How To Thrive During The Exam Rush

Joining me on the Blog today is Richard Evans, an international tutor and the co-founder of my favourite online whiteboard, BitPaper. He’s also the director of The Tutors’ Association and founder of The Profs, so has a wealth of tutoring experience to share. For Richard and many other tutors, the busy exam period is in full swing so I wanted to find out how he makes the most of the exam rush. Here’s what he had to say:

Richard Evans


At some point in their career, every tutor hits an earnings barrier. For me, this was March 2014. I knew I’d earn 50% of my annual income in the months March-May, so I had to capitalise on these precious few weeks leading into the exam season.

To say I was working 7 days a week is somewhat misleading as the concept of weekends’ becomes someone redundant when you consistently work through them. It would be more accurate to say that I worked 8-11 hours a day for thirty-one days straight. Then I collapsed.

At the end of it all, I’d earned a decent amount and, more importantly, my students received excellent grades. But I was physically and mentally exhausted. I fell quite unwell in June and did not especially look forward to the prospect of jumping back into the same cycle in 2015. So I wrote myself some tips that have got me through every year since. Today I’d like to share some of those tips with you:

1) Online Tutoring is No Longer Optional.

In 2014 online tutoring was just beginning to emerge. In 2018, it must be an essential part of every professional tutor’s toolkit. I say above that I worked 8-11 hours every day, but I was only earning for a fraction of that amount as I was constantly on the tube all day travelling between student’s houses.

Online tutoring schedule

On the right hand side, we can see the core of the problem I was facing in 2014: everyday, I lost several hours running around London! My £8 travel card looked positively cheap compared with the loss of four hours income each day. So I invested in a writing tablet, signed up to BitPaper’s How to Tutor Online webinar and within a couple of weeks I was exclusively online.

Becoming an online tutor allowed me to negate travel, and organise my tutorings one after the other. Just look at the difference to my schedule on the left hand side. It’s a thing of beauty.

2) Enforce Your Boundaries.

But what happens when students mess you about? You’ve probably noticed above that one student turned up 20 minutes late and another cancelled as I was travelling over. Thanks for that.

Young and inexperienced, I accepted both of these without complaint. Such problems had plagued my schedule for years. During one of these cancelled tutorials I calculated how much income I had lost through cancellations. When I released the amount surpassed 5 figures, I could have wept.

cancellation policy for online tutors

I had to learn to be more assertive in these matters. So I created a written cancellation policy that I thought was fair:

50% charge if cancelled in under 24 hours and another student would not swap.

Full charge if cancelled under 4 hours.

In first instance of illness, the charge may be waived.

If I cancel, an additional waiver is added.

I emailed this to all my students and, miraculously, the cancellations stopped overnight. Today I email my cancellation policy ahead of the first tutorial and repeat it at the end of the tutorial and take the time to explain why it is so important to me. As a result, my students see higher grades (I suspect from working more consistently) and I can afford my rent. I kicked myself for not applying this sooner!

3) Create Reusable Resources

I’ve always liked the story about the student using a leaky bucket: as a punishment, a lazy student was made to clean the school corridors for a week. Everyday he’d fill up a bucket of water from the tap outside, and everyday most of the water would slowly leak out on his way back to the school building, causing him to repeat the journey as often as 5 times each day. Upon seeing this, the school janitor lent him a better bucket so that he could get the job done in just one journey.

This leaky bucket principle applies to preparation for tutorials. Instead of hastily creating resources ahead of each tutorial, I started sitting down and investing more time into creating really amazing revision tools for my students. These resources were designed to be reused and wowed my students every session.

Reusable online tutoring materials

Previously, I was storing hundreds of scraps of paper containing great explanations, but I never got around to converting these into usable resources. Instead, I’d sit down for 15 minutes after a particularly productive tutorial, and type that explanation into a new learning resource that I could use for years to come. Now, I rarely have to prepare as I can simply print out these resources, allowing me to fit in an extra tutorial or two each day in the busy season. It was well worth the investment of time.

4) Specialising Allowed Me To Scale

Specialise to scale your online tutoring

A close friend once described my work-life balance (or lack thereof) as ‘vampiric’ - I was only ever seen when the sun goes down and often came back very late after visiting students who lived far away. I was out and tutoring between 3.30pm to 9pm most days, and over the months this slowly took a toll on my relationships with loved ones.

My solution? I started to specialise in higher education. University students had much more flexibility in their schedules and opened up all-important daytime hours. This revelation was life changing! I also enjoyed that the student was often the bill payer, meaning that I did not have spend time reporting to and updating parents each week. This was an unexpected bonus.

Soon, I found that there was so much demand (from both university students and tutors looking for daytime hours) that I banded together with a few and The Profs was born.

Please leave a reply in the comments box below if you have any questions or comments about these strategies to thrive during the exam rush.

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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