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Knowing when to seek help

My son is having trouble taking timed tests in his math class. He knows how to do the problems, so he doesn't need tutoring. He just can't figure out the answers fast enough. What can he do?

Interestingly enough, your son may benefit from tutoring—or as I prefer to call it, "consultation."

In their life before college, students tend to have ample talent to meet academic demands and expectations. They also tend to have access to trusted consultants—typically parents—who can be turned to for help. Students who seek outside help from tutors are often seen as having a deficit, and the help-seeking can have a negative or stigmatizing quality to it.

Now, let's fast-forward to life after college. New graduates entering the work world find there's a lot they don't know, and they learn that asking for help (consultation) is an effective and efficient way to build an experience base and provide quality service. In this context, help-seeking is de-stigmatized and encouraged as part of professional development.

As the context between these past and future scenarios, college can be challenging. The student might ask: "What does it mean to seek help? That I'm not self-reliant, a failure? Or that I'm proactive and looking to empower myself by exploring options?"

The skill of knowing when to seek help is developmental. It's noted in the student development outcomes proposed by the Office of Student Affairs. Specifically, it concerns independence and interdependence—"knowing when to collaborate or seek help and when to act on your own" and self awareness—"knowing your personal strengths and talents and acknowledging your shortcomings."

The term "knowing" is important. It suggests responsible choice making and action taking, not compliance or reaction. Because students don't always know key differences between times to act alone and times to seek help, consulting with someone who has more information or more perspective can facilitate the development of awareness and sound choice making.

Call them what you wish—tutors, mentors, coaches—there are people on campus who have the capacity to facilitate growth for students. And choosing to access their experience during the college years is a good step into the future.

Without knowing the particulars of your son's situation, it's clear that performance is being adversely affected. Could it be an issue in efficient application of concepts? A test-taking skill issue? A stress management issue? Consulting with professors, academic counselors, peers, or even tutors can only help to clarify the situation and move your son closer to realizing the kind of results he's capable of.

If plan A is not working or if you don't know, consult.

By Scott Slattery, Director of Learner Development, Medical School


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