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How to Get the Most Out of Your Anatomy & Physiology Tutoring Session

You’re having trouble understanding a concept in human anatomy or physiology, so all you need to do is contract the services of a tutor and then one hour later it will all be solved, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Hiring an anatomy or physiology tutor is an investment in your future as a health care professional, and you should do whatever you can to get the most out of your investment. It’s important to understand that even when you’re working with a tutor, ultimately you’ll still have to put in the work to get to where you need to be. Imagine that you’re working on a building project and you need to cut a piece off of a wooden board — you’ll use a saw to cut the wood, but the saw can’t do anything by itself. Your effort combined with the properties of the saw allow you to accomplish your goal. Think of your tutor as a tool you can use to help direct your effort towards your goal of understanding a concept. In this post I’ll describe some steps you can take which will allow you to get the most out of your investment in private anatomy and physiology tutoring sessions.


The worst thing you can do is to just show up to a session without having any questions prepared. If the tutor is doing most of the talking, that’s a clear sign that the session isn’t as effective as it could be. You’ve already watched a lecture on the subject, and if you need the services of a tutor, that means the lecture wasn’t enough for you to understand the material. So sitting through another lecture isn’t going to be helpful. Tutoring sessions should be directed and focused on specific topics –asking a tutor to teach you an entire body system isn’t likely to be effective.


The first step in preparing for a tutoring session is to identify what concepts you’re having trouble understanding – as you review your slides or lecture notes, you should keep a list of things you’re not sure about. This is a good start, but even this isn’t enough preparation for a tutoring session. Before you go to a tutor for help, try to see if you can resolve the difficulty on your own. As I mentioned in a previous post, complex topics in anatomy and physiology build on the fundamental concepts that were hopefully introduced at the beginning of your course. Is a certain word or phrase tripping you up? Go back through your notes and see if you can get some more insight into that phrase. If a word or phrase in that explanation is confusing, then repeat the same process and follow the chain back as far as you can.

This will help you to identify exactly where the difficulty is arising and will give you something concrete you can ask your tutor to help you with. I’m having trouble understanding concept X because I’m not sure what it means when it says Y. Something like this is music to your tutor’s ears. You’ve identified something specific they can focus on and which will allow them to clear up the confusion you’re experiencing.


In the last section, I suggested going back through your notes or slides to help you make sense of concepts that were tripping you up. But sometimes seeing the same thing explained in a different way can make all the difference. With that in mind, you can try looking at other sources. The internet is loaded with information, so try to see if there’s an explanation out there that will help make the concept click. When it comes to physiological processes like chemical reactions or the motion of substances or structures in the body, videos on YouTube are invaluable resources that can bring a topic to life in a way text on a page never can. If using other online resources doesn’t help, then you’ve effectively identified something specific you need to bring up with your tutor.


In addition to the preparation you put in before your meeting, what you do during the tutoring session has a huge impact on the overall result of that session. When I go through an explanation that I feel might have been a bit long, I’m always sure to ask the student if what I said makes sense or if they understand. These moments are critical. I want to emphasize that point. There’s no shame in saying you don’t understand if that’s the truth because what’s the point of meeting with a tutor if you end up not understanding the topic you wanted to learn about?

Maybe you’re trying to spare your tutor’s feelings, but a tutoring session is a rare time in life when you should be entirely selfish. They won’t be offended or feel like they failed if you say you don’t understand. These subjects are hard! It’s totally normal if you don’t fully grasp a concept after a brief explanation and you shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed. Most of all, you shouldn’t feel like you’re letting your tutor down. They can try again, and if that doesn’t work, they can go through a process like the one I described above where you work your way back through each step in the chain until you and your tutor discover exactly where the problem lies.

I understand that admitting you don’t know something can make you feel vulnerable and no one likes to admit they’re having trouble. But think about the bigger picture: you have an exam coming up and you’re going to need to demonstrate you understand the concepts. You need to be honest with your tutor and with yourself, and you need to be confident that you can understand even if you’re struggling right now.


Which brings me back to the point I made at the beginning. Your tutor will do everything they can to help you, but ultimately success is a result of your effort. This includes the effort involved in paying attention in class, concentrating with your full attention when you read, and following the steps I outlined above to try to resolve difficulties that you encounter. When you’ve exhausted all of those resources then it’s time to meet with a tutor. But come prepared and don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand something your tutor says. Remember to think of your tutor as a tool like a hammer or a saw – it will just sit there doing nothing until you activate it and allow it to work to your advantage. Once you get to know me, I’d rather you think of me as a person, but if being likened to an inanimate object is what helps you succeed then it’s fine with me if that’s what you need to do!


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