University is not like high school. No-one really cares whether you pass or fail. Learning is almost entirely self-directed; there are no repercussions if you don’t do your work; your lecturer will not chase up assignments from you, and they certainly won’t spoon-feed you the curriculum.
Most university graduates will tell you of a subject they undertook, which was so hard, so frustrating, that it made them feel helpless. For me, it was Introduction to a Structural-Functional Approach to French Linguistics (Introduction à la Linguistique). The classes were entirely in French and I simply clung on for dear life.
Whilst the use of tutors in high school (especially Year 12) is fairly widespread, it doesn’t tend to carry over to university. That’s primarily because you’re expected to exhaust a number of options before going down the pathway of private tutoring.
Step 1 – You really have to try
Try reading and re-reading difficult concepts. Look up an explainer on the web, because if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that you and your problems are rarely unique. Talk to your classmates as well because there will either be someone who is happy to talk you through a problem or someone who is in the same boat as you, and it’s always a lot more fun to bang your head on a brick wall in company. It’s a decent way to make friends at uni as well.
Your lecturer and university tutor are also valuable resources. Flick them a detailed email with questions, and they HAVE to respond. I can’t tell you the amount of times my utter confusion over an assignment was transformed into a Distinction-plus essay by an email to a course coordinator who nudged me in the right direction.
However, if you’re up against your very own Introduction to a Functional-Structural Approach to French Linguistics (Introduction à la Linguistique), then sometimes a private tutor is the only way out if you can’t drop the subject.
How do I find good tutors?
Nowadays, there are loads of websites with a smorgasbord of highly qualified tutors who are just two clicks away. They list qualifications, an hourly price and where they’re located.
Sites such as My Private Tutor and University Tutor list their services based on the city in which they live, while Student VIP displays their tutors based on university. Sites like these are convenient for managing everything in one place and they keep handy digital records of your tutoring history.
Otherwise, you’ll see paper ads and leaflets for tutors everywhere around the University campus, but usually on noticeboards. These are the spiritual homes for advertising one’s tutoring services and though not as popular as in their heyday, they remain valuable resources for the student in need.
I’ve got my tutor, what comes next?
It’s important that you set out exactly what you want from them. There can be a temptation from both tutor and student to simply exchange money for the completion of assignments. Despite the fact it could actually result in your expulsion from the University, it’s a really pointless exercise because you end up learning very little.
Tell your tutor what you don’t understand, and don’t tell them you understand something when you don’t. While there is naturally a bit of shame in admitting you still don’t understand something after it’s been explained to you, that is why you have employed a tutor, and your tutor should be prepared to keep explaining something to you until your hour runs out.
Not all students have the same strengths and deficiencies. Not all students learn in the same way, and a third or fourth year tutor is typically a student who excels and may not understand how another student struggles. Truly, you won’t really know what sort of a tutor you’ve employed until you start using their services, and it could be a bit trial-and-error if you get unlucky.
That being said, enjoy – perhaps for the first of your life – the luxury of being an employer! Given that you’re paying, and you’re the one who needs the services, be picky and find someone who’s best for you.
Cover image: Simone Armstrong tutors Noah Albany in Year 12 science at BB Winter 2016
Extra note: YourTutor offers fast and anonymous online help with high school study, with professional teachers giving feedback on essays, assignments and even applications for university scholarships.