Seven Things Successful Tutors Do at the First Tutoring Session

Quick Start Guide for Tutors

First impressions are everything. There are a number of vital objectives that must be achieved during the first session to ensure the relationship is both clearly defined and optimally productive. Here are the seven things you cannot afford to put off until the second session.

 1. Foster a Growth Mindset

As with any new venture, it is important for the key players to be on the same page when it comes to objectives and the essential steps to reaching those objectives. If students or parents show up believing that the student has permanent, unchangeable limitations, then their mindset will ultimately impose those limitations. 

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck points out that the essential quality separating successful people from their unsuccessful counterparts is whether they think their intelligence can be developed versus believing it to be fixed.

In your initial conversations with a new client, instead of arbitrarily guaranteeing results or selling "tips and tricks," explain that your test prep system is designed to help you support the student's growth. That growth will still require work, but your expertise, combined with the best tools in the industry will help you maximize the student's concept mastery and score improvement. 

Now, what if you don't have these tools at your disposal? Not a problem -- assuming you've got a growth mindset!

Simply click the link below to learn how Clear Choice Test Prep’s custom-branded tools for tutors can help you facilitate meaningful student growth, from the first session to the last and all the while between tutoring sessions. 

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2. Establish Accountability Measures for Students & Parents 

Any test prep professional can tell you; test prep doesn’t work if the students don't do the work. It is unrealistic to expect a student to demonstrate measurable growth from an hour or less per week with a test prep professional.

That's why it's essential that students and parents immediately understand the effort and time commitment your standardized test prep course requires. Do not wait until your vague expectations go vaguely unmet. Ultimately, it is up to you and your tutors, the test prep professionals, to communicate and enforce these accountability measures.

Accomplishing this on your own can be difficult. Conveniently, by utilizing a test prep system that includes custom online quizzes and automatically generated email progress reports, holding students (and parents) accountable is easy and convenient.

If the client is unwilling to commit to completing the required coursework, it may be worth considering whether they are a client worth keeping. After all, part of growing a tutoring business means establishing a pattern of success. If you are working hard and the client is hardly working, your brand could actually suffer. Even if you occasionally have to let a client go, it's always best to set reasonable policies and follow through on them. 

3. Communicate Tutoring Policies

Save yourself from uncomfortable conversations and potential conflicts down the road by ironing out the following policies either at or before the first session:

  • How will you schedule meeting times and places?
  • How much notice must be given for a cancellation?
  • What is your rate?
  • When is payment due?
  • What are your accepted forms of payment?
  • What happens if a session is canceled?
  • How will tutoring time be used (homework help, test prep, skill building, etc.)?  

It is always best practice to make sure the answers to these questions are stated in your official contract and available on your website. It's not a bad idea to quickly review these policies verbally at the end of the first session. 

4. Create a Genuine Connection with the Student

Countless studies have proven that students perform best when they a have a positive relationship with their instructors. For test prep professionals, this means finding a way to get to know the student as more than just a score or a challenge.

From the first session, engage students in conversations about their interests and passions. Identify areas of common ground. Empathize with their challenges and celebrate their successes. Include references to these events in your session reports and remember to ask about the events that took place in the time since the last session.

5. Establish a Baseline SAT or ACT Score

With any new student, you should begin with some type of assessment to identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses. For an SAT prep or ACT prep student, there is absolutely no substitute for an authentic full-length College Board SAT or a real ACT. Without the information you glean from detailed analysis in the student's score report, you cannot truly offer a customized test prep course. 

Gathering this information need not be tedious or expensive. Students can enter their answers into Khan Academy for the SAT and Kaplan's online test prep system for the ACT. 

Of course, if you utilize either of those tools, you'll be actively encouraging your students to circumvent your services. Worse, you'll be inviting email communications between your competitors and your students -- not ideal. 

That's why Clear Choice Test Prep enables tutors to create free student accounts, enter free practice tests, print free score reports, and analyze their detailed results. And unlike College Board, Khan, ACT, and Kaplan, Clear Choice has nothing to sell your students because they do not work directly with students. For more information, be sure to sign up for a free software demo. 

6. Map out the Test Prep Course & Provide the Student with a Syllabus

Each test prep course has a predetermined deadline – test day. But everything that happens between day one and test day is up to you. Based on the information you glean from assessments and during the first session, you should be prepared to create a general schedule to help students make the necessary score improvements in time for test day.

Be sure to include what will be covered in tutoring sessions as well as what the expectations are for work between sessions. If you are using a comprehensive test prep system like those provided by Clear Choice, much of this work can be both outlined and assessed automatically, freeing you up to focus on instruction.

7. Record Detailed Notes from the Session

As we mentioned in number 4, it's important to record session notes. You can't fix what you can't measure, and you can't measure what you don't document. The best test-prep professionals record both anecdotal observations and quantitative data. It's also important to record the student's own observations about his or her performance. 

By setting the tone with insightful and purposeful feedback from day-one, you help establish your professionalism and commitment to growth.


As with many of the elements involved in successful test prep sessions, having a detailed, comprehensive, and reliable system in place can help ensure maximum student progress and top-notch client satisfaction. First impressions really do set the tone for every interaction that follows. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you'd like help making the best first impression possible, consider signing up for a free software demo. 

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What suggestions do you have for having a successful first session with a new client? Share your perspective and your experiences with our readers in the comments below!

Matt McCorkle