There are a lot of factors that go into whether someone is a good tutor, not all of which are easily discerned up front. But there is one thing that I consider to be an absolute must: a 170+ score on the real deal.
Being a professional LSAT tutor myself, I am fully aware that this statement could be construed as immensely self-serving. After all, this blog is attached to a website offering my services as a 170+ scoring LSAT tutor. But even if I didn’t teach the LSAT for a living, I would say the same thing. It just makes too much sense.
I think it’s a fairly uncontroversial statement to say that good teachers must have a complete mastery of the material they teach, because a good teacher must be able to clarify any and all concerns that may arise. Good teachers don’t just memorize explanations to recite back at you and hope that you don’t ask anything they’re not prepared for. Rather, they are able to identify the particular issue you’re having, analyze your thought process, and find a way to make you understand, all on the fly. Their responses are effortless, nearly instantaneous, and perfectly tailored to your question. That kind of instruction is impossible without a full mastery of the subject matter. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a shaky or questionable explanation, you know exactly how impossible it is to learn from someone who doesn’t have complete command of what he’s talking about.
It should be noted that a high LSAT score does not demonstrate mastery of the material in and of itself – after all, since this is a multiple choice test, you can often arrive at the right answer for the wrong reason (getting lucky), or for no reason at all (using process of elimination to get rid of the other choices). I’ve talked previously about being very wary of anyone who waves a high LSAT score in your face as if it proves anything, and all of that is still true. But, a (relatively) low LSAT score IS enough to demonstrate lack of mastery, and lack of mastery is a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. Put in LSAT logic, a high score is not sufficient to show mastery of the material, but it is necessary.
Of course, you can’t just take someone’s word for it – you need proof. In this context, the proof comes in the form of a score. So, to be blunt: If your tutor couldn’t score 170+ on his own LSAT, he’s not good enough at the LSAT to be taking your money. Not only has he failed to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the material, which itself should be the end of the conversation, but by studying under his tutelage you are also at very high risk of picking up all of his faulty thought processes and bad habits. Frankly, I think 170 might even be too lenient – if I were a student, I would demand that my tutor have a 99th percentile (173+) LSAT score. In an age where the disadvantages of distance tutoring are all but eliminated with the advent of webcams, writing tablets, and programs like Skype, there’s no reason to settle. If you’re going to be spending money on a private tutor, make sure he’s got the score to back up his talk.
The only counterpoint I can see to this is money. If you can’t afford a 170+ tutor, then I freely admit that a less-qualified tutor is usually better than nothing. I don’t really consider this a good reason because even here in Manhattan, which sports one of the highest costs of living in the country, I see posts on Craigslist ALL THE TIME offering a 99th percentile tutor for something like $30 an hour. Whatever the reason is for offering such a low rate, these people definitely exist. With distance learning as a perfectly viable option, there’s no reason that you can’t ask one of those people to tutor you via Skype or something. Sure, they may not be experienced professional tutors, but if money is a concern you probably weren’t getting one of those anyway. Still, I accept that some people don’t want to do distance tutoring, and can’t find a 170+ tutor in their limited price range. In these cases, you’ll obviously want to use your judgment carefully, remembering that you usually get what you pay for, and at some point it may not be worth it at all (for example, I would never pay any amount of money to receive instruction from a sub-164 scorer, because that’s sub-90th percentile). If you have the money, though, I literally can’t think of another reason why 170+ wouldn’t be an absolute requirement in your search for a tutor.
On a side note, this guideline is also enough to immediately disqualify several commercial prep courses from consideration, should you decide to take that path instead. TestMasters, PowerScore, and Manhattan LSAT all require their instructors to have a 99th percentile score. BluePrint is right behind them, requiring a 170 score. I’m not going to name any more names, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’m sure you can figure out which big-time commercial programs are conspicuously absent from this discussion. Do your homework – find out what standards your instructors are held to before you sign up for any course.