Peer to Peer Tutoring

How a University Increased Student GPA by 25% Through Peer-to-Peer Tutoring

A 2019 research study adds to the body of research showing the positive impact of Peer-to-Peer (PTP) tutoring programs. The study saw researchers divide 102 Spanish first-year university students into two groups, one serving as a control group and the other as the experimental group. To limit variability all were Spanish, single, not working, and equal in terms of average age, program of study, and high school/entry Grade Point Average (GPA). The study also tested students to ensure equal distribution across both groups in the level of academic commitment, social skills, motivation and learning strategies.

The PTP Tutoring Program 

Consistent Time and Place

The tutoring program was highly structured. Students were required to attend one 90-minute tutoring session every week, over a period of 20 weeks, at a specific location and time. 

Selection and Training of the Tutors

Tutors were selected from senior and doctoral students and each peer mentor was required to participate in three training sessions.

  • Session 1 – introduced the tutors to the program staff, participants, and the training plan, justification of the program, and difficulties and problems of academic and social adjustment of the freshmen, anticipated causal variables and proposed intervention strategies. 
  • Session 2 – walked them through the use of the program’s Working Notebook, which detailed a formal tutoring protocol that each tutoring session was expected to follow. 
  • Session 3 – reviewed the results of the freshmen’ needs assessment and trained the tutors in how to help students set objectives, draft strategies, complete tasks and resolve conflicts. After completing the training prospective tutors were required to pass a PTP training test. Of 141 graduate students who volunteered as mentors, 102 were selected.

Focused on Academic and Coping Skills

Tutors were asked to cover more than just academics during their tutoring sessions. For example, during the three sessions at the end of each term, the focus included

(a) increasing engagement and implementation of the weekly study plan, particularly class attendance, meals, and sleep hours;
(b) increasing rehearsals, including simulations of exam conditions; and,
(c) prioritizing objectives in a realistic and pragmatic way. 

Additionally, during the first session of the second semester (i.e. session 11), tutors were asked to engage their students in an analysis of the past term’s academic outcomes and discuss why they achieved the results they did.

Program Check Ins

To ensure student and tutor needs were being met, individual follow-up sessions were held between program staff and each tutor following tutoring sessions 2, 5 and 15. Group sessions were also held between a member of the program staff and each tutor-student combination after sessions 10 and 20.

The Results

The impact of the PTP program was striking. Across all the outcomes they measured (persistence, dropout rate and GPA), the PTP program showed a positive and statistically significant result in each. The biggest impact covered GPA, both term-to-term and overall. By the end of the first term, students in the PTP program received a GPA 1.12 points higher than those not in the program. A difference of nearly 18%. By the end of the Spring Term, the difference had grown to 1.66 points or 36%. Overall, the difference netted out to a 25% better GPA score for those participating in the peer-to-peer tutoring program. A full grade improvement over those who did not participate in the tutoring program.

High School GPAFall GPASpring GPAOverall GPA
Control Group7.766.264.615.33
Experiment Group7.787.386.27 6.70
Difference0.2%17.89%36%25.7%
*Note: The Spanish University GPA is scored 0 to 10.

Peer-to-Peer Tutoring Study Takeaways

Tutoring programs can have a MAJOR impact. Study after study showcases the positive correlation. In some cases, the results go well beyond a 25% improvement in GPA. A 2017 study of nursing students at the University of Seville (Guerra et al., 2017) saw the failure rate of a single course cut in half. However, not all programs are the same. Here are four takeaways for consideration when developing your PTP program.   

  1. Training and Standardization: Invest the time and resources in training tutors, arming them with a “tutoring system”. Given that most tutoring teams are small and underfunded start small and ask other schools to share their training materials and tutoring models.        
  2. Frequency and pre-commitment matter: The number of tutoring sessions makes a big difference. So does securing a pre-commitment, ideally in writing, from the student that they are prepared to invest the time. Committing to a session every week seems to have the biggest payback.  
  3. Coping skills are critical: Success is not simply a matter of acquiring knowledge. It also includes helping the student preserve, especially at times in the year when pressure is at its highest. In the study referenced above tutors covered attendance, healthy habits such as sleep and diet, and coping skills aimed at helping students manage during times of stress.    
  4. Make it a threesome: The best peer-to-peer programs involve three parties – the student, the tutor and a member of the Success Team. Program staff should schedule specific times to check-in with both tutors and students. Tutor feedback scores can be used as an early alert system but they are not a substitute for a personal check-in.

Share your thoughts?

Please let us know what you think and share your experiences with us. This blog is all about building a community of student success practitioners willing to share their ideas and experiences. After all, it is all about helping students thrive.  

Doug Wotherspoon
Executive Director of Higher Education Engagement at | + posts

Doug Wotherspoon is the Executive Director of Higher Education Engagement at QuadC. Prior to joining QuadC, Doug served in senior executive roles at both Carleton University and Algonquin College. He is currently completing his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 

Doug has delivered a number of presentations with topics on entrepreneurship, work culture during COVID-19, and more. He has also published many LinkedIn articles, such as "Building Workplace Culture One Coffee at a Time" and "Workplace culture study identifies 3 commonalities among best of the best".

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