Does Tutoring Actually Help or is it BS?

Is tutoring all bs?
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Here’s an unbiased look at tutoring, for someone who bothers to think about it for more than 5 seconds. Now, I can understand you might be sceptical – “Isn’t this obviously going to sell me more tutoring, given that it’s posted by a company that sells tutoring?”

Here’s the magic secret 🎩🐇 I wouldn’t do something I don’t genuinely believe in. I challenge you to find any flaws in this post.

💡 This is a question I get asked a lot – especially by parents. So much in fact that I’ve even made a video about it on the free section of the website.

What is tutoring?

Very simply, tutoring gives you information.

A good tutor can explain it in a way that makes more sense to you. This is because:

  1. UoA lecturers receive minimal (sometimes zero) training in how to teach effectively, which means that sometimes they are just droning on facts on top of facts. This can be very difficult to follow if you don’t already know about the subject (not to mention boring).
  2. Lecturers can have something called expert bias; they don’t know what you don’t know because they forget what it’s like to know nothing about their topic of expertise!
  3. Tutoring is done on individual or small group sizes meaning they can focus on your needs more individually
  4. Experienced tutors often have ways of explaining that they know students understand more easily, or sometimes even ways of rearranging the entire course to be more easily understood.

A great tutor works themselves into redundancy – as in the more tutoring you receive, the less you need. Great tutors will teach you the way to think about the information rather than just teach it to you outright. Naturally, all of our tutors are trained to achieve this.

What is tutoring not?

Tutoring is not magic 😲

It does not guarantee medical entry. The most frustrating thing to hear is when parents say “well what if my child doesn’t get into medical school? I don’t want to waste time/money/etc.”

Despite what these parents may think, a tutor is not a divine entity that can manipulate the laws of probability for an hourly fee. The factors that influence whether a student succeeds or not are numerous. The right academic and psychosocial support is likely to improve the student’s chances at best.

So consider these situations:

  • A high-achieving student with an 80% chance of entry without tutoring decides to purchase some support to reduce their stress, give a sense of security, and increase their chances to 85%.
  • A student struggling academically with a 20% chance of entry without tutoring decides to purchase some support to increase their chances to 40%.

Was it “worth it” for both students? Well… obviously it’s up to them!

Therefore, the decision about whether tutoring is right for you is very clear.

❓ Are you willing to exchange money and time for a sense of security, reduced stress, and an increased likelihood of success?

✋ What about in high-school?

There is one element of tutoring that we haven’t discussed yet.

Tutoring can take away your ability to learn critical skills!

This is TRUE 😲

So in what situation would we say it is ok to not learn these skills and that tutoring is still worth it? Well… that’s a hard argument to make. These are skills that literally change your life. Here’s how I see it.

As a general rule, high-school students with more time to experiment should opt-out of tutoring. But keep reading because this is pretty nuanced.

Two damn good reasons to not get tutoring in high-school

#1 – The opportunity cost of experimenting

Grades in high school are not as important as in university, as long as they can reach the rank score for university entrance. But if a student can’t reach the rank score without tutoring, that is a red flag that they will struggle in their course. This can also lead to dependency.

Students in high-school have less to lose and much more to gain, such as confidence in their own studying ability, gaining confidence with the fear and idea of failure, and increasing their meta-cognition (one of the most important aspects for effective learning).

Gaining these is life-changing. A grade in high-school is not.

#2 – Misconceptions

Students and parents have a misconception that good grades indicates a good studier. That’s only the case if a) the assessments are meaningful and b) the grades represent the student’s ability.

If the student only achieved the grade because they needed copious tutoring, that grade is really pretty meaningless. We see this often in the university space when tutoring isn’t enough to carry them anymore and students are (for the first time) faced with the fact they don’t know how to study or manage themselves properly.

Add onto the fact that current school curricula assess in some trivial and buzz-word heavy ways, it causes students to memorise surface details and regurgitate them out instead of learning in a meaningful way. The type of studying for high-school tests rarely carries over to real-world learning.

Reasons why you would get tutoring anyway in high-school

  1. You are really keen to reach a rank score
  2. You are already trying to improve your studying but still struggle
  3. You have horrible teachers at your school
  4. You don’t realise how important the two reasons not to get tutoring are

Let me make this clear.

There isn’t anything wrong with getting tutoring at high-school. There are some fantastic initiatives that we have a boat-load of respect for delivering accessible, high-quality education at the secondary school level.

But there is something wrong with relying on tutoring and leaning your value of success on grades, as a substitute for improving core skills and attributes.

🔥 Check out this article for what you should be getting out of high-school, outside of grades.

So why is it ok at university?

  1. Because high-school prepares you poorly for university learning!
  2. Medical entry demands certain skills that would otherwise take far too long to learn by yourself (e.g. UCAT and interviews)

Not only are most students horrendously under-empowered to control their learning process and study systems, but there’s literally double (or more) content to be learned.

The gap between ability and challenge is too damn high, and if you care about the outcome (which most people do), there’s value in buying a bridge.

Common arguments against tutoring

ArgumentReality
Tutoring exploits students.This is true in many cases. Be careful who you trust and what their ethical codes of operation are.
If you’re going to get into medical school, you’re going to get in without tutoring. You don’t need it.It’s a matter of chances. In my estimation, probably at least half of the students who successfully entered medical school receiving our tutoring would have entered anyway. Our testimonials would suggest that the psychosocial benefits were worth it anyway.
Tutoring companies are unethical (out of principle)These same people usually have no problem with tutoring privately and charging the same (or more) of their students. The real issue here is corporate exploitation and fear-mongering, which is a real problem.
Testimonials by tutoring companies have selection bias – in other words, they only ask successful students for testimonials and you never hear from the ones who didn’t get in.Likely true in general. In our case, over 1/3 of our testimonials are actually from students who did not enter medical school.
Tutoring companies don’t care about you, while the University does.Again, it depends on the entity you are dealing with and what their priorities are. Our surveys suggest that our students trust us, feel that we care more genuinely, and are willing to do more for them than the University.

💡 Did you know?
As a social enterprise, a third of our profit is directed towards charitable initiatives? You can read more about it here, and here.

What’s the conclusion?

Do some reading and make an informed decision. Do you need tutoring? Not necessarily. Would it help? Not necessarily. Is it worth it? Not necessarily. Do you need to buy our services? Yes.

No, I’m kidding.

These are the wrong questions, to begin with. The right questions to ask are, are you making a decision based on information or one based on fear? It doesn’t take a doctor to figure out which decision is going to be better.

What do you think?

Agree? Disagree? It’s a topic I’ve had many discussions with parents and teachers about this in the past and I’d love to hear your opinions!

About the author
Justin Sung
Justin Sung
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand's individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.

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