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Thomas Broderick

A Guide to the ACT for Tutors

Being an ACT tutor is a rewarding experience. But before you start imparting your wisdom to others, you need to know the ins and outs of tutoring.


A Guide to the ACT for Tutors -Magoosh


The following guide comes from my experience as a teacher of an ACT prep course for two years. It is in no way the gold standard for how to run your tutoring sessions. It is just advice from someone who has been there. If something in this article works for you, take it. If it doesn’t, leave it. With that disclaimer, let’s get started.

Getting to Know Your Students

Every person you tutor will have the same goal (improve their ACT score), but have completely different roadblocks between them and success. That is why when you meet your students for the first time, get to know them as individuals rather than just test takers. Learning a little about the person can say a lot about what he or she needs to succeed on the ACT. In the next two paragraphs I describe two very different types of students, and how to approach each on your first meeting.


A Guide to the ACT for Tutors -Magoosh


The first type of student is one who would rather be anywhere else than sitting with you. Most likely they don’t care about the ACT, and are only there because their parents made them. Though they might seem antagonistic, conversing with them about their interests and what they might want to do after high school can give you an opening to discuss the importance of the ACT. Also, research if your state has a lottery scholarship awarded based on ACT scores. A little money will go a long way in getting teenagers on board with studying.

Another type of student is the overachiever. Though usually good-natured, the pressure to perform well has led to a cycle of stress and disappointment when it comes to high stakes tests. For these students, a discussion about study planning and college applications can put some of their worries to rest. High school juniors already have enough on their plate, so giving them help (or even telling a story about yourself) can reduce their stress and build rapport.


Once you get to know your students as people, it’s time to get to know them as students. Before your first tutoring session, it’s always a good idea to ask the parents a few questions. Do they do well in school? Does he/she struggle in any particular subject(s)?

Even if you receive some information from the parents, always ask the students, too. It makes them feel more invested in the process, and that you actually care about their situation and future. Take the time to do this.

The key to differentiation is scaffolding. Unlike the scaffolds around buildings under construction, an academic scaffold is the level of support you give to a student throughout the lesson. Some students, when they learn a new concept, have very little trouble applying it. For some it’s the opposite. Scaffolding doesn’t mean doing the problems for them, but offering the right amount of guidance. Though some trial and error will be necessary to determine how much scaffolding each student requires, I found this technique successful in ACT Prep and the other courses I taught in my career as a teacher.

Tracking Progress

Whether you have one student or twenty, tracking progress is an important step in both your success as a teacher and your students’ success on the ACT. Your students, like all people completing a task, want to see that their efforts are having a positive effect.

What worked well for me in my class was having student graph their own progress. Before I would teach a new concept, I would have students answer roughly twenty questions that focused on that concept. I had students record their scores, and I kept track of them as well. After I taught the concept and students had a chance to practice (this is when I used scaffolding), students answered a new set of twenty questions. Every time I did this, there were always a handful of students who still struggled. I made sure to go back and give those students a greater amount of scaffolding during the next session.

Make it Engaging

As we all know from personal experience, teenagers can be some of the most cynical people on the planet. Try to do something nice for them and the best you’ll get in return is an eye roll. Nevertheless, as a tutor, your job depends just as much on engaging your audience as knowing the content and tricks to conquer the ACT. It’s not about making the material ‘fun,’ but making it relevant to students’ plans for the future.

This next fact might scare off a few potential tutors, but you really only have one shot to make the material relevant before the students either tune in or out what you’re trying to teach them. The first few minutes of the lesson are the most important, the ‘hook’ you use to ‘catch’ students’ attention.

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve prepared a lesson on charts and graphs on the ACT Science Test. As most students struggle with this part of the ACT, you know their frustration with the subject will cause many of them to tune out the lesson.

You can’t throw students into the deep end right away, and you want to connect the lesson to their lives. Therefore, you begin the lesson by having students analyze the charts and graphs they see in their daily lives, or will encounter as adults. A perfect example is a nutritional label. Asking students some basic questions about the chart/graph will activate prior knowledge. Not only will students see the relevance of the lesson, but the hook activity will prime their brains for the new concepts you will teach. Consider it the mental equivalent of stretching before a run.

But Remember…

At the end of the day, you are these students’ instructor. If you’ve never worked with adolescents before, here are a few tips:

  • Be friendly but not their friend.
  • Reserve praise for when it is due.
  • Every tutoring session is a new opportunity to reach out to a student.

Final Thoughts

Being a tutor is a big responsibility. Even if it’s just for an hour a week, someone has put their child’s future in your hands. Don’t take that responsibility lightly, even for a moment.

Take pride in the fact that you’re doing the good work that will guide a young man or woman towards a better future. If I had a hat, I’d tip it to you. 🙂

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About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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