How To Best Use Your Math Tutoring Sessions

In thinking about how to best use math tutoring sessions, think about what brought you to tutoring. Most students, regardless of their math history or ability, come to me in crisis. And thatís OK.

Other students seek help of their own accord and just want to know there is help when they need it. These are my intermittent students, my next largest group.

Thirdly, there are students who use me as grade insurance and meet with me regularly. Whether youíre trying for an A, a B, or a C, these students want regular sessions to make sure they keep their grade. Or keep their grade with the least amount of effort or time. They understand that using my help on a regular basis makes their math life a lot easier. And it saves them time on schoolwork. That’s the biggest benefit.

So, be honest about why youíre here and you can glean the advice that helps you with your math…and your life.

If Youíre In Math Crisis

If youíre in crisis, youíre in the majority. Trust me, there are many others in your class who are also in crisis. Itís just that in some schools and some peer groups, you know to keep your poker face. Nobody wants to admit they want help or need help in some circles. Some see it as a weakness.

Ha! Valedictorians have sought my help. So, too, have students aiming for and achieving a perfect score on their SAT or a 5 on their AP Calculus exam. Thereís no weakness in seeking help.†Actually, it makes sense to use resources available to you to save time and energy.

Hey, try this analogy: Iím like your personal trainer. Almost all action movie stars have personal trainers. Do you see that as a sign of weakness? I donít think so. They know itís an investment. They want the results as quickly as possible and want to know they’re making progress with each session.

So, too, is math tutoring. If youíre in crisis, itís an investment in saving you from the fear of failing your class. Or, the misery of not knowing how to breathe. Up until now, you mightíve been able to keep up. But, for whatever reason, you really feel lost. And that can be scary.

In that case, youíll want to set hour long sessions if youíre in high school or above. For middle schoolers, Ĺ hour sessions are probably better.

At first, more frequent sessions are more beneficial than marathon sessions. Even 30 minute sessions can help a lot. Just knowing you can learn the material is a big help. It will help you alleviate a lot of math-induced stress.

It Might Take Time

Be patient. Help is here and your understanding will improve. Just keep in mind there is a lag between understanding and grade improvement.

Also, if you havenít been doing well recently, there is a chance that nerves take over on your first quiz or test after tutoring. Usually, it takes most students about 3-4 sessions before their mojo fully returns. That’s the first milestone. Usually, within 3-6 sessions, you’ll see your grade start to improve again.

About More Frequent Sessions

Yes, more frequent sessions are better than longer, 90-120 minute sessions for best use of your math tutoring sessions. No matter how much willpower you have and your math ability, there is a sweet spot for session times. For most high school students, one hour is about as much as they can take when theyíre in crisis.

Longer sessions are helpful only if

– Youíre relaxed about your grade.

– Youíre at least in 10th grade, so you have some academic maturity.

– You have experience tutoring with 60-minute sessions and know you can handle a 90-minute session.

After Youíve Overcome Your Immediate Math Crisis

So, it might be 2-4 weeks before youíve overcome your math crisis. You are starting to understand again and can keep up with most of the lessons. When you need help with less than half the material or just with particular details of your current material, youíre out of crisis mode.

Now comes the time to figure out what works best for you. Most students become intermittent or regular tutoring students. And many students flip-flop between the two.

Generally, the older you are, the better you are at gauging how often you need help, especially if math has been one of your strong suits. At least up until your recent crisis.

For example: One of my students met with me only once or twice before semester finals starting her freshman year and this pattern lasting all the way to junior year. It wasnít until she was taking calculus her senior year that she started to meet on a weekly basis. And that wasnít because she needed help, as she had earned A grades in all of her high school math classes. Itís just that she was a high-functioning student involved in a lot of AP classes and extracurriculars (she was also a cheerleader). She wanted to save time.

Thatís what math tutoring was for her: a way to save time on her most academically demanding class. Setting an hour session each week helped her keep her calculus grade at an A-level. If she had extra time during a session, weíd focus on learning the next topic or two.

For Middle School Students To Best Use Math Tutoring Sessions

You will probably want to start with 30-minute sessions after your first (hour-long introductory) session. We want to work from 30-minute sessions once or twice weekly at first. You can always make one of your sessions an hour long just to see if that length of time works for you.

Again, shorter, more frequent sessions tend to work better for students, especially middle-schoolers. The problem with longer sessions are:

– you might complete all of their work by the 30-minute mark

– you might have difficulty focusing the last 20 minutes of a 60-minute session.

In either of these scenarios, you won’t look forward to your next session. Even if an hour-long session helps, you might dread it as it’s too long. Rather, you to look forward to your tutoring sessions. You want to want your next session.

Last Piece Of Advice For Making the Best Use Of Your Math Tutoring Sessions

You can always text me last minute for a session. While there is a chance a 60-minute session might be available, it’s more likely that a 30-minute session is available. So, if it’s a last minute you want, please text me:

-the time window that works

-how long you want or would accept the session

-what we’d be working on

An example text would look like this:

Sue wants a 60-minute session to cover her precalculus test review for a test tomorrow. She’s available anytime from 4:00 or later. If you don’t have a 60-minute session, a 30-minute session will work. Meanwhile, she’ll post the PDF on her Ziteboard.

Thanks. Sue’s mom.

So, you can always text me so long as you have credit hours in your account.

Let me know if you have any questions about how to best use your math tutoring sessions.

Good luck!


By Martin

Martin McSweeney is a National Merit Finalist, Pomona College Graduate, and member of MENSA. He has worked at the Center for Talented Youth (Loyola Marymount University campus); Upward Bound (Harvey Mudd campus); various test prep companies; and Whittier High School. Now, Martin helps students of all abilities improve their relationship with math.