Articles abound about how to be a good tutor, but few tell a student what to expect and how to prepare for a tutoring session. With proper groundwork, the meeting can be much more lucrative for both parties, resulting in less “wasted” time.

First, students should do the homework just like they would for class (or should). That may involve reading the chapter, answering questions on a worksheet or doing sample problems. If specific terms or problems are causing the trouble, the student should mark them.

When the tutor arrives, the first question will probably be something like, “What are you having trouble with?” The answer needs to be as specific as possible. “I don’t understand what I should put under assets and liabilities in this kind of situation” is much clearer than “journaling.” Having specific sample problems or concepts written down will help the tutor focus on the immediate problem rather than spend time discussing issues the student already understands.

Having some previous tests or scored homework as well as a class syllabus can also help the tutor see where the solutions lie. For instance, a tutor may notice that the same types of problems are consistently missed or that the issue may more likely be test anxiety rather than the subject matter. Knowing the instructor’s expectations, a tutor may be able to guide students along the best path to pass the class or what kinds of questions to anticipate on an exam.

Students should have appropriate expectations for the tutoring session, as well. Many students expect a tutor to help them with their homework, but a good tutor won’t. Instead, he/she will pick similar problems or issues and discuss with the student how to complete them or what they mean, asking questions along the way. A tutoring session is meant to help students grasp the concepts they are struggling with rather than help them get a good grade on a single assignment.

Tutoring sessions can often help students with more than content material, as well. Most tutors are versed in study skills, the aptitudes that apply to nearly all courses. These ideas include reading skills, test-taking, and time management.

Reading skills can be vital for students who read a chapter over and over, wasting a lot of study time, and so need some advice on how to read less and comprehend more. A common tactic tutors use is to tell students to turn headings in the text into questions. They should then read until they can answer the question. For example, a heading that says “Medicine of Ancient Egypt” is easily turned into the question “what were the medicines available in Ancient Egypt?” As the student reads, the answers to the questions can be highlighted, underlined or written down in notes. Then there is no need to re-read that section; studying is done by reading the marked portions only.

Test-taking tips largely help students with time and confidence during exams. Questions that are obvious answers should be answered first. Then the focus should be on point value. If an essay question is worth 50 points and the 10 multiple-choice questions left are worth 1 point each, time should be spent on the essay question. The others are usually easily answered in a couple minutes at the end. Sometimes students feel a sudden panic during a test, causing them to forget all the answers. Sitting back, taking some deep breaths, and doing some positive self-talk (“I am doing just fine. I studied hard and know these answers. If time is short, I just need to focus”). The 15 seconds it takes for this exercise will more than make up for itself.

For other students, time management is the biggest problem. Using a block schedule in which time is marked for study as well as relaxation can alleviate some of the stress about schoolwork as long as the schedule is followed. A tutor can help devise a workable schedule that the student can stick to.

If any of these issues are bothersome, the student should be prepared to discuss that with the tutor, as well. Working in concert, practicing good study habits as well as filling in gaps in content knowledge can help a student catch up quickly and also create a good base for further learning.

A good tutoring session can leave everyone satisfied: tutor, student, and whoever is paying the bill. Preparation by the student is the most important element for creating such a good session.