Tutors who teach using assessment books aren't less capable

(This article by Mr Aaron Ng first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 19 March 2014.)

There are parents who do not have a favourable view of private tutors who use off-the-shelf assessment books, thinking that such tutors are not as capable as those who come up with their own materials and worksheets.

Such a view is unjustified for making the implicit assumption that assessment books are inferior compared to the materials tutors develop on their own.

The quality of assessment books and so-called in-house worksheets are correlated with the quality of those who produce them. A less than competent assessment book writer will produce a similarly inferior product as a less than competent tutor.

Off-the-shelf assessment books and self-developed worksheets both perform the same function; they are tools which tutors use to improve a student's academic weakness. The bottom line is that the tools should work as intended, and any tool that works as intended and performs the tasks required of it is a good tool.

Besides, there is no necessity to reinvent the wheel. Given the plethora of available assessment books, it is a waste of time for tutors to develop their own worksheets when there are quality assessment books out there. Students benefit more if their tutors spend their time thinking about how to better explain mistakes or difficult questions instead of coming up with worksheets that can be easily found on the market.

The so-called self-developed or in-house worksheets may also not be as original as they are made out to be. Given that the syllabi for all subjects are fixed by MOE, the range of questions and learning materials can only be as wide as the respective syllabus dictates, so it is not likely that any tutor or centre is in possession of some radically different learning materials.

To focus on learning materials is to bark up the wrong tree. What is more important is whether the tutor is able to adjust his or her teaching style to match the student's learning style.

A bad workman always blames his tools, but a good workman can make the best out of any usable tool. Parents should focus on the teaching skills of a tutor rather than the materials the tutor uses.


About The Author

Aaron Ng is a private tutor who teaches at the primary, secondary and junior college levels. He also teaches undergraduates as a part-time lecturer with the Department of Communications and New Media in NUS, having left the department as a full-time teaching staff in 2012 to focus on private tutoring due to increased demand from parents. Aaron specialises in English writing and communication, and has about a decade of tutoring and lecturing experience. He has also won several teaching awards during his full-time teaching stint in NUS.

Aaron holds a M.A. degree and B.Soc.Sci (Hons) degree from NUS. He won the NTUC Income Prize for being the top student in his major during his undergraduate study. Prior to NUS, Aaron graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College and The Chinese High School, now collectively known as Hwa Chong Institution.