Need Help With Your Studies?

By Rebecca VanderMeulen


Lesson Plan Guide

Between taking four Advanced Placement courses, visiting colleges, acting in school plays and singing in the choir, Heather Kramer can’t always ask her teachers for help with homework. That could have spelled trouble when she knew that Hess’s Law – something her teacher covered when she was out of class – would be on her next AP Chemistry test.

But Kramer tapped into a resource she’d used before: Khan Academy, a website known for its videos illustrating and explaining thousands of concepts. “It’s not just a video of the guy talking,” says Kramer, a senior at Sprague High School in Salem, Ore. “It’s a video of the guy’s work.”

The guy, by the way, is Khan Academy founder Sal Khan. His tutorial helped Kramer with a third of her AP chemistry test. “If a teacher explains it one way, seeing another explanation helps you understand,” she says. “The ability to rewind and pause is really helpful.”


What is Khan Academy? is a free, interactive online platform where you can watch videos and practice using what you’ve seen.

“Students don’t learn about math by hearing about math or reading about math,” explains Paulette Altmaier, Khan’s head of education partnerships. “They learn about math by doing math.”

Most of Khan’s lessons are on math and science, but there are also lessons on subjects such as art history and economics.

About 8 million people worldwide log into Khan Academy every month. Altmaier says it’s a safe place if you’re afraid to raise your hand in class and ask for help with something the teacher covered two months ago. Instead you can go home, log on and watch the same video 20 times if you want to or need to.

And if you’re bored because your teacher’s talking about something you already know, you can check out a Khan feature called the Knowledge Map. Once you’ve mastered congruent triangles, the map says you’re ready to tackle trigonometry.

Personal tutoring – online!
What if you need to talk through your homework with someone and it’s too late to bug your teacher? All you have to do is go online – and get your parents’ permission to use a credit card.

Thanks to companies like InstaEDU, you can get one-on-one help with a tutor anytime you need it, even at 1 a.m. A law student in Quebec might help you with French.

On InstaEDU, you and your tutor see and talk to each other through webcams and share a virtual whiteboard. CEO Alison Johnston says it brings the concept of in-person tutoring to students who have busy schedules or lack the cash for a regular tutor.

“We see people who do one 15-minute lesson,” Johnston says. “We have people who set up lessons every week, all through AP Calculus. We do SAT prep. We help students with their college essays.”

Tutoring in person
A good tutor will help you really comprehend your homework. That’s true whether your tutor is across the country or right next to you, says Sam Rowe, head learning specialist at the Dennis Learning Center at Ohio State University.

Talking through material with a tutor means you can ask lots of questions, Rowe says. A tutor should give you practice applying the information in different ways – like doing math problems that aren’t in your textbook.

“A lot of what you’re losing with an online tutor is nonverbal communication,” he says. Depending on how you learn, that might make a difference.

How do you find a tutor?
You can search online directories for nearby tutors. Tutoring and learning centers are in many cities all over the country. If you live near a college, a student there could be a good tutor. Contact theHelp button college’s physics department if you’re struggling with physics, or the political science department if you’re stuck in civics.

Generally, tutors charge by the hour. InstaEDU costs about $24 per hour. In-person tutors and tutoring centers charge varying rates from as low as about $20 per hour to more than $100 per hour, depending on the tutor’s experience and where you live.

No matter how you do it, Rowe says, looking for outside help with class is much better than reading your textbook for the 20th time or reviewing your notes over and over. “If you didn’t understand the teacher, your notes won’t be comprehensible either,” he says.

How to get the help you need

If you're struggling to understand your teacher and textbook, it's time to try another way. “Most people will learn best if they diversify their exposure to the information,” says Sam Rowe of Ohio State University.

Decide what to try by taking a quiz to figure out your learning style.

Different methods work better for different people. Here are a few options.
Study groups: If you remember things better by talking with and listening to your peers.
Tutoring: If you learn best when you can talk with someone who can explain why a concept works the way it does.
Online videos: If you wish you could pause your teacher and ask her to repeat herself.


About the Author

Rebecca VanderMeulen