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Poor Exam Results After Tutoring, Why?

Home > Maths Tutoring Blog > Poor Exam Results After Tutoring, Why?

Poor Exam Results After Tutoring, Why?

2018-08-03T00:45:04+00:00 Posted in All About Exams, Structuring Lessons by

One of my students, Sarah, has just performed very poorly in her exam, scoring in the 40s. We’ve been working together for a few months and it seemed to going ok but her performance was FAR below expectations. I’m not sure what to say to the client or how to keep up the student’s confidence after such a blow. Also, not sure if I’m doing something wrong here?


This is a very generically described problem and there are several considerations to deal with.

Firstly, if she performed so far below expectations, there must be a reason, perhaps several.

Looking at this student’s hours in the last 3 months, reason #1 becomes quite obvious:

# hours tutored in April: 0
# hours tutored in March: 6
# hours tutored in Feb: 1

Tutoring works when it is consistent, systematic, structured and reflective in nature. More importantly, this is the ONLY way it works. You can’t cram 5 years of mathematics in one month, regardless of how much tutoring is done during that month. Mathematics can only be learned step by step and any new content must be laid upon existing foundations. Comprehension of maths is like an onion. There are layers of understanding and over the course of years the same concepts keep arising in different contexts – this creates meaning and comprehension. A student who has 6 lessons in one month and then zero lessons the next month either:

a)    Does not understand this fundamental concept
b)    Does not care about her results

As a first point of order you should explain this to the student and probably to the parents also. Their expectations need to be managed so that everyone is on the same page regarding:

•    What they want to achieve
•    What it will take to achieve it
•    What effort they are willing to contribute

This may be a confronting or slightly uncomfortable conversation but it is a necessary responsibility as a tutor. If you are to help this student achieve her goals she needs to understand what it will take and decide for herself if she is willing given the requirements.

As a maths tutor yourself, surely there are ways to improve your teaching technique. One immediate criticism would be that the student was allowed to continue for so long without a push for regularity and consistency. However, regardless of how good you are as a tutor, if the student is having tutoring so haphazardly there is not much you can do. Self reflection is great but in this case the first item of business is to get a consistent commitment and effort from the student.

If the student is unwilling then the question becomes “How do i best help the student given the lack of commitment and effort” but hopefully it won’t come to that.