When parents or students contact us for tutoring help, it is invariably because they are concerned about poor grades. Getting a student back on track and getting grades up must be the first priority. But, understanding why the student was struggling in the first place is critical to providing them with the tools to excel after our tutoring stops. But to provide the best help possible, we have to dig deeper and understand why the student is struggling.

To be sure, some times the student is only struggling because of the difficulties of a particular course, or a challenging teacher. In our experience, this happens most frequently in math. Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus fundamentally change the rules for most students. They have to be able to deal with abstraction (variables, imaginary numbers, etc…), proofs and complex theorems, and they have to be able to visualize and develop spatial reasoning. Some students just need more time to grasp these concepts and to practice, and one-on-one tutoring is ideal for that.

But, more often than not, students are actually struggling because there is a “hidden” problem that is making the work and the learning a real challenge for them. The three most common of these are:

• Weak Underlying Math Skills
• Weak Fundamental Reading and Writing Skills
• Poor Study Habits

In math, weak underlying skills include problems with basic arithmetic, handling fractions, percentages, positive and negative numbers, and basic algebraic concepts. The tendency of more and more students to use calculators for everything, and for schools to allow students to pass when they are not “fluent and fast” with these basic skills makes the problem worse. These students become crippled when the workload increases and the formulas get more complex. They make basic mistakes and take so long to work through simple operations that they just cannot keep up with more advanced, fast paced courses.

Weak underlying skills in reading comprehension and basic writing affect everything. They will always undermine success because the student will struggle to keep up with new material and to present their written thoughts in a compelling and organized way. The problems get worse the more they are expected to read and digest on their own and the more they are forced to answer questions with essays and not multiple-choice answers.

Poor study habits can be the hardest to spot of all. But, they too affect everything. Students who are disorganized, cannot prioritize, cannot manage time, don’t know how to memorize and don’t know how to study most effectively for long term retention will always struggle as they go up in grade level and the workload gets heavier.

Keep these “hidden” reasons your student might be struggling in mind when you go looking for tutoring help. Be sure your find a tutor who can BOTH help get grades up in your problem course quickly AND identify and work on the root problem so that you and your student are not saddled with a lifelong need for tutoring.


Mary Beth Inchalik is the President of Santa Clarita In Home Tutoring. She has over 20 years of combined regular and special education teaching experience from elementary school through high school. Contact her at (661) 977-1629 or marybethinch@yahoo.com.