"Tutor Proof" Tests: A Tutor's Perspective

Mark Maclaine

March 24, 2015

Featured in the April Issue of Life Magazines.

"Tutor proof" Test - Mark Maclaine

In a bid to bring balance to the school entrance process, a number of schools have opted for “tutor proof” tests, which are designed to be harder for tutors to prepare students for. Recent findings have shown not only that these exams don’t work, but that they may in fact make things worse. The truth is these exams are exactly the kind that experienced tutors love to prepare students for. They are far more interesting than those that require rote memorisation and, just like IQ tests, the more you do of them the better you get. With the right kind of tutoring, students can jump far ahead of their peers in very little time.

The fact that there is even a desire to create "tutor proof" tests draws attention to a misunderstanding about what tutoring is and can be. Tutors have a unique opportunity not only to make a difference to a student’s grades, but potentially to the rest of their life. My mother was a teacher and she felt that if she could have had one-on-one time with certain students at an early stage she could have prevented some of them from falling behind. But she simply didn’t have time.

If a tutor can identify why a student has fallen behind, bring them up to speed and, most importantly, help them develop strategies to prevent themselves from falling behind again, then that tutor has taught their student the most crucial lesson of all—how to learn. Sometimes just half an hour can make a huge difference.

Trying to create a “tutor proof” test is like trying to develop an education-proof one. It fails to understand how flexible tutors can be in what they provide for their students. More than this, it directs the ever-diminishing resources allocated to education in this country to the wrong place. We should not be pitting teachers and tutors against each other, bur working towards developing a system that allows both professions to support each other.

The creators of “tutor proof” tests have a noble goal—to reduce educational inequality. They believe that the best way to do it is by reducing the impact tutors have on their students. By contrast I believe we should be increasing tutor numbers and impact. Providing as many struggling children as possible with a tutor is a powerful way to reduce inequality. Like this, we will move towards a system where no child is left behind, instead of creating tests that mean some have to be.