1. To make small talk and build rapport
I find that to make a student care about his results, you have to somehow make them like you as a tutor. It will make things a lot easier with this basic relationship issue settled. If ‘like’ is too strong a word, at least they mustn’t dislike you. I’ve seen a lot of students who complained that this teacher and that teacher slighted them, and always picks on them, hence they refuse to do well in the subject that is taught by the same teacher. It’s silly to think like that since the one who is really suffering is the student, but you can’t deny that powerful logic to ‘take revenge’ on the hated teacher. I had a student that had this kind of warped thinking and I had to re-wire his thinking to this: ‘Take revenge’ on the teacher on doing exceedingly well, so well that the teacher had to eat back his words. It’s not for the best intention but it does produce the correct outcome. I guess I would have to content myself with that.
While browsing through the exam papers, I will make small talk. I’ll ask what sort of cca (co-curriculum activities) did they participate in school. The point here is to find out similarities and definitely not to judge. I’ll play the role of the listener and ask several open ended questions and hear them talk about themselves. It’ll ease the discomfort of meeting a stranger for the first time (this is more for me than for them, haha) and a good mentor-student relationship just makes the whole journey easier in the future.
2. To find out if the student is weak because he has poor time management
By looking at the marks allocated for each question, usually listed in front of the exam paper, I can see if the student has poor time management. If that’s the case, you’ll see that the first few questions are near full marks but as we go down the questions, the marks can lesser and lesser and you see a few zero at the back. Then as you flipped to the answer scripts itself, you’ll see that the zeroes are left blank. Sometimes it could be the whole question that is left undone.
There’s another reason for this, and that’s a lack of stamina. Usually I’ll see IP (integrated programme) students having this issue. They can more and more tired and eventually crash out. The correct prescription for this is to teach them efficient ways of doing the same problem, and also lots of drilling with time trial to improve the speed, and lastly some exam skills like doing the easy questions first, cutting losses etc. Usually such cases of students having poor time management is very rare, at least not for the first time of meeting me.
3. To find out if the student has content gaps that I will have to fill in
Here you’ll see that the student has plenty of time, so much that he might be falling asleep during the exams. You’ll notice that the marks are usually low, and here and there you’ll find zeroes. As you flip to the answer scripts, you’ll see that there’s a lot of blanks with no attempt to do any because the student don’t know how. This type of problem forms the majority of the students that I tutor.
It’s also easiest to solve. I just need to write down the topics that the students have problems with, go through the content one topic at a time until completion. Usually there’ll be a massive improvement in the exam results, usually from like a F to a B kind of jump. By then, I will usually have another problem at hand, which is time management and I covered that in point 2. Hence, a student having time management as a problem is a better student than having a one who has content gaps. It’s much harder to solve time management issues, from my experience.
4. To assess the school’s level of difficulty
Not all schools have the same level of difficulty. Generally all girls school set crazily difficult papers and branded schools usually set the easier papers (and follow syllabus closely) as compared to neighbourhood schools. It’s important to find out the level of difficulty of the school so as to tailor the correct level of teaching to the students. For students that comes from school that set more difficult papers, I have to teach the content from Level 1 all the way to level 3. Generally level 1 is basic formulaic questions, level 2 requires some application and is harder, while level 3 requires cross topic integration (like a question that involves both trigonometry and vectors). The minimum level is level 2, and usually because of time constraints, that is all that is needed. We can worry about level 3 type of problems when we settled all topics up to level 2.
It looks like a lot of work, but most of it is done subconsciously and it wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to form a quick general assessment. I think like a doctor, tutors need to do this physical examination to assess the problems so that the correct medication and prescription can be given. With 2 hours a week for tuition lessons, not a lot of time can be wasted.