QUESTIONS TO ASK (AND NOT ASK) A PROSPECTIVE TUTOR

Most parents are searching for a good, if not one of the best Biology tuition tutor.

The experienced Bio tutor tutoring activities can help create a more confident and motivated student. Subsequently, tutoring can make all the difference when it comes to exam success and learning and applying relevant concepts to future studies and work.

Whether you're looking for IP tutors or more advanced GCE ‘A’ level biology tutors, you want to be sure you get one of the best or at least an appropriate one. Here are some relevant questions (and not so relevant ones) you should ask a prospective tutor.

1) ASK: How familiar are you with the current syllabus?

DO NOT ASK: Are you familiar with the current syllabus?

Make sure your biology tutor is up to date with all the latest developments in the curriculum and in the requirements of the exam boards, especially in terms of the Learning Outcomes.

The H2 Biology syllabus has underwent the most dynamic changes in Learning Outcomes, compared with the other Science subjects since the advent of the H2 syllabus since 2007. To ascertain if your prospective tutor is thoroughly familiar with the current Learning Outcomes, ask them to elaborate on how the Learning Outcomes for a particular topic are evaluated in recent Nov ‘A’ Level Exams. One way to check is to also note how ready and clear they can give you the relevant specific information at the back of their hand.

Also ask them on the concepts that have been evaluated in recent Nov ‘A’ Level Exams, but which are not stated in the Learning Outcomes.

We belong to a pioneer batch of educators, who have been trained in, and involved in full-time teaching of H2 Biology for its advent in 2007. We have been analyzing the GCE Cambridge papers in P2 and P3 since 2007, to uncover conceptual and evaluation trends in the examinations.

2) ASK: Other than your major in Biology, are you also trained in educational psychology and pedagogy?

DO NOT ASK: What qualifications do you have? Are you trained, or can teach biology?

Someone who knows or has an academic degree in a subject does not necessarily mean that he or she can teach well. For instance, not every person who can speak or write English fluently may be able to effectively explain syntax or grammar effectively to a non-native speaker of that language. Of course ideally a degree and above is required on the part of the Tutor to grasp the contents of the subject, but further training is required to impart the knowledge to others so that the student is truly learning.

A good tutor needs to be informed in (1) educational psychology, so that the tutor may understand and relate to the student’s individual learning needs and inclinations. The tutor also needs training and experience in (2) pedagogy, so that he or she can employ the various methodology of teaching so that the student can effectively understand and remember.

Trained teachers and tutors will thus know how to relate to students as well as being able to incorporate different learning methods into their teaching, in the various learning contexts.

The tutor’s commitment and passion for biology and its application led him to achieve a Diploma in Biotechnology (Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore), even though without an upper secondary background education in Biology. He was awarded an ‘A-’ Grade for his Final Year Project “Restriction Isotyping and Apolipoprotein “E” Polymorphism Studies”. Together with a small select pool of Polytechnic graduates, he was offered a place to read Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Biology from National University of Singapore. Increased exposure to environmental science led him to complete Masters in Life Sciences (Environmental Science) from Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), with successful NTU acceptance of dissertation on removal effect of invasive species on plant regeneration in Singapore.

The Tutor topped his cohort during the post-graduate teacher training course of Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) offered by National Institute of Education / Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). Training to be a Biology teacher during the course in NIE has helped him to inculcate skills and techniques in effective learning and pedagogy. Such functional skills aided invaluably in facilitating the exchange and impartation of information with supervisors, peers, and students.

Though shortlisted for the award due to his outstanding grades, including a distinction in Education Psycology, he openly shared with the NIE interviewers of his personal struggles and setbacks in his past educational experiences, and how the trainings and experiences of his past can be used to lift students to their potential in studies and eventually society. This ability and practice is affirmed by the presentation of the ‘Rotary International Gold Award ‘Best Student Award 2004’.

As most of the weaker students are less confident and less knowledgeable to ask specific questions regarding the topic, our experienced science tutor understands the learning situation and is able to prompt out those questions or important concepts and blindspots to foster correct and holistic understanding.

3) ASK: How are you sure if the answers you are teaching, are correct and duly recognized by Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level?

DO NOT ASK: How many years have you been teaching?

Do not simply ask how many of years of teaching experience the teacher has accumulated. A teacher or tutor who is reusing the same curriculum set or teaching style over the past 10 years or even more, does not necessarily mean that he or she can train students relevantly in the current syllabus, which by the way evolves dynamically especially in recent period.

It is unfortunate that answers released by some publishers and institutions are not accurate, and in some cases, even totally deviant from the objective answers from the shared perspectives of both established science fundamentals and the Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level examinations board. This is dangerous as it may implant erroneous Biology concepts in the students’ mind, and cause students to carry them into the examination halls.

Likewise, the GCE ‘A’ Level examination board from Cambridge may not mark nor award marks the same way many MOE and Independent/Autonomous schools do. Therefore scoring well in school’s internal assessments do not necessarily translate that the student will do similarly well even if the exact same answers are marked by the Cambridge examination board. Unfortunately, students may discover this too late—only after they have received their ‘A’ Level results transcripts.

Since advent of H2 Biology in 2007, we have been analyzing, evaluating and reviewing the Examiner’s Report (including Examiner’s Mark Schemes of selected years) from the Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level examination board. The findings are calibrated against past conceptual and evaluation trends in the GCE ‘A’ Level examinations, and translated into learning and revision material—including review Questions and Answers—for the student.

This religiously analytical process is practiced annually, to help ensure that students trained by us are learning and applying correct concepts in both schools and the GCE ‘A’ Level examinations. We are heartened that many of our students who have worked well with us ultimately emerged with quality grades—mainly ‘A’—in the GCE ‘A’ Level examinations.

4) ASK: What key appointments have you held, that is relevant to my child’s learning and performance in Biology?

DO NOT ASK: Are you a current or former full-time teacher in school?

Full-time teacher in Singapore school = Teaching duties + Admin duties + CCA duties + Committee (e.g. national day) duties. As the last 3 types of duties listed are not very relevant to helping the student in Biology, you want to focus critically more on the Teaching responsibilities and experiences.

Try to engage teachers and tutors who have exclusive experience in guiding how examination papers are set and evaluated. Educators with such proficiency would have held posts like chief internal moderators, chief external moderators, and chief examiners. Personnel who have helmed such positions at the national level examinations would be even more desirable, as the student will ultimately be sitting for the national GCE ‘A’ Level Exams.

Such educators would have innate understanding of the examination landscape, intricacies and subtleties, to deftly guide the student into perceptively comprehending and relating to the question interpretation, answering and examination strategies. Students who have been sufficiently trained as such can score optimally within the limited examination time frame given.

Within a year of being posted to teach Biology in JC since 2005 as a full-time Lecturer, and also one of the selected small group of pioneer JC teachers to instruct on H2 Biology in MOE pre-universities, he was gradually appointed as and assumed the full responsibility of

  • Overall Level Biology Coordinator
  • National GCE ‘A’ Level Biology SPA Coordinator
  • National GCE ‘A’ Level Biology SPA Chief Internal Moderator
  • Biology H2 Coordinator
  • Biology H3 Coordinator
  • Teacher Mentor
  • Enhanced Student Performance Mentor
  • Biology Olympiads Trainer
  • Biological Sciences Club Trainer

Employing his experiences gained as key appointment holders in school and national assessments, he has been able to help most of the tuition students under his care, improve from low grades (initial grades of ‘D’ and below, often ‘U’) to ‘A’ grade for H2 Biology in the final GCE ‘A’ Level Examinations.

5) ASK: Why aren’t lesson fee structures displayed on websites of some centers?

Some tutors or centers simply do not host a website. Some that do host their websites, may not display their charges upfront due to vested interests. As a result, students and parents may be discriminately charged differently based on the student’s address, type of residence, or further profile e.g. earning or other social-economic status of the parents.

We believe in transparency of fees. All students pay the same fee, to see that all students under our care receive the same appropriate quality level of learning. Fee structures, terms on fees, and offers are clearly displayed to the public here. Different payment scenarios are also given to help payment system clarity.

6) ASK: What is included in the price quote?

The fees listed may not reflect the nett price. Some tutors or centers charge students for additional elements, such as printing fee, and charge for answering every question over email. Be sure that all charges and pricing are elucidated and agreed upon, before you engage the tutor’s service.

Our prices are quoted as nett fee per lesson.

All students receive selected complementary softcopy and hardcopy (Black-and-white only) material of quality related practice and assessment questions, answers, conceptual diagrams, and science articles printed by us, without additional charges. Only commercially purchased material e.g. books are to be borne additionally by students.

Our Continual Engagement Offer (CEO) is also offered to all students to help them pay the lowest fee possible.

7) ASK: Can you provide me with references from your past clients? How do we know if your customer reviews are authentic?

DO NOT ASK: Can you provide me with references from your past clients?

These are questions that are either least frequently asked on the prospective tutors, or most easily manipulated by the tutors especially if one does not follow up with the second question.

One of the most effective advertising effect still comes from customers feedback. But feedback and comments need to be authentic, given without vested interests to serve as meaningful references and consideration.

Wherever possible, the handwritten comments of both parents and students are scanned and uploaded beside the printed comments, along with the year and student’s institution for authentication.

Do not just take our word; take our past clients’ too.

Prospective clients may also speak to our past clients for further verification or information.

8) ASK: Can I just sign up for one lesson to consider the effectiveness of the lesson, before committing further?

Tuition, especially at higher levels, is significantly demanding in terms of financial resources. Moreover, each student only has limited time to invest for examination revision. The same examinations are usually not meant to be re-sit by the same student. Do not suffer long-term under a wrong learning system.

What to Observe during the First Lesson?

After getting recommendations from either your friends or websites, your next task is to observe the first lesson between your child and the tutor. These are the few key points to observe (from a non-intrusive manner):

  • Any communication barriers between the child and tutor?
  • Is the tutor is able to explain the topics effectively, in a way your child is able to comprehend?
  • Is the tutor on time and gives your child the undivided attention during the tuition session? Frequent checks on mobile phone is a good indicated of a distracted tutor.
  • TALK WITH YOUR CHILD AFTER THE LESSON: Can the Tutor help you see insights in your subjects? Can the Tutor let you learn much more than you can learn, compared to a group setting?

For our case, students are allowed to pay and experience learning for one lesson, before deciding with if they wish to continue the tuition program further. After the lesson, they should discuss with their guardians if the lesson has been effective in addressing their learning needs, before contacting us for further lessons. We are heartened that >95% of all our prospective clients decide to continue committing the students’ learning into our guidance, after their first lesson and own follow-up discussions.

We sincerely believe that no student should be wasting time or money on something that is not helping him or her.

CONCLUSION

Whenever you're looking for a tutor, the best advice is to ask the right, critical and specific questions. Remember, if you ask questions that are too general, you may also get a not-so-helpful or even irrelevant broad political response.

Ask the tutor for ways to substantiate and verify his or her claims. Help yourself make an informed decision.

We sincerely wish the student a truly fruitful and joyful learning experience during mastery of Biology!