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Tutoring: teach to the test, or for life?

  1. Nov 29, 2011 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I recently got a job tutoring a High School student in physics. I'm in fourth year at university. I've just had my first session, and I quite enjoyed it. Though I'm now very nervous about my student's upcoming test.

    I'd like to give some interesting physics related examples to teach them (I'm thinking something like Flying Circus of Physics). Also, I'd like to show him several different ways of doing problems, to help overall understanding (it works for me!). However, the education system in this country has students doing several test throughout the year, which MUST be passed. So I don't want to use up the limited time I have showing this stuff, and possibly confusing them with too many methods. They have already failed one test before I met them and are doing the resit soon.

    On the other hand, I'm worried that simply teaching to the tests is only helping them short term, and won't really help with long term understanding. I really want to help them do well in physics, not just scrape a pass. But if they don't pass the tests...

    I gather that there's some experienced tutors and teachers on here. I'm interested in hearing what you guys think. :-)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2011 #2


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    The folks paying you (presumably the parents) may feel that you've been hired to do a very specific job --- don't actually help them in any long-term way, just get their grades up. Disgusting, I know, but since they are paying you, you should consider having that conversation with them.
  4. Nov 29, 2011 #3
    Why are they mutually exclusive?

    'Teaching to the test' often helps a student more than I think many give credit. Subject matter exams and tests given during classes are often done incrementally to establish mastery of relatively basic concepts to move on to more advanced ones. In my experience, tutoring math, students too often look for an easy way out when comprehensive knowledge of the matter is neccessary for success. If your student isn't successful with the methods already presented to him maybe he DOES need to learn them a different way, after all - your student is in need of some tutoring. Just don't lose sight of the end goal (passing the test).
  5. Nov 30, 2011 #4


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    Teach to the test first if it's urgent.

    Teach to the test with understanding. Usually the failing students fail because they don't uderstand. A great student may miss an A because he is too slow, in which case he just needs help with test taking technique. A weak student will be helped most by a strong understanding of the very very few but powerful concepts in physics.

    Several different ways of doing problems is just a bunch of desultory tricks if there is no basic understanding. At an elementary level, inelegant brute force but from first principles demonstrates good basic understanding.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2011
  6. Dec 1, 2011 #5


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    It depends on the student, but most who are in need of regular tutoring need to get through that course with a (hopefully) decent grade. I think that's the first priority, and teaching them extra tricks-of-the-trade is secondary.

    Also, most students who need tutoring don't intend to continue on in physics. At least this is true in high school, where I have done about 95% of my tutoring.
  7. Dec 1, 2011 #6
    I believe in teaching for life, however your being paid to be a tutor so in this circumstance you must teach for tests. When you have your own children, teach them for life.
  8. Dec 1, 2011 #7
    Thanks everyone. I think there's a consensus here.

    Perhaps I have been a little overambitious. I'll concentrate on making the test material as interesting as possible, but I'll avoid branching out too far. I'm going to keep looking for any extra insights and methods, though - if they do come up, I think it would be good to have them to hand.

    Thanks again!
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