How To Ace Your First Tutorial

Want to get more students for your online tutoring business? Knowing how to ace your first tutorial is a great place to start. Learn how Richard Evans, who has over 4000 hours experience of private tuition, aces his first tutorials every time. 


As we all know, first impressions are important. So, what does your first tutorial say about you? Are you passionate about your subject? Have you come well prepared? Did you bring a resource or ask the student to have their notes ready? How much do you know about the student before you arrived? All these questions, and many more, will be running through your tutee’s mind as they decide whether or not they want to continue with you. 

I’ve interviewed several hundred tutors since founding The Profs Tuition, and one of the key questions I ask is how many sessions/hours does your average student spend with you? It amazes me how commonly a tutor says two hours across one or two tutorials, and then insists that their tutees always leave saying they’d got everything they needed.

Sell yourself and your online tutoring

Like it or not, private tuition involves some showmanship. You are selling yourself- your knowledge, your time and your ability to convey information in an engaging and cost-effective manner. If you aren’t getting your first tutorial right, your tutee might mysteriously find that they’ve had all the help they’ve needed after just a few hours. In most cases you’ll never know why (unless they ask for a refund, which is usually not worth the stress for them).

The average number of tutorials per client, along with testimonials, is one of the best identifiers of how much value you as a tutor are adding to your student. They will only continue with you for many hours if they really feel that you’re adding consistent, long-term value!

I predominantly work with university students who, unlike much younger students, will be openly critical of your teaching style if they are not getting value for their time and money. Here’s what I’ve picked up over the past decade of both tutoring and managing placements:

The worst 7 words to start a tutorial

“Hi, I’m Richard - how can I help?”

This is game over. It might sound OK, but you’ve already lost the confidence of your student. Why? Well, to me, this is like turning up to a pre-booked medical operation, and the surgeon saying, “Hey - so what are we going chop up today?” This wouldn’t fill anyone with confidence and you’d be sensible to start looking for the exit.

How not to start a tutorial

I believe that it is our responsibility, as tutors, to offer a free 15-minute consultation before the first tutorial. This is where we ask how we can help and get to know a bit about the student. It’ll also help to drop in a few lines about our experience and successes (academic or otherwise) to help reassure the student that we’re the right person for the task. Then we can prepare the perfect tutorial that targets a specific problem that they are having. Now my first seven words become:

“Ready to learn how to differentiate anything?”

Before the first tutorial

Initial Consultation - Build trust before meeting your student by offering a free 15 minute consultation. No need to cover any content (you get paid to do that!). 

Pleasantries – Introduce yourself in a few lines. Be positive, enthusiastic and professional.

“Hi – I’m Richard. I’m looking forward to helping you ace your A level economics paper. I’ve helped nearly twenty students jump up two grades over the past few years so I’m confident that we can do the same for you!”

Symptoms – Ask them to explain in their own words what they would like help with - what are their aims of the tuition (e.g. confidence, a grade boost) and what is holding them back from achieving their full potential? If they are younger, this call will be with the parent on their behalf.

Diagnosis – Try to identify a specific topic that you can cover in your first tutorial. Ideally, something that you have lots of experience with and can really add value in.

Prescription – Tell them if they should have any notes ready or need to send over some of their work for you to read through before the first tutorial. This sets an important example before you’ve even met: tuition is a partnership and they need to pull their weight in order to succeed. This early time investment will be rewarded in the long run. Be prepared to give a little away for free in the beginning.

Logistics – Agree on where to meet. For online tutoring, I quickly run them through the software and how to get into the tutorial (I use BitPaper and sometimes Zoom).

Create A Handout – This is my ace in the hole. It really ensures confidence that you are the right person for the task and leaves them with something physical to take away from the tutorial. Cheat sheets or colourful summaries are my trademark. The best thing about a handout is that it can be used again and again!

Online tutoring handout example

Example of an effective tutoring handout

The First Tutorial

Solve a problem: Get straight into the problem that you identified over the phone. A little small talk to relax them and show them you’re human is great, but try to get to the tutorial pretty quickly as the meter is running; you have about 15 minutes to teach them something. If you can get your student to solve a problem that they couldn’t do before they met you, their trust in your ability will rise and you can both start to relax.

“If you can’t teach them something within 15 minutes, expect them to become confused, unengaged or even critical of your teaching style and the cost of the tutorial.”

The first tutorial

I like to turn up with an exam question that looks difficult (lots of scary-looking symbols or complex quotes) but is actually really manageable. I also bring a worksheet brimming with tens of similar questions. The aim of the tutorial is then clear: together, we will learn how to tackle this question, and any questions that look like it.

At the end, the tutee is filled with confidence, knowing that in just 60 minutes they have gone from being scared of a question to being able to conquer it with ease, again and again and again. Then I get them to complete many more similar questions until it has become second nature. They leave confident and happy, knowing that they are just a little closer to acing their exams. Job done and you can confidently ask the question...

"Same time next week?"

Richard Evans

Richard Evans

Richard is an experienced online tutor with students from all over the world. He is the director of the Tutors' Association, co-founder of BitPaper and Founder of The Profs - an award winning education startup. 

Matt Thompson

Matt is an online English tutor and founder of Smart Online Tutoring. He's a big fan of technology and when he's not teaching or helping others with their online tutoring businesses, you'll find him on the badminton court.

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