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What Makes for An Effective SAT/ACT Math Tutor?


You’d think that finding a good SAT/ACT Math tutor should be simple – just get someone who is really good at math to tutor you. Unfortunately, just because someone is good at math doesn’t make her the most effective tutor, particularly when it comes to the SAT or ACT. For instance, while I'm better at SAT/ACT Reading (compared to SAT/ACT Math), I'm actually a better math tutor, because I don’t always “get it" right away – I have to try out different ways to teach myself the material before I grasp it fully.

Read on for more specifics on what makes the most effective SAT/ACT Math tutor. And if you want specific advice on SAT/ACT Reading tutoring as well, don't worry – we have an article about what to look for in an SAT/ACT Reading tutor here.

feature image credit: Math, Math, Math, math, mathh....maaah..... by Aaron Escobar, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.


Effective SAT/ACT Math Tutors Are High Scorers

Effective SAT/ACT math tutors must have scored in the 99th percentile on the test. At PrepScholar, we take it one step further: not only do we exclusively hire 99th percentile scorers, but many of these tutors were perfect scorers on the sections that they tutor.

Why is this important? Because in order to be able to customize teaching, a tutor must have mastered the material. This doesn’t just mean knowing the content (probability, plane geometry, etc.). Tutors need to understand HOW the SAT/ACT questions you on math. The medium to hard questions in particular are not things you would have learned in school – it’s as much about interpreting the questions as it is solving the problems.


Effective SAT/ACT Math Tutors Can Pinpoint Your Weaknesses

The best math tutor needs to understand WHERE students are making mistakes in the questions. When all is said and done, a particularly challenging math question can test half a dozen or more skills.

Take this sample problem:


There are many complicated steps you have to take to solve this problem.
  • Understand the problem: what’s this weird question even asking for?
  • What information does the problem give you to solve the question?
  • How do you use this information to solve the question?
  • How does the angle of a polygon relate to the number of sides?
  • How many degrees are in a quadrilateral?
  • What does this mean about the degree measure of the other two sides?
  • What does this mean about how many sides the polygon has?

A student who misses the question could be tripped up by any one of these steps. How should a tutor address this?

A mediocre tutor will just make sure the student understands how to get the answer to this particular question and move on. Why is this bad? It’s inefficient – it’s highly unlikely this particular question will show up on the SAT/ACT, and so the assistance given is not generalizable. Furthermore, it doesn't identify the student's actual weaknesses - it just patches over serious problems with a quick fix.

The best tutor will pinpoint exactly where the student is having issues, then work on weaknesses until there are no longer any issues. A student who doesn't understand the formula for polygon angles needs very different help from a student who makes mistakes in the algebraic portion of this question. If the tutor doesn't identify these weaknesses and address them, the student will find it very hard to improve her score.


Disclaimer: We at PrepScholar do not guarantee that the best tutors will be immortalized in statue form.


Effective SAT/ACT Math Tutors Will Customize Test Strategies To You

The best tutors will understand optimal strategies and be able to teach them to students, customizing the strategies to a student's particular level. Read on for an example of two different strategy suggestions: one suggestion is for someone aiming for a 600 on the SAT or 27 on the ACT and the other is for someone aiming for a perfect score on the SAT/ACT).

Students who are aiming for a 600 or a 27 or a can skip hardest 25% of questions and instead focus on easier ones. For more strategies like these, read our articles on how to improve low SAT Math Scores or low ACT Math scores.

If you're aiming for the perfect score, on the other hand, you might need to take note of time management. Take a timed practice test, and if you run out of time, mark the questions you answer with extra time. Compare your scaled score with extra time with your realistic score (the score that only includes questions answered during the normal time period). If your score differs by more than 50 points (on the SAT) or 1 point (on the ACT), you have serious time management issues. Are you generally slow at math questions, or were there particular questions that slowed you down? For more time management tips and other strategies, read our articles on scoring an 800 in SAT Math or 36 in ACT Math.


Actions To Take

The best way to get a sense of any tutor’s teaching style is to get her to demonstrate how she’d explain the process of answering a difficult question.

  • PROTIP: Pick out a question ahead of time that you previously missed and have had trouble with from a real SAT and use it every time, so you can compare the explanations of multiple tutors.

I’ve also compiled a list of sample questions parents and students might want to ask potential tutors. Click to download the PDF, or click on the image below.



Use the answers to these questions to assess how a tutor teaches and whether or not her particular teaching style and method will be effective for you.


What’s Next?

Curious about tutoring for the SAT/ACT Reading sections? If you haven’t already, read our guide to the most effective SAT/ACT Reading tutoring, as well as our article on  the key qualities of an effective SAT/ACT tutor.

What do tutors actually do during SAT/ACT Tutoring? Demystify the mystery with our explanation of what SAT/ACT tutoring involves here.


Want to get serious about improving your SAT/ACT score? Our tutoring service is designed to be the most effective in the nation. We hire the best tutors from across the country. This is then paired with our exclusive online drilling program that gives your tutor complete insight into your progress to design the most effective sessions. Think about what improving 160 points on your SAT, or 4 points on your ACT, can do for you. Learn more about tutoring now:

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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