University Learning Center

5 Tips for Tutoring Math

1. Guide the student

  • A math tutor should guide a student through the solution process. Ask the student leading questions that will direct the student towards the correct steps.
  • Avoid doing the problem for the student.
  • If the student cannot get the correct answer and asks for help, the tutor should look at what the student has done and try to locate the error. Then have the student work a similar problem to make sure he/she has grasped the procedure.
2. Teach concepts
  • A goal of tutoring is to help students become independent learners. In math, it is important to teach concepts in addition to processes or procedures.
  • Understanding concepts makes remembering the process easier.
3. Encourage students to attend class
  • Some students believe getting help from a tutor is a substitute for attending class.
  • Students having difficulty in math must realize time spent with a tutor is additional to class time.
4. Address math anxiety
  • Tutors should avoid using phrases such as, "this is easy." Such phrases intimidate the student.
  • If the student experiences a very high degree of math anxiety, it may be helpful to suggest that the student have a Study Skills consultation. (The Study Skills consultant will assess the student's anxiety level and may refer the student to a counselor.)
  • Sometimes it is helpful to learn about the student's math background.
5. Don't confuse the student
  • If the tutor is unsure of a mathematical procedure or concept, check with a fellow tutor or a math instructor. Tutors should never hesitate to say "I don't know." But, tutors should always follow through and help the student learn how to find the answer!
  • It is helpful to find out what approach the text or instructor is using on a particular problem. A tutor using the same technique as the text or instructor will reinforce the concept or procedure, whereas using a different approach can confuse the student.
  • Tutors are encouraged to stay in touch with math instructors. This helps facilitate discussions about concepts and procedures, making you a more effective tutor.
Adapted from a presentation by:
Nathalie Vega, Math Lab Supervisor, San Jacinto College

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