The Science Behind Tutoring - Is tutoring actually effective?

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 Paula Antalffy

In case you can’t tell, we’re a big fan of tutoring!

In our recent blogs we have spoken about all things tutoring, including tips for tutors, signs that your child needs tutoring and even the history of tutoring. However, we wanted to take a more scientific approach. In this blog we have a look at existing research to see whether tutoring is scientifically proven to help students or increases school performance.

Below we have written short summaries about a few papers published on tutoring. We have also included links to each study so you can learn more about them yourself.

Online Tutoring VS Face-to-Face 

The Research

This is a topic discussed quite a lot recently. We have published results collected by Bramble about the effectiveness of online tutoring. However we wanted to find something more scientific. 

A study published by American University in 2002, compared face to face and online college mathematics tuition. The study observed university students and tutors who either took part in online or face to face sessions.

The Findings

  • While online tutoring can be effective, students managed to cover less material during their sessions. This was primarily due to technical difficulties with video and audio throughout the sessions.
  • Online tutoring sessions also so more confusions between students and tutors due to an online workspace which was too simple. Illegible handwriting was one of the key areas for uncertainty. 
  • Students who took part in online tutoring sessions said they enjoyed the sessions, but were frustrated by technical difficulties.

What can you take away from this study?

It is important to make sure you are using reliable online tutoring tools. The study by American University uncovered that there is plenty of potential for successful online tutoring. However bad connection and difficult tools are a killer. 

To achieve online tutoring success and give your students clear and effective lessons, ensure you have a good internet connection.  Furthermore make sure you are using intuitive, reliable tools. If you want more tips for tutoring online click here!

Read the full study here.

Tutoring Center Effectiveness

The Study

A 2007 Study published by Erik Cooper, examined the effectiveness of drop-in tutoring among students of varying ages within the US. The research looked to identify whether students who visited a tutoring center more often achieved better overall restuls.

The study tracked the number of  times each student visited a tutoring center. The results were divided into 3 key groups: students who did not visit the tutoring center, students who visited less than 10 times, and students who visited more than 10 times. 

The Results

  • Cooper found throughout his research that students who attended tutoring sessions more than 10 times, saw a significant increase in their overall GPA. (GPAs are used in American high schools and colleges to calculate an average performance score of students over a set number of years of education.) 
  • Students who visited the Tutoring Center more often exhibited higher rates of persistence throughout their university experience. 

See graph 1 below for more details.

Graph showing increase in GPA among students attending more than 10 session of tutoring at a Tutoring Center.
Graph showing increase in GPA among students attending more than 10 session of tutoring at a Tutoring Center.

What can you take away from this study?

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from these findings is that in order for tutoring to be effective, students need to keep at it for an extended period of time. 

There is somewhat of a misconception among some people that tutoring is a fix all solution. Clients may believe that a few sessions with a tutor will transform their child. However, this is not the case. As shown by this study, students who keep returning to get extra help are proved to be more academically successful than those who attend a few sessions. 

One suggested solution to optimise tutoring success is a technique called high dosage tutoring, which you can learn more about here. 

Read the full study here.

Peer Tutoring Effectiveness

The Study

A study conducted at Lehigh University examined how peer tutoring can affect students’ grades and exam performance.  Peer tutoring typically works through a volunteering basis, where students studying at a higher level lead problem solving sessions for students currently enrolled in a subject.

The study focused on two key factors related to tutoring. These were: the impact of tutoring on average grade and the impact of time spent attending tutoring on average grade. 

The Results

  • The findings of the study suggested that participation in peer tutoring has a positive effect on grade outcome. 
  • The study found similar to the one mentioned above that students who engaged in peer tutoring for longer periods of time performed increasingly well. 
Graph showing effect of peer tutoring on course grade.
Graph showing effect of peer tutoring on course grade.

What you can take away from this study?

Peer tutoring primarily works on a voluntary basis meaning students offer the sessions to others for free. Arguably above all else, these findings prove that effective tutoring doesn’t have to be provided by excessively qualified tutors. 

While it should not be ruled out that tutors with more experience or with higher qualifications may be able to provide more effective help, it is clear that students who are just a few years ahead academically are able to help those a few years their junior. 

This provides a great opportunity for any educational institutions who do not have funding to pay for tutors. 

You can read the full study here.


What can be taken away from these three studies is that many types of tutoring have been proven to be effective for students in increasing grades and refining knowledge. Here are just a few things you might want to keep in mind to ensure your tutoring is as effective as possible in the future:

  1. If you are tutoring online make sure all the tools you use are reliable, intuitive and effective.
  2. Whether you are tutoring online or face-to-face, consistency is key! In order to get the most out of tutoring sessions, students should attend multiple sessions in a row.

Want to learn more about the science behind the effectiveness of tutoring? We have a part two coming soon!

Looking for reliable online tutoring and scheduling tools? Try TutorCruncher today!

We build business management software for tutoring companies. Whether you are a small team or an established company, we can help you give your clients a 5-star service while spending less time on administration.

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