Does tutoring work?

I have been involved with tutoring for around 10 years, from private tutoring as a freelancer, to working for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Chemistry as a tutor, contract lecturer, teaching high school science and finally to founding and managing a tutoring service.

The main thing that I have seen time and again, be at a private one-on-one session or a large group tutoring session, is that tutoring has a great impact on students – in many cases even more than classical class style teaching and lecturing.


That is difficult to answer. I think it is a combination of factors that leads to an optimal learning environment for the student.

I will quickly outline some of the factors we have observed to make a great impact on students. (This is not an expansive list – there are many resources on the web for the generic explanations and lists of benefits)

1. A tutor is a peer, not an authority figure

Tutors are usually a similar age to the tutee. There is less of a generation gap, the tutor has more intimate insights into the mindset up the tutee, and has just a short while ago been in the exact same shoes as the tutee. With this comes a unique level of respect – the tutor is a peer mentor and a role model. The tutor is an example of an achievable level of success.

2. A tutor does not provide information but guides the tutee to work with the information themselves

In a classroom approach, the student can become passive receivers of information, with the teacher or lecturer the gatekeeper of that information. Classrooms may create an environment where the students wait for guidance from the teacher or lecturer – the tutee has little or no responsibility or ownership of the time spent or the information shared. Tutors (well, good ones at least) facilitate learning where the tutee has the responsibility to highlight what part of the coursework is challenging, and where they need assistance. Tutors than provide a safe space where errors can be made without judgement of other peers or authority figures. Tutors do not provide information and the environment changes from trying to understand what the teacher or lecturer is teaching in class to how can we work with the information to achieve the goal – not just passing the assignments and tests but to be able to grasp the work to apply it to new situations.

3. A tutoring session cuts into free-time

Few things in life make you pay attention like when something costs you money or takes up your free time. School and varsity lectures are part of the students job – you attend class and you need to be there and get it done. After school becomes your time to manage – to finish homework and assignments to get to do stuff you like to do. Tutoring takes up some of your free time – this is a great motivator for tutees who decide to get a tutor themselves for their own benefit. Either you use the time spent with the tutor well – or you waste your free time. It is very important for teachers and parents who recommend additional tutoring for students to realise that the decision must lie with the student to want a tutor. If the student has no real part in the decision-making process, it is no longer free time that he/she is voluntarily using for their own benefit, but something that is part of the job. Ever worked at a job that you were not great at, did not like, and did not provide you with any clear goals and attainable success?

So, does tutoring work?

I have never come across a situation where a good tutor (that is trained in best practices) has not been able to help a student improve on their grades. Over the past 10 years I have observed ineffective tutoring; participated in institutional teaching, lecturing and tutoring programs; and finally started a tutoring service that addresses many of the inefficiencies I have experienced both as an educator, tutor and as a student.

Bad tutors and poor motives for becoming a tutor creates situations where students lose out on the value that tutoring can bring. Choose your tutors and tutoring service wisely – good tutoring always works.