What To Know About TOEFL Tutors

This blog will address what you need to know before you hire a tutor. 
This blog expresses my opinions only, from having been a TOEFL tutor for eleven years. I have observed many tutors come and go. I want to express some of my thoughts, and tell you what to be careful of.

I have had MANY students who tried the test five, ten, fifteen, or more times before they came to me for help. Before you waste so much money, it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s smart and it will save you money in the long run. Experienced tutors can tell you what the raters expect, what you need to do, and provide you with terrific strategies and materials to help you.  All this advice WILL help you on the test. However, read on!

#2: There are a lot of tutors who know nothing about the test, or almost nothing.
Lately, I have noticed a trend. People who pass the test (or claim they passed the test) suddenly say they are a “tutor.” Of course, people who have been teaching the test for eleven years do not think that a person can become a tutor based SOLEY on the fact that they got a high score. In fact, many of these “tutors” do not even provide proof of their scores.
Even if they did get a high score, that doesn’t make them a great teacher. Do they really know grammar very well? Do they know how the speaking and writing sections are scored? Do they have strategies of their own? What makes them qualified to be a teacher?
Most importantly, ask yourself: IF SOMEONE TOOK THE TEST AND GOT AN AMAZING SCORE, WHY DID THEY DECIDE TO TUTOR? For example, pharmacists in the United States make almost two hundred thousand dollars a year. I can tell you with absolute certainty that tutors do not make even close to that amount of money. Beware of “pharmacists” who choose to be “tutors.” Think about why they would not work in their profession, but choose to teach for a much lower salary. A lot of the time, I do not believe they even did well on the test. They see this as an easy side hustle while they prepare to make another attempt at the test so they can go into their real careers. For me, this is my career, and has been for eleven years.
#3: Tutors should be native speakers or COMPLETELY bilingual. 
I have seen posts from so- called “tutors” with VERY basic grammar mistakes. For instance, one tutor posted, “Why TOEFL is so hard?” This is a very basic error. The actual order of this question should be, “Why is TOEFL so hard?” If the tutor makes these types of basic mistakes, how can they teach you writing or speaking, in which your production of grammar is judged carefully? You need to hire a person who grew up with the English language all around them. English has the highest range of vocabulary of any language and 25,000 idioms. If someone has been living in the US for only a few years, they probably are not in a position to teach such a complex test.
#4: Understand that tutors aren’t doing this to get rich.
I can’t speak for every tutor, but I personally make much less doing this than I would if I worked as a public-school English teacher. Freelance tutors also work without benefits such as health or dental insurance! So why do I do it? First, I love working with people from all over the world.  Also, I love to see RESULTS—if someone passes and gets their pharmacy license, physical therapy license, nursing license, and so on, I know I have done my part to make a difference in the world. Finally, I LOVE the challenge of the TOEFL. It keeps me interested all the time. Writing my TOEFL Reading book was an amazing experience, because I learned so much about the world!
People who want to get rich do NOT go into education. They become stock brokers or defense attorneys (LOL)…  SOME tutors may be working just to make money but—and maybe this is wishful thinking on my part—I like to think most of us are here to help you.
#5: Understand you might hire a very GOOD tutor and still not pass.
Look, I’ve been teaching this test for eleven years. That doesn’t mean all my students pass. The TOEFL is a very hard, complex test. Plus, there are a multitude of variables that happen on test day – perhaps you receive very challenging passages. Perhaps you are nervous on test day. Perhaps the person sitting beside you disrupts you. We do our best, but you have to also do work on your own. A few hours with a tutor isn’t a guarantee of anything. This is true of any and all tutors. The most important thing is to understand that you will do most of the work yourself. Nobody can “give” you a score. I wish! 
#6: Look at a tutor’s body of work.
Just because someone makes a Facebook post doesn’t mean they are an expert in TOEFL!  You need to see what work they have produced. Do they have a YouTube channel? Did they write a book? Do they have a website? Do they have student testimonials? Do they have a blog? A Facebook post doesn’t mean someone is an expert!
#7: Price should not be your top priority.
I’ve seen some people post they will tutor TOEFL for $10 an hour. Wow, great, except their posts are full of basic grammar errors.  Tutors with experience do not work below minimum wage! Consider how much you will spend if you keep retaking the test over and over. Pay a little more and hire someone with experience, a reputation, and a body of work.
Tutors who have spent years understanding the test command higher prices, and they deserve them. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work, especially people in the education field. But refer back to #4: we aren’t getting rich doing this. We are here to help you!
#8: Consider carefully whether you want group lessons or 1:1 lessons.
Many tutors offer both. If you need to ask a lot of questions or have specific needs, I do NOT recommend going into a group, even if it will be cheaper. You may end up on a Zoom call with ten or fifteen other people, and not get a chance to ask a question. It will be a waste of both your time and your money. Personally, right now, I only provide 1:1 lessons. I tried to do group lessons before and it was a waste of both my time and my students’ time. However, it’s up to you—what makes you feel more comfortable?
#9: Be wary of tutors who offer nothing but praise.
An honest tutor will point out your mistakes, not just encourage you to “Keep going, you are great!” That information is worthless. You need a score and feedback on grammar.
Many students think grammar isn’t important. This is NOT true. Grammar is extremely important. You need to be told about your mistakes. You need a teacher, not a cheerleader—this is a serious test. I personally work with children once a week, and of course I give them this kind of praise.  However, the ETS doesn’t care about your feelings!
I often tell students, “I am sorry, but your speaking is at about a 23. I think you should not take the test yet.” Although it may hurt them to hear this, they thank me later. The TOEFL is not cheap. They thank me for saving them money. I’m always honest with my students even if it’s not what they want to hear.
#10: As always, good luck on your test!