We sat down with Sophie, a member of the high school graduating class of 2019, to discuss her experience working with Private Prep tutors. She reflected on how the tutoring process went, what challenges arose for her, and what surprises she encountered along the way. She also dropped some great advice for rising juniors and seniors.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Private Prep: So, tell me a little bit about your experience with tutoring. When did you start?
Sophie: I worked with two Private Prep tutors for the ACT—both were fantastic! I began working in September of my junior year. We chose to start in September because I wanted to get back into the rhythm of school before throwing additional studying on top of it. Both tutors helped me in Math and Science the most. They helped me in these sections by giving me little tricks to memorize, and I even made up a little rhyme with one of my tutors to help me remember equations!
PP: What was the most helpful aspect of tutoring?
S: The most helpful aspect was that both of my tutors guided me through how to have the right mindset while taking a test. They helped me learn to have confidence in my answers, whether completely wrong or completely correct. In school, we are never taught to be confident in a multiple choice test—that seems ridiculous—but for the ACT it was super important for me to stay confident and keep going through my test.
PP: Why do you think mindset is so important?
S: Learning how to be confident in taking a test was something that I didn’t learn in school. You just learn how to answer the questions, but you don’t really learn how to take a test. My tutor focused on, “am I comfortable sitting down for four hours?” Or, “am I someone who might need extra time?” Those things make me more confident in taking my test. Just making sure that I know that I have all the tools to do my best.
Also, the ACT is something you do once over a span of a year. It isn’t like a math test, which you’ve taken so many times. It’s such a different style, and there’s so much more pressure on it, I feel. At the end of it, that number, unfortunately, is what’s making a school decide whether or not to admit you, sometimes. So, it matters a lot. Between the stress of that and the anxiety of “I don’t know how to actually take a test,” I feel like having someone sit me down and say, “Look, you’re going to do your best. And your best is your best. Don’t compare yourself. Just finish the test and show off.” That really helped me. And it stayed with me. When I took my APs in the spring, the goal was to finish it doing my best, wherever that was. I think that was a really crucial part of my tutoring experience.
PP: Can you think of a particular challenge that your tutor helped you navigate?
S: One challenge I faced while tutoring was that I kept taking practice tests and getting the exact same score—sometimes even the section scores were exactly the same. It became really hard mentally to believe that I could do any better than what I was getting. I think I had one tutoring session where, the second my tutor walked into my house, I started to cry. I was like, “Why are we even doing this? I should just stop. I’ve just gotten the same score for three months. Why am I even trying?” And she said, “Try it one more time.” And that was the time that my score changed.
She was really great about reading where I was at. Even in a regular lesson when I wasn’t at my lowest but wasn’t fully understanding something, she was really great at reading where I was and responding at the same level of calm and motivation. If I was really, really upset, she would be really, really motivational. But if I was, like (flatly) “I can’t get this,” she would just say, (lightly) “Yes, you can.” She never pitied me. She was always like, “Ok, let’s find a way to solve this.” She was motivating and calm and kind—and really bubbly! We were paired together because apparently we were kind of at the same energy level. And I think it’s really good that that happened.
PP: How did she respond when you had successes?
S: If you didn’t know that we had been working for months together, you would legitimately think she was a psychic. Because, we would sit down and I’d be having a good day, and she’d say, “Ok, you’re gonna get like, what, four wrong in this section? And that’ll be perfect.” And I would do it and get four wrong and I would feel perfect. She was so good at knowing what I was about to do and whether that would be a strength or a weakness for me. She always knew which section I was dealing with and knew what knowledge I had to get me through that section. So, when I would do really well, she would be, like, “Obviously you did so well. You know what you’re doing!” Just having someone say that is, like, “Oh yeah! I do know what I’m doing. Why am I shocked that I’m doing this well?” It made me feel so good and comfortable. Because then, when I would do well, I wouldn’t really be surprised about it. I’d be, like, “Yeah, I know I can do this well.”
PP: Any tutoring advice for rising juniors?
S: Take a breath. Become friends with your tutor! They only want what is best for you. If they give you homework or assign more tests, it’s not to kill your social life—it’s to help you get into your dream school!
PP: What about for rising seniors?
S: I would say, “keep your test scores private.” I didn’t talk about my test scores with any of my friends, and our group was much happier and relaxed because of it. When you bring a subject that often leads to stress into a friend group, it can make communication difficult and create a stressful environment in what is supposed to be a safe space. Some of my friends would share, and it would bring the energy down! Save yourself and your social life, and keep the scores to yourself. The worst thing is when friends start to compare themselves to each other. It is your job to do your personal best, and their job to do their personal best.