There comes a time in everyone’s education when they need some extra help. I vividly remember the many times I had to attend my calculus professor’s office hours for help with problems I was struggling to work through on my own. Sometimes, one detail can be particularly difficult to understand and further explanation is necessary; other times, the concepts may all make sense individually but tying them together seems impossible.
With the level of challenging course work covered, it is no surprise that many people feel the urgent need for extra help when studying for the MCAT. When the high volume of material and nerve-wracking stakes of the test are taken into consideration, it’s easy to see why searching for a tutor could be a smart idea. Before working with a tutor, there are several critical questions you should ask to determine whether he or she would be a true asset to your studies. You’ll notice that they all require a fair amount of self-awareness, however, so make sure you have a good grasp on where you’re at in your MCAT prep process and what type of assistance will help you most.
1. What is your background with this material?
If you’re getting ready to take the MCAT, you’ve most likely gotten through all of the classes that cover the exam’s material—but how long has it been? A tutor with a degree in chemistry or physics should have a tremendous understanding of the concepts you might need to relearn from the basics. If you’re just looking to focus on verbal reasoning, though, a tutor with a degree relevant to that material would be a better fit. Find the person who has proven they have a mastery of the subject in question.
2. How much experience do you have with the MCAT?
If you’re feeling pretty confident about your grasp of the subject matter and are primarily searching for someone who can help you identify good test-taking strategies, experience with the test itself will be much more crucial. Having direct experience with the MCAT’s structure, form, and question types is very important as you zero in on your test day, because it’s extremely different from any other standardized assessment you have taken.
3. Do you assign readings and practice problems?
Some students take great comfort in the security of knowing that there’s a specific plan in place to accomplish all of the work necessary for their MCAT prep, while others feel like a study plan is a giant weight on their backs that will just make them feel guilty when they fall behind. Do you want someone who will give you a plan that you can follow, or would you prefer something a little more free form?
4. Do you set a plan for tutoring sessions or maintain some flexibility?
This is all about personal style. Do you want to take an active role in the content of your tutoring sessions or not? Most tutors will be amenable to either of these approaches, so make sure the two of you agree on a system that accommodates you best. If they run a rigid program that moves ahead quickly and you still need to talk about the lessons that have been challenging you for the past few weeks, then this may not be a good fit. On the other hand, if you are feeling overwhelmed by everything and the tutor leaves it all to you to select what you’d like to work on, that may just make you feel like you’re drowning in material and can’t pick out what’s most pressing.
5. How do you think I should balance my MCAT studies with the rest of my life while I’m working on this?
This may seem like an odd question, but it’s very important. No one really enjoys doing all this work, and some people choose to stretch it out over a longer period of time so they can continue being involved in other things. Others, however, prefer to just zero in and try to get it over with as quickly as possible. If you and your tutor feel differently about this, they may be pushing you to work harder than you’re comfortable with or might be unprepared to keep up with your high-paced schedule.
It should be noted that none of these are rigidly binary categories. Experience with the MCAT and expertise in the sciences are certainly not mutually exclusive; many tutors are fine with either a structured or a free-form schedule, and many tutors can also adapt their plans to the way that you want to approach the test. Remember—you must know exactly what you are looking for so you can ensure the tutor you choose to work with will be a good match.