Cultivating the skills to tutor yourself will return lifelong dividends.
Tutoring yourself means understanding your own learning process and being able to guide yourself through mastering a new concept or skill. To effectively tutor yourself, you must take an objective and systematic approach to identifying and working on your weaknesses. Here are some general steps you can follow when either learning a new skill or trying to coach yourself through a challenging topic.
Know your goals
What is it that you want to accomplish? Do you want to write an A paper? Ace a problem set? Learn a complex topic for an exam? Be extremely clear and specific in stating your goal, as your whole approach will be determined by your desired outcome.
Break down the different components of each goal
Determine what it will take to accomplish your goal, and think about both content and process. For example, for a physics test, you may need to know about electromagnetism (content) and be able to solve challenging electromagnetism problems on the exam (process). Likewise, for a history paper on Pearl Harbor, you will need to know your topic and how to structure and write an effective paper. Break your larger goal into smaller intermediate steps to set up a pathway to success.
Assess where you are in relation to each component of your goal
Rate yourself as objectively as possible on each intermediate step that you’ve identified. For example, for that paper on Pearl Harbor, write out what you know about the topic and detail the process of paper writing. If you haven’t written much in terms of content or process, you know these are areas you will need to address. Look at past experiences or sample questions or problems to help you with this diagnosis.
Structure an approach to close the gap between your current proficiency and your goal
This is where things can often get most complicated, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the work. You may need to ask a professor, friend, or other reliable source to understand how to get from your current level of understanding to your goal. You can also look to some sort of established curriculum or other learning materials (check online or at the library). The further you are from your goal, the more comprehensive the approach needs to be. For example, if you’re having trouble in physics because you don’t know algebra well enough, an effective plan would build in a period of algebra study before turning to physics problems. Sometimes accepting the full scope of your approach can be a tough pill to swallow, but following the plan will ensure that you get where you need to go.
Assess your progress
After you’ve begun or completed your plan, don’t just assume you will be successful. Make sure that you test your abilities and get an outside opinion on your progress through sample quizzes, assessments of your writing, diagnostic tests, and the like.
Repeat (and adjust, if necessary)
Tutoring yourself is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous, iterative process. Once you begin making progress, take the time to periodically update your plan and adjust your goals or intermediate steps as necessary.
Ask for help
Tutoring yourself doesn’t mean you have to work alone. When the going gets tough, look around you for resources—your teachers, friends, and the internet—to help you get through the rough spots.
Part of what we do at Signet is help you understand how you learn, how to improve upon your current routines, and how to cultivate better study habits. If you build the confidence, patience, and persistence to tutor yourself through difficult or unfamiliar material, you’ll have an incredible life skill that will help you achieve almost anything you set your mind to. Try to apply the process we’ve described above to your own work and you’ll see how empowering the ability to teach yourself can be.