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Serving Northern Virginia, Maryland, & Washington, DC since 1994


Success Stories

"He Just Needs to Work Harder" - by tutor Zachary Snell

I started working with Alex about halfway into the 9th grade. His grades for everything were slipping, and his parents were terrified. Scheduling was a huge red flag. We could only meet one day a week since Alex was torn between family in two locations, track, and a very demanding academic schedule.

On top of that, I heard my favorite old chestnut when I got there: "He just needs to work harder."

On the first day, I sat down with Alex at his desk, and we popped open his Algebra book. The issue there was easy to solve; he had been taught three different ways to do a problem and was trying to use all of them. Once I reduced the options and got him to show his work, the assignment was done inside fifteen minutes. He was a little surprised at that. He was far more surprised that we did all of it without the calculator (I focus on mental math and problem solving in test preparation, and it bleeds over into homework help).

Once the homework was done we pulled open Alex's backpack and started working. I saw what was going on pretty quickly. Papers were stuffed in, due dates were written on nothing, and Alex's planner was a 200-page hall pass.

Over the next three months I focused on getting Alex to write things down and budget his time. We found ten to twelve hours every week for him to work on homework (and still have a day to himself), and assignments stopped getting lost or forgotten.

In my last few sessions with Alex, we were working ahead on an English project he had started early and talking about the upcoming SATs. His GPA had gone up a point and a half. More importantly, he didn't think he was dumb or bad at school anymore.


Conquering the SAT Test Phobia - by tutor Rachel Powell

The greatest success I experience as a tutor is watching a student gradually learn that he is capable, that math is not impossible for her, that history and chemistry and French are within his grasp.  The culmination of this experience for me occurs when a student knows that he can go to his first-choice college.  I have had the honor of guiding many students through the SATs and the college application/essay process.  I have watched my students wait to hear from their dream schools, and I have been thrilled right along with them when the letters came, and they knew they have succeeded brilliantly at the first chapter of their education.

Jason is bright, funny, popular, and talented.  He was doubtful that he would ever be accepted to the only college he wanted to attend.  He had the talent; he is a composer and a musician.  He had the grades; good, though not outstanding.  He was athletic and had trained as an ice skater and gymnast.    He was, however, a phobic test-taker.  He had already taken the SAT test once—at the insistence of both his mom and his guidance counselor.  He knew his score was going to be low; he expected that, and to some extent, that expectation had been self-fulfilling.

When I first met Jason, he had not even opened any of the many SAT books his mom had bought for him.  He looked forward to the second test as much as he would have longed to have a tooth pulled.  Despite his anxiety, Jason greeted me on our first meeting with a willingness to work.  After several sessions of getting to know the SAT and getting to know each other, Jason admitted that he wanted to go to NYU and only NYU.  He also admitted that he thought he didn’t stand a chance of getting accepted.   I asked him to tell me more about his NYU fixation, and as he shared, I became convinced he could make this happen; the school was such an obvious fit for him.  The only block was Jason’s trust in his own abilities and his effort in preparing for the test.   Once he trusted that the SAT score he needed was something he could earn, he began to work steadily on all components of the verbal test.  He wrote essays, read passages, and studied grammar with me every week and worked on sections of the test between times.

I spoke to Jason after the test; he was relieved and he was tired.  He was also successful.  His second test scores were far above those on his first attempt.  Jason went on to interview and audition at NYU.  He was thrilled to get his acceptance letter—thrilled, but not really surprised.  I wasn’t surprised, either.


See Jane Succeed - by tutor Zachary Snell

Jane was not looking forward to her SATs. It had nothing to do with the work; she was a 4.0 student taking a full AP course load. But she had taken a couple practice tests and was scoring nowhere near what she and her
parents wanted. When I met her, she was frustrated and more than a little depressed with her performance.

We started by talking about her past tests. I sat down with her and looked at the scores, and helped identify some problem areas. Most of these amounted to problem solving (on the math) and time management.

Jane was a great student, and that was part of the issue. She was so used to the way she'd prepare for content-focused exams that she thought she could make her SAT issues vanish in a stack of flash cards and notes. It wasn't until I put my money where my mouth was and finished a section under the same constraints I had her work with (one minute per question, no calculator) that she was sold enough to try things my way.

Once we had our first breakthrough, the changes happened almost overnight.
Jane went from scoring 500s on individual sections to nearly perfect scores, and from struggling with time constraints to being done early on almost every section. She even smiled once or twice during our time, though she was fairly convinced that I was a giant nerd.

The thing I was most pleased with when our time was up was that Jane no longer had all the stress of that test hanging on her head. She wasn't thrilled about getting up early on test day, but she wasn't going to lose any sleep worrying the night before.


Conquering College Essays - by TFS client Patty W.

I wanted to take the time to tell you how wonderful Carole Heller is, the tutor assigned to us by TFS.  She radiates energy and began with a positive plan of approach to improving our son, Cole’s, writing skills.

When she realized that he was floundering in the college application process, she stepped up and gave him concrete steps to begin and stay on top of it, i.e. what schools was he interested in, when were the deadlines, etc. Once the deadlines for applications were determined, she had him find the essay or personal statement for that college, and they began working towards completing the essay before application deadline.  She encouraged him to research the school’s website and find reasons that appealed to him as to why he wanted to attend, to include in the personal statement.  She helped him with flow, organization, and communicating his thoughts accurately on paper.  All deadlines were met with the happy result of either acceptance or a wait list.

Carole is very good at developing rapport with a teen. She was great at motivating Cole to stay on task despite his 'senior-itis'.   She provided us with continued updates on his progress, and built up Cole's confidence in the subject.  She modified her schedule to meet his/our needs and was always very flexible.  She willingly increased the number of sessions to get college essays done (even during the very busy holidays), and moved scheduled sessions when his work load required a change of focus.

Cole's first English paper in September....a D - .    Last paper he turned in, 95%!!!  That's results!








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