Over a decade ago, when I was in college, I convinced my parents to allow me to have a Maths and Physics tutor despite the financial costs. At the time, I was achieving above average grades but I knew that I could perform much better.

I came to realise that what I needed was to see an expert solve the kind of problems that were given to us as students. I needed to see how they would be solved from scratch.

I really looked forward to my fortnightly sessions with my tutor because I valued them greatly. I knew that I would get so much out of them. I would circle the questions that I struggled with and wait impatiently for my tutor to unblock me. I remember that I was fascinated seeing my tutor solving particular problems because he made it appear really easy. This experience was truly an eye-opener.

A reason for becoming a tutor

Fast forward a few years, I decided to become a tutor too. I was inspired to implement the same style of teaching that I had received from my previous tutor because I saw how effective it was. Although there are a variety of techniques that tutors adopt to teach their students, I have found that lessons that focused on practice were the most effective. The students also found these types of lessons to be the most valuable to their learning.

Why focusing on practice is important

There are many reasons why I am a firm believer in learning through practice. Firstly, it makes the lessons much more engaging.

Solving a problem with a student is a bit like telling them a story and allowing them to guess what will happen next.

It doesn’t matter if their guess is wrong because the tutor is there to have their back and to lead them. The student realises that they will have to take over soon so if they switch off even for a few seconds, they will no longer understand what is going on.

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This approach also ties in with the importance using examples to teach because they are more relatable. Personally, I try to avoid dedicating more than a quarter of the lesson on theory unless a student explicitly asks for it because focusing heavily on theory makes the lessons much drier.

Making it seem like time has flown by during a lesson is a good sign. The student usually feels satisfied with the substantial level of content covered. They will often realise that they learned more in one hour than in the whole week of the subject at school. Making sessions feel short can be achieved really well through exercises.

Asking the student to go through theory on their own

When a student is asked to go through the theory independently before the lesson with the tutor, it is really beneficial for them. They know what to expect and this prepares them and allows the tutor to focus more on exercises. Just as the tutor should arrive prepared before the lesson, students need to make sure that they are aware of what will be covered during the one-to-one session.

Possible tips

I usually ask the student not to write anything at the start. I ask them to just watch and listen to my explanations whilst I solve the first couple of practice questions with them. This stops them from losing their focus on trying to make notes.

It also shows them the level of rigour expected from them. Later on, I let them solve the rest of the problems independently whilst I watch them. I let them look at my solution in case they get stuck.

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Seeing them tackle the problem allows me to give them instantaneous feedback. This entire procedure builds up their confidence in the end because they know that they are capable of reaching a solution.

Although the purpose of learning shouldn’t be entirely to pass exams, students will have better exposure to what may be expected from them in their exams. Encouraging them to pick questions from a variety of sources extends their scope. For example, these can be a variety of books or past papers that are not just the most recent ones.

Finally, requesting students to redo all of the questions independently after the one-to-one lesson is extremely beneficial to them. This consolidates their understanding and their experience in dealing with any problem. This approach can also be extended to becoming outstanding in various subjects and for later on in their careers.

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