Eds. And most importantly, all of us have logged hundreds if not thousands of hours of tutoring, on top of all of our teaching hours. This is an experienced group! Every member of our staff has been with us for a year or more. The vast majority already work in the fields of education or research.

The picture I’ve painted of my own company applies broadly to tutoring companies in the NTPA. Our staffs are populated by experienced and skilled educators who went through a tough interview process and a rigorous training regimen; many tutors have even trained at more than one company. These people are deeply familiar with all of the materials, practice problems, and practice tests with which they work. Some companies have training programs that extend over 100 hours before tutors see their first students!

Professional tutors deliver score improvements reliably and predictably. They give ethical and correct advice to families about testing plans, policies and procedures, best practices, and study materials, as well as developments with and changes to the tests themselves. They possess an impressive collection of references and student success stories. And possibly most importantly, they possess a rich knowledge of the student experience, skillfully able to address anxiety, motivation, organization, pacing, and other soft skills just as essential to the tutoring process as content knowledge. For these people, testing is not a side job.

Professional tutoring, for test preparation or for academic subjects, also requires a larger and more defined body of knowledge than many might think. You need to know a massive number of concepts, formulas, and strategies, and be able to communicate them in memorable and intuitive ways. You need to be familiar with the enormous range of preparation books, programs, and companies in the tutoring market. You need to be in tune with the diverse testing policies across colleges and the field of college admissions in general. You need to know curricular differences between schools and districts. All of this knowledge is not centralized in any way, so it is only obtained through hours of experience with a panoply of students.

Differences in tutor quality can be hard for newcomers to the market to recognize. But superior tutors do exist, and their unique combination of experience, training, ethics, and results can provide enormous benefits for your students. Seek us out!

An eighteen-year test preparation veteran and lifelong Massachusetts resident, Ben Sexton runs Sexton Test Prep and Tutoring with his wife, Sarah, out of their home in MetroWest Boston. With a team of sixteen tutors, STP helps more than 400 students each year meet their academic and test preparation goals through classroom and one-on-one programs. Ben has written complete curriculums for the ACT and each of the last three versions of the SAT, having worked through hundreds of official tests over nearly 15000 hours spent tutoring with students. He resides in Dover, MA, with Sarah, their two boys – Wyatt (4) and Drew (1) – and their dachshund Beso. Ben enjoys all Boston sports, entrepreneurship, collectibles, oysters, and working with the NTPA Advocacy committee.