Case Study: Depressed Student + Worried Mom
Case Study: Depressed Student + Worried Mom
About a few months ago, I got a call from a parent (Mom) who was interested in our services. She wanted us to tutor her son for the MCAT exam. She told us that he was weak in the Biological Sciences section. She also told us how he’s doing very well in undergrad, but he’s having trouble with Biology and Organic Chem. He had attempted the MCAT once already and performed relatively well on all sections except for the Biological Sciences section. Something seemed a little strange. She sounded more worried than normal. I mean, parents are usually worried about their children doing well and getting the best possible education, but, in this case, something just felt off. So, I asked her what she thought was preventing him from scoring higher. That’s when she told me that he had been quite depressed this past semester and he didn’t feel like studying anymore. She was worried that he was too depressed to study on his own and wanted to find a tutor who not only would help him improve his scores, but also, to motivate him; to bring him out of his rut.
Now, I bring this case up because I not only understand how this student feels, but over the years, I have seen it in students many times. The stress of doing well in everything – from undergrad courses to standardized exams – can sometimes totally overwhelm a student. They keep pushing on though, until eventually feeling burned out. If it were up to me, I would make it mandatory for all students to have weekly or monthly meetings with an on-campus counselor who would be able to recognize the students who were feeling stressed out. Personally, I’ve written so many standardized exams over the years that I’ve felt burned out at times too. And it takes time to bounce back from that. Sometimes, parents don’t understand this – they want their son/daughter to keep pushing through, no matter what.
So, after asking Mom if he had any medical or psychological issues – to which she said ‘no’ – I proceeded to explain to her what I thought her son was going through. I told her the signs and symptoms of ‘burnout’ and what causes it. Upon hearing this, she immediately told me that her son had expressed these feelings to her as well. But, she really wanted him to get this exam over with this summer so that he wouldn’t have to worry about it again. I could totally understand where she was coming from. I told her that I had worked with students in the past who were similarly, no longer motivated to study and that it would be a challenge, but, one that I was willing to take. So, we set up an initial meeting to talk more in person.
When I met her, she was eager to get started and stated that her son only had about 3 months to prepare. She asked me how many hours a day he should be studying, how much time he should spend on each section, and so on. I explained to her that we would take things slow at first. Studying for a standardized exam is a marathon and like any marathon runner knows, you have to practice and build up your stamina. Also, I told Mom that she would have to work closely with me – and together we would motivate him to get into the groove of studying again. We made an awesome schedule – making sure that the first week he was only studying 1 – 2 hours a day + the time that I came to tutor him (two, three-hour long sessions per week). For the second week, we upped it by another hour of studying per day. I told him [the student] to follow my Twitter profile where I regularly post awesome motivational quotes, videos, funny pictures, among other things related to the MCAT. I even encouraged him to watch 15 minutes of motivational videos on youtube or to read something motivational, everyday. I also made sure to call him on a daily basis to encourage him and to make sure he was doing his studying for the day. I encouraged him to exercise a few times a week and get on a regular sleeping schedule – no more staying up and playing video games all night! I spoke to Mom and we regularly discussed his progress and what the plan was for the coming week.
Eventually, by the beginning of the second month, her son was studying about 5 hours a day, which is pretty good for the MCAT. That month we finished covering the majority of the areas where he used to be weak in and his scores on the practice tests had increased significantly. He was also in a much better mood and more optimistic about doing this exam relative to when I first met him. After I had finished my sessions, I stayed in touch with him, emailing and calling often and discussing any areas he had problems with. The final three weeks before his exam date, he was pretty much studying about 8 hours a day. He went in to the exam feeling confident. A couple weeks later he called me to tell me how well he did and I spoke with Momwho was also happy with the results.
So, I hope that by highlighting this case, you will see that being burned out is common; and that it doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. You can make a conscious decision to get yourself out of that situation by making a few lifestyle changes, studying with someone who will constantly encourage you to stay on track and motivate you, and taking things slow. I believe that a high quality tutor should not only recognize where a student’s weakness lies, but, also why, and then be able to find a solution. A high quality tutor also sees the tremendous value in creating a ‘team’ atmosphere between himself, the student, and the parent(s); he is a mentor, a coach, a motivator, and someone who will go above and beyond to help a student achieve his goals. This is one of the great benefits of private tutoring and why I love what I do.