Exam Tips 3: Asking for help by Nicola Morgan


You will have told pupils to ask for help when they need it. But do they leave it too late? Do they sometimes just not ask at all? And do they sometimes ask for help before they’ve even tried, retreating into paralysis?

Also, be completely honest: is it possible that sometimes, overwhelmed by people asking you questions and all the things you have to think about, you might have dismissed a request for help and then forgotten about it? Very easily done.

I think there are lots of reasons why pupils don’t always effectively ask for help, especially in the later years of secondary school as they approach their various exams. Here are a few to think about:

  • A pupil may have got into a silent panic state and not even know what it is she needs to ask.
  • Or she may feel she doesn’t understand any of it and there’s no point in asking.
  • He may feel he would be letting himself down by asking at this early/late stage.
  • Or he’s decided he will work it out by himself – but not yet.
  • She may think she’s going to get a row for not asking earlier.
  • Or that it’s such a big problem that actually no one can help.
  • There just doesn’t seem to have been the right moment.
  • He has absolutely no idea why, but just hasn’t.
  • She’s already asked but didn’t understand the explanation and is embarrassed to ask again.

I’m used to advising teenagers about this, rather than teachers, as you know your job far better than I do. But here is what I suggest to teenagers. You might like to pass it on to them:

  • Write the worry down – or a whole list of them if there’s a whole list. Write it in words that explain the problem(s) clearly.
  • Then, in a different colour, write the name of the person/people you’re going to ask for help. It might be a teacher or a friend or another adult you think can help.
  • Look at the time. If it’s not too late to contact the person today, and you have their contact details, DO IT. (Be careful, though – adults have to relax in the evening, too, so don’t intrude. But an email is fine because they can answer when it suits.)
  • If it is too late today, put the piece of paper on the floor by your door, and forget about it till morning; get ready for bed, put some music on or get out an engrossing book, climb into bed and switch off your mind, telling yourself you can’t make a difference by thinking about it now.
  • Next day, follow up until you get the help you need – or at least you’ve asked and you’re waiting for the answer.
  • The sooner you ask for help, the better it is. But even if you think it’s too late, do it.

And remind them what a shame it would be to lose marks just because they didn’t find a way to ask for help.

Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2014 Nicola Morgan is an award-winning writer and professional speaker. She offers training on aspects of adolescence and has created teaching resources about the brain and mental health. Nicola is proud to be a co-author of N5 & Cfe Higher Study Skills publishing August 2015.  www.nicolamorgan.com

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